The Top 10 Ways to Shock and Awe Your Senior Managers

Let's face it, most of the things done in recruiting are relatively mundane, and as a result, they get little recognition or even acknowledgment by senior management. If you're tired and frustrated with your present situation in recruiting, it's time to step back and realize that, in the eyes of senior managers, most of the things you're doing are, to put it politely, "boring" and painfully tactical in nature. Let's look at some examples.

Most of the so-called "strategic" things that recruiting departments have been doing in the last few years include:

  • Implementing an ATS system
  • Cutting recruiting cost to the bare bone
  • Working on improving your efficiency "numbers" like cost per hire and your time to fill
  • Learning to use the Internet and large job boards

The problem with these activities is that none of them in any corporation that I have come across has resulted in a "wow" reaction from any CEO. They are important activities for sure, but they are clearly tactical. It's time to stop the, to paraphrase a famous slogan, "what happens in recruiting, stays in recruiting" approach, and instead adopt a more aggressive approach with the purpose of getting on every executive's agenda.

Shifting from Mundane to the "Blow Them Away" Approach

The key to transforming into a respected and acknowledged function is to do something in recruiting that is so bold that it attracts the attention of everyone at the top. I'm not talking bold like in "naked recruiting," but instead using your recruiting resources to do something that has such a large strategic impact that the CEO is guaranteed to sit up and take notice.

This article came about after years of studying and researching literally dozens of Fortune 500 recruiting functions and their quest to become strategic and demonstrate impact. I have seen literally hundreds of different types of recruiting initiatives designed to impress senior leadership; some succeeded, others failed. They didn't fail in the sense that they didn't improve recruiting, because almost all had a positive impact on the recruiting function. I mean that they failed in the sense that they didn't even get the attention of senior executives, let alone "wow" them and knock their socks off.

Recruiting Program Features That Wow Senior Executives

After analyzing many failures to impress and a few dramatic successes, I have identified some of the reasons that the few "wow" recruiting programs (like Cisco's "friends" program) succeed at getting everyone's attention.

The critical factors in developing a "wow" recruiting initiative include:

  • Know what impresses. Many programs never bother to identify what it takes to "wow" senior executives within their own organization. Most recruiting programs fail to have a major impact because the program designers failed to study the critical success factors in getting any HR or other overhead program noticed by top management. What you need to do is to track the relatively recent dramatic success of other administrative activities like supply chain management, Six Sigma quality, lean manufacturing, CRM, etc., so that you can identify the common factors that lead to executive recognition. Some of those wow factors include being written up in major business magazines, having other CEOs call to inquire about the program, and getting calls from market analysts and reporters inquiring about the program.
  • Impact a major business unit. Almost without exception, the goal of a new recruiting program is to impact the entire corporation. The problem with such a broad target is that not all SBUs of the corporation have the same impact on business success. It's important to realize upfront that less than 50% of the business units in a company are considered to be high priority units by the CEO. The priority business units are those that are undergoing rapid growth, are highly profitable, or are number one in market share. A more intelligent approach in the company wide effort is to instead utilize your limited resources and time to make a "big bang" within those units that are considered mission critical. Targeting your recruiting efforts on mission-critical business units increases your chances of being noticed, because the results of those P&L business units are monitored more closely. In addition, any recruiting program that has a major impact on these units will likely be requested by senior managers of the other business units.
  • Get a senior management champion. Many well-intentioned strategic initiatives fail to garner attention because no senior manager was asked to sponsor the initiative. As a result, even though the affected managers were appreciative, because they didn't feel like they owned the initiative, they had no compelling reason to champion the program's merits among other senior managers. Even great programs that produce outstanding results can go unnoticed if some individual doesn't take it upon themselves to brag about the program. As a result, it is essential that early on in program development you get a senior manager (outside of HR) to sponsor and own the recruiting program. The added advantage to this executive sponsorship is that when the results do appear, a senior manager who is well respected and known (as opposed to an HR person) will talk up the results throughout the executive suite.
  • Plan to be bold and strategic. Numerous recruiting initiatives fail from the very start because they weren't designed to be bold enough that the entire executive team would notice and pay attention to them. It is essential that the goal of being talked about permeates every aspect of the program's design. The goal of developing a "wow" program needs to influence the selection of the target audience, the program's name, the success measures, and the marketing plan. If you expect to wow them, your initial goals cannot be so pedestrian that from the very beginning, even if you meet them, there is no real chance to wow anyone at the "C" level.
  • Plan to internally market your "wows." HR in general, and recruiting in particular, often strives to maintain a culture where bragging or marketing a program is unacceptable, because HR managers expect that your results will speak for themselves. As a result, of these conservative tendencies, the initiative manager almost invariably has no plan create to create wows and to internally market their accomplishments. A superior approach is to utilize the tools and techniques of PR, marketing, and sales to expose and market the results internally, so that everyone at the top of the organization is aware of what you have done. Some wow marketing elements include an exciting name, a catchy slogan and logo, and a plan to get written up in the CEO's favorite magazine.
  • Ignore the naysayers. HR people are knowledgeable and hard-working — but risk-takers they are not. This conservative risk-avoidance approach manifests itself in a cynical approach to any HR or recruiting initiative that is designed to be bold. Many of the boldest initiatives never get off the ground because the initiative leader listens to the "it will never work" crowd and the final design becomes dulled down to the point that it becomes pedestrian. If you want to be successful in wowing senior executives, you need to begin the planning process expecting others in HR to present hundreds of reasons why it will never work. In fact, you need to turn those comments around and realize that if you're not intensely criticized by most of your HR colleagues, then you already know that the initiative that you designed isn't bold. The lesson to be learned here is to make sure your design produces something that "inside the box" thinkers label as outrageous (because outrageous things get talked about).

