(Guest post by Steve Nelson and Cassie Battle)
One critical determinant in the success of CMOs in law firms is the ability to build a high-functioning team. Anyone who has read “Good to Great” knows that the key to success in any enterprise is to get the right people on board (“Get the right people on the bus.”), and then positively motivate them to accomplish well-articulated team and firm goals.
That said, CMOs often have difficulty accomplishing those ends, mostly due to administrative burdens placed on them by their law firms. As a starting point, law firms fail to use the same methodology that produced the CMOs themselves. The vast majority of CMOs at AmLaw 200 firms got their positions through retained searches, where the search firms used their expertise to unearth and qualify candidates, both in terms of quality and whether they were serious about the position at hand.
But at most firms, most manager and even director positions are handled in a completely different way. CMOs tend to follow a practice that, after doing some cursory networking, they contact human resources to ask them to help fill the positions; the CMO is available for interviews that are scheduled, but tends to be less involved with the actual hiring process, particularly when significant issues are raised by preferred candidates. If recruiters are used at all, the work tends to go to multiple agencies that have a “pool” of candidates who have expressed an interest to leave their current positions.
With this approach, there is little, if any, opportunity to attract candidates who are satisfied, perhaps even happy, with their current jobs, yet who could be attracted by a unique opportunity. One only needs to review the scads of openings listed on the Legal Marketing Association job bank to see how vanilla many of these job postings are. Qualified candidates that are happy in their current positions would never know about them – or be enticed by the descriptions.
Another flaw with this approach is that, because they’ve handed it off, many CMOs get disengaged once the process begins. Their initial enthusiasm gradually wanes as other priorities crowd out the importance of talent scouting. Meanwhile, parades of candidates come through for interviews, and the CMOs (and partners, if they are involved at the interview stage) don’t see the candidates they really want.
Because the CMOs have ceded the day-to-day contact with candidates to the HR staff who can never fully understand the requirements of the positions and the unique attributes marketing and business development professionals must have, the CMOs end up dissatisfied with the choices they see. The final candidate might satisfy a basic list of requirements, but may never have that special something that will make her an exemplary contributing asset on the team.
This is not to say that CMOs should battle with human resources to gain control. But we are saying that they do need to play a proactive role in working with the internal recruiters to make sure that the right candidates are being recruited. HR can effectively handle the logistics, but the CMO should own the candidate selection and vetting start to finish.
This is also not a call to have these positions exclusively handled by search firms on a retained basis. Economic realities often dictate otherwise. But when positions are critical to the marketing operation, or when they have been tough to fill, using a recruiter who can help you communicate the opportunity to a broader segment of the market can make a difference.
The best recruiters use different approaches to identify the perfect candidates for your available position. Ensure that yours tailors his or her approach to your circumstances and firm.
Steve Nelson is Managing Principal of Law and Government Affairs, the McCormick Group, an executive search consulting firm. He can be reached at email@example.com or (703) 841-1700.
Cassie Battle is a Principal with The McCormick Group, specializing in legal marketing and business development placements. She can be reached at the same number or at firstname.lastname@example.org.