Executive recruitment: From Bad News Bears to the big leagues

I love underdogs in sports. Loveable losers. Longshots. When actual victories aren’t at hand, underdogs represent the best qualities—personality, spirit, and gumption. While there are many soul-lifting moments in sports underdog history, allow me to share some of my old school favorites:

1974 Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman aka Rumble in the Jungle – My dad loved boxing so I watched a lot of boxing growing up. Whenever things didn’t go my way, he would say, “Lizzy just rope a dope it,” a strategy made famous by Ali during this match. Which is to say, lean back, take the punches, and tire out your opponent. The bout ended with Ali knocking out the overwhelming favorite, undefeated world heavyweight champion Foreman, also of indoor grill fame. The sport never took with me, but watching the fight reminds me of my dad, and the drama of Rumble in the Jungle is entertaining. Watch it on YouTube »

1976 Bad News Bears – Hollywood’s tale of this scruffy, undisciplined, and often vulgar Little League baseball team didn’t end in a championship win, but their name continues to evoke a hardscrabble David vs. Goliath match-up. The movie shows up in best-baseball-movie lists for sentimental reasons but is also a fun look at suburban life in the 70s—gas-guzzling automobiles, polyester fashion, and childhood angst. Watch it on Amazon Prime »

2000 Rulan Gardner aka Miracle on the Mat – When American wrestler Gardner landed at the Sydney Summer Olympics, he had never earned a medal in international competition. Las Vegas had Gardner at 2,000–to–1 odds. Unexpectedly, he won his way into the gold medal final against Russian Aleksandr Karelin who had not been defeated in 12 years. Wyoming farm boy vs. Russian bear. In nine minutes, Karelin’s legendary domination ended and Gardner won the gold. Watch it on YouTube »

In the world of executive recruiting, underdogs can also compete and win against big-name organizations. Big-name organizations come with name recognition, prestige, and often deep pockets for wooing candidates. This is a big bridge to cross for sure, but it’s not impossible. For underdogs, the key to success is to compete on their own terms (aka home field advantage). 

For insight into what executive candidates look for when evaluating potential employers, I enlisted my colleague Dan Mayfield, Managing Director of Gallagher Human Resources & Compensation Consulting. Dan shared three factors that executives consider and how underdogs can create their advantage.

  1. Location – Every year, U.S. News and World Report ranks the 150 best places to live, based on job market, value, quality of life, desirability and net migration to rank major metro areas. If you’re not in a major metropolitan area with the obvious draws, there are other features to focus on to hype up your community. The cost of living, housing affordability, and work commutes create a satisfying picture of work/life balance. Here’s 50 best places to live as ranked by Business Insider (June 2020). If your city isn’t on either list, there are numerous other lists to source. 
  1. Opportunity for Career Growth and Experience – A candidate is more likely to get to the next level when they switch employers, and especially if they move to a smaller or lower performing organization. There they can have greater visibility and make a bigger impact. “You have to be a CFO somewhere before you can be a CFO at a larger organization,” says Mayfield, “and savvy candidates will view a smaller organization as a stepping stone where they can make their mark.”
  1. Compensation – Smaller organizations that compete with larger, better known organizations usually have more flexibility in their pay practices. Perks like a better retirement package, more leverage and pay for higher performance, sabbatical, paid higher education, and more are also on the table. 

Other factors where you can differentiate your organization include culture, reputation, business strategy, success of the company and CEO, and market competitiveness. Consider having a recruiting fact sheet that plays up these positives. For example:

Your competition: We have 100,000 employees worldwide.
Your spin: Smaller teams mean each person has a bigger impact. 

Your competition: We globally dominate the industry.
Your spin: Our company has a strong impact on the community.

Your competition: Our revenue last year was $100B+.
Your spin: People Helping People (mic drop)

Stay scrappy and true to your credit union mission, and your underdog status becomes a positive. Of course the work doesn’t end after you have onboarded your new executive. From there, talent management includes executive compensation, retention, performance management, and succession planning. Join us to continue the conversation here »

Liz Santos

Liz Santos

As Chief of Staff for the Executive Benefits practice, Liz supports the teams that design and service client benefit plans. Formerly BFB, Gallagher Executive Benefits consults with organizations on securing ... Web: www.GallagherExecBen.com Details

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