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Building Your Bench and Talent Pipeline

There is an enlightening question I like to ask executives I work with:

“If I gave you $10 Million to start your own company, who from your current team would you take with you?”

If their answer isn’t “every single one of them” that illuminates a likely need to upgrade. Even when things are going well and the team is humming, it is always the right time to look for talent. 

In sports, even teams that win championships understand that nothing lasts forever, and turnover will occur from year to year, so they are constantly looking for new players. They are regularly on the lookout for great players on other teams and which college players would complement their needs. In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, who won a Championship with MVP Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, were open to the idea of adding another great player...so they added Kevin Durant. They upgraded and as a result, won two additional championships. 

The point is this; the best time to be on the lookout for talent is… always. Never stop recruiting. Your rock star employee might accept a job offer tomorrow. Your top salesperson might leave for personal reasons. You might have burned out some of your staff and they leave for a work-life balance. Can you afford to lose the revenue and afford to have angry clients while you start the search for a replacement? In addition, can you afford to have an instant knowledge gap when an incumbent walks out the door and the new person hasn’t started?

For every company, it makes sense to have a talent pipeline maintained and ready to go. Build yourself a bench of candidates that are interested in working for you when the time is right. So how do the best of the best do this?

Informational Interviewing. 

An informational interview provides a non-threatening forum for discussion as the two sides learn about each other. Since the conversation is not about hiring and not about a specific job and it provides a better platform for an unbiased evaluation of someone and their talent as well as personality. The “candidate” won’t just be saying what they need to say to get the job. Instead of sitting across the desk per the formal interview standards, in this informal version you sit side by side, maybe even enjoy a casual cup of coffee (socially distancing of course). In addition, after the conversation, stay in touch with the individual so you are aware of changes in their situation and/or career interests.

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By conducting informational interviews, you can hedge your bets by building a pipeline with superior talent for when people inevitably leave your organization. In addition, sometimes a situation presents itself where you conduct an informational interview and they are so exceptional you create a position for them to immediately join the team. You will know this when you come across them.

In my career as a hiring manager I eventually learned to be always open to new talent, regardless of where it came from or if I had an open position. I always had a bench of potential project and program managers to join my team. As an executive, I felt that resources were my top concern and I was always thinking of building and maintaining the best possible team. 

This has led to my time as the owner of Testa Search Partners, a top boutique recruiting and staffing firm, where countless times I’ve approached industry leaders with introductions to exceptional talent that I knew would be a good fit. These “renaissance leaders” are the ones that aren’t necessarily constrained by budgets and headcount and are always looking for top talent to join their company – and they trust I can help them find such talent. 

Back to the NBA, the best GMs have found star players by being open-minded and innovative. Today, the league is filled with players that years ago would not have been discovered. Just look at the awards given out in the NBA in 2019:

  • Most Valuable Player - Giannis Antetokounmpo - Greece
  • Defensive Player of the Year - Rudy Gobert - France
  • Rookie of the Year - Luka Doncic - Slovenia
  • Most Improved Player - Pascal Siakam - Cameroon

These awardees show that unconventional thinking by team leaders can lead to incredible bottom line results. Not only were they some of the best players, but their teams were elite as well.

In summary, as an experienced hiring manager, talent evaluator, and recruiter, I urge executives consider building a bench and talent pipeline by conducting informational interviews and jumping at the opportunity to hire rare rock stars that come your way. This might be especially important now, due to Covid19, as there are extremely talented employees that previously would have been heads-down working and engaged with their current employer, but now may be out of work or worried about the security and stability of their current situation. 

By following this approach, you’ll be well-prepared for any contingency that comes your way. A well-connected recruiter who knows your industry - and already knows who the rock stars are or where to find them - can certainly help!

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The author, Chris Testa, is a top recruiter focusing on the utility industry. He has an MBA and an engineering degree and has spent 30 years in the utility sector. He currently leads Testa Search Partners, a company headquartered in Atlanta and serving all 50 states. He can be reached at ctesta@testasearchpartners.com

Discussions

Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Sep 9, 2020

Thanks for an interesting insight. To continue your sporting metaphor - isn't there a case for also looking for "good mid-field players" to back up the "rock stars", who might get a better offer from someone else and leave?

Chris Testa's picture
Chris Testa on Sep 11, 2020

I love the sport metaphors!  You are right, Julian.  You should still have a plan to replace them with talent from your pipeline, just like if they were a rockstar.

Chris Testa's picture

Thank Chris for the Post!

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