Recruiting and Initiatives That Are Guaranteed To Wow Your Senior Manager

I'm not a believer in developing mundane recruiting programs — mainly because they take just as much work as bold ones, but they don't produce the same impact. My experience has been that, no matter how many of these boring programs you develop, recruiting will still face a lifetime of struggle for its budget and recognition.

Instead, I recommend that you consider one or two incredibly bold recruiting initiatives that will serve as a mechanism to help build your name and credibility.

My Top 10 Attention-Getting "Wow" Recruiting Programs

  1. A magnet hire program. The idea behind magnet hires is that if you identify and then recruit just a few noted professionals (known as magnet hires) to your firm, these new hires serve as bait that will draw numerous other people as recruits to your firm. Recruiting magnet employees works on the same principle as magnet schools do in education. Attract the best and then everyone will want to come. Once you hire even one star, you begin to send a message to everyone that things have changed and your firm is now so good that it attracts star employees. A magnet hire program gets the attention of the senior leadership because it brings in industry luminaries who are so famous that even the CEO has to come to greet them on their first day. The economic return of magnet recruiting can be high because, in addition to the obvious recruiting benefits, the company can also get a good deal of positive publicity as well as the new ideas and industry contacts that the magnet brings with them.
  2. Develop a "most wanted" list. The most wanted list in recruiting is the opposite of the most wanted list kept by the FBI. Instead of looking for the bad guy, the most wanted list contains the most desirable people that the firm would like to attract this year. The most wanted list is created before any requisition is open. Under traditional recruiting, you begin looking for talent the minute that an opening occurs and you end up hiring someone from the limited pool of candidates that happens to be available as the same time that your requisition is open. This approach has obvious flaws in that the very best people you really want may not be available during the time that you have an opening. The most wanted approach, instead of waiting to see who's available, is proactive. It creates a list of the most desirable recruits at the beginning of the year so that recruiters and the entire recruiting function can focus on attracting these high quality targeted recruits. The program offers a great deal of exposure to recruiting because all of the senior executives are involved in helping develop the most wanted list. When you begin to successfully recruit people on the list, all senior executives are notified every time any targeted person is checked off the most wanted list. Just like in sports, when you get all of the individuals on your list, everyone knows you have been successful in attracting the very best. An alternative approach on a smaller scale is known as the "I never thought we could get them" initiative. In this variation, you ask senior-level managers to name one individual that they would love to have on board but that they never thought that they could get. In this case, the recruiting department focuses on getting one more of these targeted individuals.
  3. Get listed on the Fortune best-place-to-work list. There is nothing legal that you can do in recruiting that will have a greater impact on your reputation than getting your firm listed on the annual Fortune best-place-to-work list. Obviously, just getting on the list will get you recognition from the readers of Fortune magazine — but the real value is the fact that just getting on the list generates a huge volume of calls from reporters, research organizations, and managers from around the world who want to benchmark against your best practices. In fact, I have never met a CEO that didn't take personal pride in winning this award (#2 is getting on the most admired company list). If you get on this list, the CEO will mention it in all of his or her speeches, and every employee will also take notice of the recognition. In fact, it is the best long-term employment branding action a company can take. In addition to the recognition among senior management, it will dramatically increase referrals and new applications, and it even has an impact on employee retention.
  4. Recruit away the top sales manager from your competitor. If making a major business impact guarantees that you will be recognized in your organization, then this targeted recruiting approach will definitely get you noticed. You begin by calculating the dollar impact in increasing your sales and in decreasing your competitors' sales if you recruit away the enemy's top sales manager (incidentally, this hiring action generally has the highest impact on the business of any position). You next ask your sales force to identify the top sales manager from your direct product competitor, and you involve sales management in developing a plan to "poach" them away. This involves identifying their job switch criteria and tailoring a job to their "dream job" criteria. Once they come on board, you also generally find that two to five top sales managers will follow them. When you succeed, the entire sales force will become your champion, which guarantees that you will be talked up throughout the organization.
  5. Hire the next "C"-level officer. Most recruiting functions miss a great "exposure" opportunity when they allow the corporation to outsource the hiring of senior executives to external search firms. Of course, there is some risk involved, but there are few opportunities for fame that don't involve risk. By forming an internal executive search team, you guarantee numerous meetings and hours of interaction with senior executives. In addition, your participation in candidate interviews gives you an opportunity to impress the CEO (who sits in on these interviews), and it guarantees that the next "C"-level officer that you helped hire will know you once they accept the position.
