Recently, I found myself addressing a group of nonprofit human resources executives, and my assignment was to provide them with my sense of how organizations should approach recruiting. As I sat through the early morning introductions, drinking my coffee as quickly as I could manage, my mind still wandered.
For whatever reason, I was reminded of a friend and advisor who gave me one of the most important pieces of advice I had ever – and have yet – received. A private equity CFO, my friend James asked me how the business was going. “Fine,” I responded enthusiastically, like a new entrepreneur would. “Do you have a line of credit?” he asked. “Well, no. But we’re doing really well, so I don’t think we need it.” Shooting me a knowing (and sympathetic) look, he said, “You should get one now – when you don’t need it. When you DO need it – and you likely will, for reasons that may well be out of your control – you won’t be able to get it.” His advice rang true and has served me well – very well – over the last 13 years.
Then I realized that the same is true of recruiting! For most nonprofit organizations – if not all –in an environment of great demand and very limited resources, time is at a premium. And when a critical position comes open, I always hear, “we need someone yesterday!” The question becomes HOW can you fill the talent pipeline quickly when you need someone and not suffer from the downtime and productivity lost when a key role remains open. The answer is to have your pipeline filled already, ready to use when you need to tap it.
We can dress this up in lots of ways – build your employer “brand”; be a “best-in-class” organization; be an “employer of choice”. Sure. But really, the solution is developing your “line of credit” – a talent pipeline – when you don’t need it. It goes without saying that people are nonprofits’ most important assets in driving mission and impact; keeping the talent pipeline strong and steady is critical to building a strong brand. That’s what makes organizations true industry leaders and places where great people want to work.
So, how do you ensure that your talent pool remains strong and uninterrupted? First of all, have all of your people become your organization’s ambassadors – from the corner office to the front desk. Ensure that your most senior people recognize that recruiting is a key part of their job. Grant informational interviews; partner with other organizations on programmatic work. Use alumni networks and volunteer service organizations to expand the organization’s reach and footprint. I know people do these things all the time, but recognize the true value of the time allocated and realize that those activities are, in fact, important recruiting efforts.
Track this information for future use. Share contacts with your human resources folks – with your commentary of what you thought of the person you just met. Use this information – good and bad – to create target lists when actual positions come open. And have the original contact reach out to the person – a simple email with a job description will do, along with a nice note encouraging him or her to take a look and share it with their networks – and let you know if he or she has some personal interest.
Imagine this: when you have the resources you need to get critical work done (see also: line of credit), you can get it done quickly and effectively which ultimately drives your impact. The opportunity cost of having an important role open for any length of time is very real. Like a line of credit, if you view recruiting as something that you should tend to when you don’t need it, your payoff will be great – and your “interest” costs much lower.