Thermoforming Report

Lessons from March Madness

by Keith Brown, President & Owner, Siena Group.

Well, it’s that time of year again. Even if you are not a sports fan, the undeniable and ever-present coverage of the NCAA annual Division 1 basketball tournament (both men’s and women’s) is almost impossible to miss! 

So, why not just go with it and unbegrudgingly try to make connections to what every person reading this understands: our jobs. I will work not to make it too gratuitous… and hopefully will avoid any wincing or eye-rolling on your part! 

This major basketball tournament is a culmination of a long career for each of the players and coaches who have the privilege to compete in it. A lot of sweat, hard work, and practice after practice… after practice. 

The amount of effort and energy expended is crazy – if you even could add up the number of hours involved! My point: each of these athletes and coaches didn’t magically fall into their role and this tournament. 

They worked at it. And usually, with some great sacrifice. 

Now, I’m not saying that to succeed at a high level in your profession requires sacrifice, though it wouldn’t be unusual. What I am conveying is that it takes commitment to learn your craft and put yourself in a position to “win” – get promoted, land that new job, get chosen for that big project, and more. Sure, just like athletes, some are blessed with gifts and abilities that come more naturally, but even those talented people invest copious amounts of time to learn, grow, develop, and be the best that they can be! 

A key takeaway for candidates on this topic: if you are in the interview process for a new role, know that you deserve to be there! You’ve earned your place because of your experience, because of your successes, because of your ability to convey who you are and what you are about. Carry that confidence with you as you meet and greet the team and decision-makers! 

No, I am not going to list those “Cinderella” teams that progressed deep into the tournament. There are many and a few are very memorable (including a recent 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s in 2022).  But, for the uninitiated, the term “Cinderella” applies to those low-ranked teams (12th to 15th seeds… and especially the 16th seed) in the basketball tournament. 

My question: Has anyone ever asked those players and coaches if they feel like they are a Cinderella team? I’m confident the question was asked and, though I haven’t done extensive research on the topic, my guess is those teams do not view themselves as ‘Cinderellas.’ The answers they likely provide are mostly the same. “We earned the right to be here.”  “We are a good team and worked hard to get here.”  “We’ve played together for a long time and being a strong team makes a difference on the court.”  And even from the crazy game last night [3/21/24, Oakland vs. Kentucky], where the #14 seed stunned the #3 seed, the star of the night made a quote and provided unique insight and perspective that aligns beautifully with this topic: “I know they have draft picks, and I know I’m not going to the NBA… but on any given day I can compete with those type of guys.” — Jack Gohlke, Oakland Golden Grizzles (made 10 3-pointers in the game by the way). I absolutely concur, Jack! 

Though we all believe those low-ranked teams are underdogs for any number of reasons, it is common that a few teams get ‘surprise’ victories in any given year.  “Bracket busters” literally happen every year… and that’s why you play the game.  Strategy, defense, a hot shooter (see above), the stars aligned – whatever the reason – the supposed underdog beats the highly touted team with better talent. But it happens nearly every year! 

Where am I going with this?!? 

Talent matters. Effort matters. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But every player and every coach gives their all to achieve the goal. That’s how you win. And that is how the game should be played. We all have hard days – we’re tired, bored, or in over our heads – but you have work to do, things to accomplish, deadlines to meet, and goals to achieve. So, we just keep cranking and doing our best!

The Takeaway? Work hard, be your best, and, when the time is right to make a move, take the game-winning shot and land that amazing new role! And on the hiring manager side, be willing to look at someone who may not have the perfect credentials or experience. Though they may look like a ‘Cinderella,’ they just may be an amazing fit for your team and meet a critical need!

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a group of 64 candidates for any given opening?!? Yeah, that isn’t happening anytime soon! That said, the idea of comparing potential new team members via a head-to-head competition would definitely be interesting to consider! The fact is, though not exactly the same, hiring processes tend to be similar… to an extent. 

The more I work with and place leaders, especially at the senior and executive levels, the more I’ve learned that there is a decent-sized group of people who can absolutely blow the role out of the water.  Each brings a combination of industry-specific and leadership experience, a proven history of delivering results, a long list of strengths, and a strong network of gifted colleagues to leverage and clients to tap into. However, those that “win” their game as they progress through the bracket tend to have stronger alignment in the soft skills, better fit culturally, and “just seem to jive well” with the team.

We recently published two different articles that explore soft skills necessary for success. Check them out: Part One and Part Two.

Ideally, as the “winners” move through the bracket and the field gets narrowed down, it will boil down to those last two that you bring onsite to interview extensively in person. From there, the decision makers, peers, and team members can complete the assessment and make their choice. At that point, the goal is to have to make a tough decision… because both could and would be a great addition to the team! 

The Takeaway? There will always be people who can do the job well, but a much smaller subset who will also align with your company and team culture. This is why I wholeheartedly believe in face-to-face interviews. There are many tools out there to facilitate the interview process, but, in my opinion, nothing can replace meeting someone in person.  Plus, a side benefit is that the personal connection you made during the onsite visit will most certainly help offset the likely counteroffer that may hit! 

One thing March Madness has going for it: efficiency in determining the winner. Starting Thursday, March 21, and wrapping up the national championship game on Monday, April 8. In just over 2 weeks and 63 games later, a winner is declared. How is this accomplished? Things happen in parallel.   

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. 

How many hiring processes last a total of two weeks, from the decision to hire to actually hiring someone? Very few! Remember, there’s a true distinction between looking and hiring. Wait until you’re ready to hire before you start the search process!

Though it should not be a goal to make a hire as fast as possible, time-to-hire should most certainly be a metric for the HR team!  When it takes a long time to backfill a vacancy, or even to fill a new role, it means that someone or a team of people are having to absorb more than what they should. We can all do our part to help the organization manage through a short-term gap. However, it is more common that you’d expect to have an opening last 6 months… or even longer. 

Covering open roles is tough. It wears on your team. It frustrates them. Burn-out starts to kick in… and that’s when they start looking for another opportunity. It is an old story.   

The Takeaway? Be efficient in your processes. If you are going to hire someone, make sure all of those involved are tuned up and ready to go – and that includes freeing up their time to interview. Be thorough – and be decisive. Dragging it out is costly in many different ways. Plus, I’ve seen slow processes finally generate an offer that only gets turned down due to the candidate receiving another offer or worse, losing interest. 

As a niche recruiter, it’s easy to compare the current ‘March Madness‘ trend to the manufacturing world. After all, sports and competition parallel the professional world in many ways! 

Candidates: Invest time to hone your craft. Learn. Grow. Be mentored and coached. When you get that interview, have confidence because you’ve earned the right to be there. Just because you have all the right experience doesn’t mean you align well with the company or team culture. That’s ok… just keep at it!

Clients: The best candidate might not look like you expect. Be open and flexible to a variety of talent and experience. Don’t shortchange the process. When interviewing, meet people face to face. Be efficient. And thorough. And decisive.   

Let’s pick the winners… together! 

At Siena Group, we are your Thermoforming Talent Partner! We’re here to help in any and every way possible! With more than 30 years of experience in manufacturing, hiring & recruiting talent, we bring a greater understanding of the companies we partner with and the candidates we pursue. Let’s Strengthen Your Search!

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