You have heard me preach over and over again how great teams build great businesses. That I would rather invest in an A+ team with a B+ idea, than a B+ team with an A+ idea. Well now, you can learn exactly how to recruit and retain rockstar talent for your business. My close colleague Jeff Hyman, the Chief Talent Officer at Strong Suit a Chicago-based executive recruiter than specializes in VC and PE backed companies, just published a new best selling book called Recruit Rockstars–The 10 Step Playbook to Find The Winners and Ignite Your Business. It was like everything that was in my head on this topic, just magically found itself in print in Jeff’s must read book. Jeff was kind enough to let me share some of his wisdom with you in this Red Rocket post.
The 10 Step Playbook
First of all, here is a good summary of the book, featuring the 10 Step Playbook for hiring rockstars. It compares what most recruiters do, and what rockstar recruiters do. Notice the key steps from starting with setting up an upfront scorecard for what will make a great candidate, focusing on the candidates with the right DNA, taking candidates for a test drive, paying special attention during onboarding and pruning mis-hires within the first 60 days, to name a few.
Here is a quick excerpt from Jeff’s book on the importance of retaining your rock stars once hired, and how exactly to do that:
The All-Important Five Cs
“After hiring a Rockstar, the real work begins—getting the most out of them. I’ve studied and tried countless leadership styles. I’m convinced that authenticity wins—be yourself. But ensure that you provide what I call the five Cs to your Rockstars. They value these more than treadmills, ping pong tables, and notoriety.
First and foremost, provide them with interesting work. Give them customer problems to solve and a variety of people to deal with. Ask them to figure out how to make things faster, cheaper, and better within the organization. Countless studies show that challenge is the most important factor to job satisfaction for Rockstars, ranking even higher than money.
Rockstars are not only interested in their current role, but in their next one. They want to understand their likely career advancement and progression. That doesn’t necessarily mean an annual promotion. It can include lateral moves to broaden skill sets or working in a different geography. You can also say, “Here are some potential options for what might come next. I can’t promise them to you today, but if you do an outstanding job in this role, in a year, here are the kinds of things we see someone like you doing.”
The average new hire will work with at least fifteen companies during their career. The average tenure at a company is two years. So, if you can keep a Rockstar aboard your “train” for longer than that, you’re doing well. Go ahead and tell them, “My hope is to make this the best job of your life. If I do that, you’ll likely stay with us for a sustained amount of time. My expectations are high, but they’re realistic. My job is to get the best from you and provide the most fulfilling
job you’ve ever had.”
There’s no need to have the career discussion more than every six months, but you need to understand their aspirations and how they evolve over time. That way, you can begin to think about their advancement and what other roles might make sense for them. Provide it before some headhunter does.
Part of career progression entails succession planning, so that when you experience a departure, you have a potential successor identified. The best companies in the world often have a successor in mind for every role; that way, if someone leaves, they have a replacement named by the end of the day. The injury-riddled occupation of football has addressed this issue with the motto, “Next man up.” Be prepared because you never know when a role will need to be refilled.
Bear in mind this will sometimes mean promoting a Rockstar who’s not quite ready for the next step—you can do so on an interim basis. This is often better than taking the chance with an outside recruit, who would come with risk and could be the reason your Rockstar departs when passed over for the role. Always search inside first; at the very least, when considering outside candidates, run all viable internal candidates in parallel through the same fair and objective process.
Most Rockstars respond well to candor, because they have an insatiable need to improve their performance. They recognize the path to promotion, to taking your job, and the CEO role perhaps one day, is to continually improve. To get better, they need and crave your feedback. So, provide it frequently. Ban the annual review; your Rockstars hate it as much as you detest cramming to write those missives over Christmas week. Instead, implement a monthly or quarterly coaching cycle. Find just two or three messages—not the laundry list given by most managers—that you want to reinforce, give specific examples, and then watch for improvement. When you catch them doing something right, reinforce it by letting them know you noticed and by recognizing them publicly if possible. Your two or three things should be tied to the skills they need for their next career move.
A powerful yet underused tool to help you give candid feedback is the Socratic method. Ask a few simple questions. “How do you think the (meeting/product launch/etc.) went? What could you have done differently? What could have gone better?” Rockstars are often their own toughest critic. Often, they are aware of what could have gone better or what they could have done differently. You can say, “What can I, as your manager, do next time to make sure your performance is better?”
Rockstars appreciate a work environment where candor, or a debate-and-align structure, is valued. This structure supports productive disagreements focused on the idea, not the person. Once a decision is reached, regardless of whether the group agreed or the leader reached a decision, everyone agrees to align behind that decision.
Open your personal network—including your LinkedIn network—to your team. Introduce them to mentors outside the organization. This is especially important if yours is a small company where there just aren’t many people for them to learn from. You might know people who would be great role models for your Rockstars. Some managers won’t do this because they want to keep their Rockstar a secret, but when you introduce them to people who can broaden their knowledge, they will be grateful. And that increases loyalty.
Compensation isn’t everything, but it’s something. I’ve found that more important than the fixed base salary, however, is the variable upside. Rockstars respond well to a challenge, and they respond well to currency tied to upside performance. Lay out specifically how they earn it. Be clear with what percentage they can earn and when it will be paid out. And don’t change the rules halfway through the game.
Rockstars don’t respond well to black-box, or subjective, variable compensation. No matter how well they do, they don’t know what they’ll earn. That’s not motivating, and so you’re wasting your money and frustrating your top performers. Avoid capping your variable compensation. If they can deliver three times what you expect them to deliver, they should receive a meaningful variable compensation payout.
Perhaps my greatest frustration with regard to compensation is that so many leaders apply the “peanut butter” approach. They spread money around, approximately the same to all employees, in an effort to keep the peace. Instead, use differentiation, the concept of not treating everyone equally, to separate Rockstars from B- and C-Players. It means promotions, titles, and public recognition for great performances. It means fair compensation tied to performance. So rather than giving everyone 2 to 5 percent raises, give 20 percent raises to the ones who deserve it. And yes, that means you’ll fund it by giving no raise this year to many. And those C-Players may choose to leave because of it. And that’s okay.”