  6. Develop a "wow" web page. Most corporate career sites are painfully dull. Much like an employee handbook, they provide information — but there is no "wow" factor. Now, I'm not talking here about minor revisions, instead I am talking about adding key features that will cause the site to be talked about by journalists, potential applicants, and current employees. The goal is to include some "wow" features that are so good, that people will email them to their friends. Some features to consider include videos of "real" employees talking about the excitement in their jobs, cute animals or action figures giving a facility tour, and examples of the technology and tools that employees get to use. You can identify these "wow" features by interviewing top performing employees who have had unusual success or opportunities.
  7. Win the giveaway/takeaway battle. The giveaway/takeaway ratio is the number of employees that your firm poaches from a competitor compared to the number that they poach from you. This approach is a derivative from college football where, for some schools, winning their hot rivalry with the cross state team is actually as important as having an overall winning record. CEOs that are fiercely competitive love to beat their competitors on every front. If you begin to record this metric, and you then demonstrate to senior-level executives that your recruiting and retention programs are so successful that you continually win this important battle, I assure you that you will be the talk of the executive suite. Obviously, this approach requires the entire recruiting and retention team to adopt the aggressive strategy of attacking your competitor while simultaneously blocking your competitors recruiting efforts. Incidentally, the rivalry often energizes managers and the recruiting team because "the enemy" is clearly defined.
  8. Implement a split sample retention program. Unfortunately, getting the attention of senior executives generally requires providing them with "dead bang proof" that your programs are having a significant impact on the business. The best way to guarantee that you have that proof is to provide them with a "split sample" demonstration. The split sample approach requires you to apply your program (in this case a retention program) to a single business unit, team, or location, and to do nothing in an equivalent business unit. After applying your program, you can then clearly compare the results on the business to the results of the control group. You have to be really good at what you do to implement this approach but, just like drug trials, it's the best way to convince technical, scientific, and financial wizards that your approach produces superior results. If you then publish your results or utilize them in best-place-to-work applications, you will spread the word about the effectiveness of your program throughout your function, the industry, and the business media.
  9. Get written up in the CEO's favorite business magazine. Senior executives are too busy to read a great deal, but almost every one of them has a favorite business magazine. Ask their secretary which magazines they open and read almost immediately. You will find that it is often Business 2.0, Fast Company, The Economist, or Fortune. The recruiting organization then searches the back issues of these MVPs (Most Valuable Publications) in order to identify articles that talk about recruiting and talent-related programs and best practices. You then search those articles for keywords or program features that routinely occur when a program is mentioned. Next, develop new programs or reconfigure your current programs so that they fit those criteria. Then contact the publication to let them know that your program seems to fit their content profile. If your program is written up (as the Cisco "friends" program was in Fast Company), you are well on your way to recognition and status.
  10. Convert your recruiting metrics into dollars. Almost every organization these days seems to be dominated by the CFO. Many HR managers have difficulty in gaining the respect of CFOs, but I have found one approach that calms even the biggest penny-pinching CFOs. CFOs are one-track individuals — just like Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character in Jerry Maguire, all they want is for you to "show them the money." It's time to clear up the confusion: CFO's are not really numbers people; they are "dollars" people. Cutting costs or increasing revenues is the only thing that impresses them. Unfortunately, many recruiting and HR departments spend a great deal of time reporting words (we had an exceptional year) or numbers (our time-to-hire was 30 days) that have no real impact on CFOs. I work with numerous CFOs on behalf of HR in an attempt to get them to listen, and I've found that the one approach that literally always works is converting the important things you do in recruiting to dollar impact. For example, instead of reporting time to hire, report the increased productivity and dollars that resulted from having fewer "vacancy days" in key positions. In a similar light, you can show that by increasing the quality of hire in, say, a sales position, you can increase sales within that division by 10%, or $12 million a year. Ask individuals in cost accounting to help you calculate the dollar impact of your successes. Obviously, this approach is little more difficult than the others I presented above — but if you want the largest long-term impact on recruiting, this is the one to select.


One of the things that I do in my advisory practice is to help firms build their employer of choice image or employment brand. But even the recruiting departments that excel in those areas often forget that building an impression internally is at least as important. It's almost always a struggle to convince recruiting directors to market themselves, but once they realize that it is a common practice on the P&L side, their resistance rapidly diminishes.

If you're not a believer in self-promotion it's important to realize that you're not just doing it to build your own image, but you're doing it for your entire team. That's because recruiting directors who are not well recognized in the executive suite experience the kind of draconian budget cuts most recruiting departments undergo on a periodic basis. If you believe in excellence in recruiting, you need to realize that it's a "be known or be cut" world.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

Check Also

The “No Application Required” Recruiting Strategy (Providing employed top talent with “job search deniability”)

Top employees are reluctant to apply for external jobs because it makes them appear disloyal. …