I was recently reminded of how important a single personnel decision can be. I traveled to San Francisco to make a presentation on behalf of a non-profit organization I’ve worked with for a couple of years. With non-profits, just as in for-profits, it is critical to get the right people in the right places. While the organization was making good progress, I realized earlier in the year that we needed a dedicated marketing resource to develop and tell our story. The only problem was that I didn’t know who that resource might be. Hiring good marketing people is always tough, and I didn’t have a lot of contacts in the non-profit world.
One day I talked to a former employee of mine who was a senior executive at a large company. He had decided to leave the company, and as always I was trolling for talent. One of the first questions I asked was if anyone on his team might be looking for a new opportunity. It turns out that a marketing superstar on his team wanted to leave since he was departing and couldn’t take her with him. I asked if he would make an introduction. At the time I had no idea where she might be a fit. But since I am involved on the board or as an investor in numerous companies, I expected that I would be able to make a connection.
Sure enough, when the person came in I asked what she wanted to do in her career and uncovered her desire to work in the non-profit world. Bingo, I had a perfect fit. I basically offered her the job on the spot even though I really wasn’t authorized to hire for the organization.
That happened earlier this year, and I didn’t realize until this week how important that immediate decision was.
The reason we were in San Francisco was to compete for a $1 million grant from Verizon. We wouldn’t have even known about the grant if we hadn’t hired this marketing person. She found the grant on Twitter and then completed all the paperwork that led to us being selected as one of 15 finalists out of 1,400 entries. UPDATE: To say this employee made a difference for the organization is a huge understatement: Verizon awarded BridgingApps the $700,000 prize in the education category!
And now, the rest of the story! (as Paul Harvey used to say)
When we were sitting around waiting to do our presentation, I asked her what she had thought of our interview. Was she surprised that I found her a job that fit her so well? Her reply was that she didn’t really even want to go to the original interview. The only reason she went was because her former executive told her to go. She had decided that she didn’t want to work in the technology world anymore and assumed with my background that I would only have other technology related jobs. Because of this, she made up her mind not to listen to anything I might offer. When I actually asked about her career goals and had something that was a perfect fit, she said her jaw almost hit the floor. She also told me that she had another offer from a different non-profit the same day. If I had waited even one more day to try to talk to her, she wouldn’t have even come in for the meeting. And that could have been a $1 million mistake!
Act fast as supplies are limited
This story underscores what I have written previously on the importance of hiring top performers quickly. Great people are rarely on the market for long and often only become available when there is some sort of disruptive event at their company, such as acquisitions, bankruptcies or in this case the departure of a senior executive. While almost no one would disagree that it is important to move quickly, in practice many companies fail to do it and cost themselves dearly.