Best Practices to Acquire Top Performers


Mr. Dunlevie focuses on the recruitment of senior-level executives in professional services (management consulting), financial advisory services, information technology, supply chain management, and strategy/merger integration, which he has done since starting to work for Korn Ferry in 1996 and entering executive search in 1991. Mr. Dunlevie also manages the Southeast and MidAtlantic region, and is a member of the Firm’s North American Operating Committee.

Before entering executive search, Mr. Dunlevie spent more than a decade in financial services. He was managing director/ Southeastern Area Executive of Chase Manhattan Bank’s North American corporate finance sector, and was responsible for the bank’s corporate finance and investment banking activities in the Southeast.

Before joining Chase Manhattan, Mr. Dunlevie worked for the First National Bank of Atlanta (now Wachovia Bank) and was a line lending officer in the bank’s National Accounts Division – Western U.S. region.

Mr. Dunlevie earned a master’s in business administration degree from the University of Southern California, where he was elected to membership in Beta Gamma Sigma, a business school honor society. Mr. Dunlevie received a bachelor’s in economics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he is also a member of the External Advisory Board of the Honors Program.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know one of the things that I’m very pleased to say, is that I think that Korn/Ferry with your absolute leadership, Craig, has really done such a fine job of not only becoming the world’s greatest search organization and search engine, but you have multi-faceted approach now to the world of recruiting. Can you talk a little bit about that three-pronged approach before we get into why you got into sourcing and recruiting.

Craig Dunlevie: When I joined Korn/Ferry back in 1996 it was primarily almost exclusively an executive search firm. It was the largest search firm at that point and still is. I would say as we moved into 2000-2001, we began to make some real investments in trying to build more of the science of search. We had a CEO at that point in time, Paul Riley, who also brought in Gary Burnison who became our CEO after Mr. Riley, who basically felt that to differentiate Korn/Ferry appropriately, we had to put more science into the art of search. We began to invest in building an assessment capability, we built the framework which is now called our Leadership and Talent Consulting business, which has grown to a very sizeable business, in fact one of the largest Talent Consulting businesses in the world at this point. It is a major division of Korn/Ferry. That would be the second piece of our firm. We have, of course, the executive business which is our biggest engine. We have the Leadership and Talent Consulting business. Therefore, Korn/Ferry has the ability to acquire talent and to develop talent.

It gets us firmly ensconced in the talent management space. The third leg of our business is what we call Future Step which is really a recruitment process outsourcing business and they do mid-level retaining search. They bring the quality of a retained search firm into the mid-market and that is also a fairly sizable business for us at this point.

Dr. Relly Nadler: We know how complex people are and then you put them in different environments and how stress then affects that because there are so many different dynamics. What may be really interesting and helpful for our listeners, Craig, is when you are looking for high potentials to be a possible future executive—I’m involved with a couple of organizations that are doing that now—what is the rule of thumb, what would you look for in high potentials who could move in to some of the top positions down the line?

Craig Dunlevie: Of course it varies to a certain extent given any company that we work with, we have different requirements for different cultural attributes that we are trying to align with. There are some basic things that we have learned at Korn/Ferry over the years that are kind of interesting and crosses, I think, a lot of different things we do.

I would say learning agility is the number one indicator of high potential executives. What I mean by that is that I mean people that have the capacity to learn new skills, who have a willingness to really learn from their experiences that have the capacity to evolve their thinking. I would say that it is probably the single most important thing that we try to assess for in many respects. When you look at learning agility you also are looking at a full continuum of things. You are looking at mental agility, you are looking at change agility, people agility—how well you deal with people. It really drives a lot of what we do. I would say that people that are agile from a learning point of view, they seek and have more experiences to learn from and they are really better, and upgrade their skill mix frequently. They really perform better because they incorporate new skills into their repertoire.

They are resilient, they rely more on logic, they are cool under pressure and they demonstrate agility with people, results, thinking and change. That is what a lot of our assessment tools that we have at Korn/Ferry are geared around; trying to identify people that have learning agility.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I’m fascinated by this continuum. We have learning agility, mental agility, change agility and people agility. What Relly and I would call cool under pressure, would be impulse control. When you talk about the whole idea of results orientation and doing that, in our minds, through an emotional intelligence kind of process, that’s doing it with regard for how it impacts other people. That is really fascinating. I think the resilience piece is a great foundation on which those agility components are based. That was very powerful, Craig, you did that with great finesse, I have to say..

What are the top three qualities in an assessment phase, that you look for that helps you find the right people? I’m referring to things like interpersonal skills. We talked a little bit about some of the character traits, what might be the interpersonal skills that might be essential, or the sales skills, or leadership skills, or operational skills, or even the industry skills. Some of these are teachable, and some of these you just have to have the foundation in order to move forward as a high potential.

Craig Dunlevie: In a way we have touched a little bit on that and I’ll try to expand upon it. Our firm has a number of different assessments methodologies and tools that we use that play a very key role in evaluating differentiating talent. We have several proprietary tools like Decision Styles and viaEdge. viaEdge tests for learning agility. Learning agility really is a driving factor, as I said before. Playing off of that is all of these other things that we have talked about. The tolerance for ambiguity, self-awareness, mental agility, people agility, and change agility. These are all things that play off of it.

I would say that some of the things that I really look for in a candidate are; we are trying to get underneath the hood and it really varies from situation to situation. All of these executives, for the most part, that we are dealing with are highly successful individuals. They are all stellar in their own way, but are they really the best fit for a client’s needs, their strategy, their culture and so forth and so on.

I would say that learning agility is still the number one indicator that we are looking at. I would say that applied intelligence is another; just the intelligence, the horse power, the intellectual horse power of a candidate is absolutely a key quality that we look for. Finally would be the tolerance for ambiguity I want to hit that again because I do think that is incredibly important for any leader and ultimately the ability to communicate very complex matters of clarity, good listening skills. For somebody to be a good coach they have to be a good listener. Obviously we are looking for people who are results oriented, who are success driven, they are competitive. Some companies may put more of a weighting on business building. Some may put more of a weight on P&L management. Some may put more on visioning skills or motivational skills. It really depends upon the situation that we may be involved in with a perspective client.

Learn more about the qualities of a top performer and high potentials. Get tips and tools to tune-up your performance, listen to the complete recording above, without commercials.


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