Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hiring Talent: Networks Beyond Networks

Finance professionals don't need to be reminded of the importance of networking, nurturing contacts and keeping up with what's going on in the marketplace.

Lawrence Kellner, Continental Airlines CEO, explains when he hires someone into a senior role, he relies less on conventional processes--recruiting, interviewing and putting candidates on the spot in two-hour one-on-one sessions. He says he succeeds in hiring the best candidate by tapping his own network of people he knows, people he's worked with, and people he know are good.

Kellner plans to leave Continental in December to run a private-equity firm, Emerald Creek, in Houston. He explained his methods for sourcing talent to the New York Times last week: "Have I worked with somebody who could fill this job who's really good?"

He explained he then "widen(s) the net to people I trust...people I've worked with." Or he says he tries to "find somebody we know and trust who knows the person we're thinking of hiring." He minimizes the importance of interviewing, claiming it is superceded by the value of "somebody who's got even a couple of months work experience with a (possible candidate)."

In other words, who knows whom? Who can trust whom? And who knows the person beyond the staged session of a formal interview or a well-credentialed resume'?

He's right. The correlation isn't always perfect--that he/she who performs well in interviews will not necessarily become top performers in the role. Hence, good managers look for other clues for exceptional talent or top performance when hiring. Often that means tapping into the hiring manager's own network to find talent or to seek guidance and recommendations from people who have worked side by side for a long time with a candidate. The power of the network.

He's right, but what if the best talent lies outside his own network, outside his club of senior managers and contacts--especially if that talent comes from under-represented minority groups, who haven't had years of a chance to benefit from the power of networks?

The best leaders and managers know how to tap talent beyond a closed network. They know how to broaden their connections, extend their closed networks, and reach out to networks beyond their networks to find people who have worked with other talented people. And they don't have to be persuaded to look for talent beyond a circle of close friends, classmates and fraternity brothers.

If only we could have asked Kellner how does he ensure his network for tapping talent encompasses all.

His new firm, Emerald Creek, will specialize in commercial real-estate investments.

Tracy Williams

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