The best companies are determined to do more than survive in the current downturn: they position themselves to thrive in the coming upturn. They invest in technology, R&D, and upgrade the quality of their management team at all levels. Four-fifths of CEOs worry about skill shortages, according to the Economist. Even companies that have cut staff must not hesitate when adding a critical executive hire can mean building the top line.

Harvard Business School analyzed 4,700 companies over the past three recessions, and reported that those companies that were “extremely selective about when and where” they cut staff, and “more importantly, …continued to make strategic investments” in people were able to come out in much better positions than they entered the downturn because of their “progressive” focus. They did not completely freeze hiring. They hired with the top line in mind.

Stabilize your organization first. For many, that means developing a new strategic plan—with a talent strategy component as the enabler. Do you currently have the leadership and key players who can restart your company’s engine? This is the time to acknowledge that so-called “weak links” simply must be replaced for the company to move forward.

Who you hire is critical. Maybe you saw someone speak at a conference or professional organization meeting. Maybe they wrote a blog or were featured in an article that you thought was particularly insightful. Now is the time to reach out. It has never been easier to connect on Linked In or even catch people at home. Right now, your perfect candidate is less likely to be in meetings or otherwise “out.” And they are likely to be interested in receiving your call. Leaders see this time as an opportunity to be ahead of the competition by connecting with talent they could not interest before. Top Talent is more willing to talk because they want a back up plan if their company thinks short term and furloughs them.

While some leaders are being passive and waiting until things get better, other leaders are creating an alliance with their internal recruiting team or aligning with a  recruiting company to develop a pipeline of talent so that it is ready when they need it. One CEO told me, “I want to talk to every top person in the industry.” To be the best company ready for the upturn, some companies are interviewing without making offers or making offers without start dates. The goal is to develop a positive relationship with a candidate, keep them “warm,” and be ready to move the moment your industry starts going again.  

Most CEO’s know the secret to success is their talent. Use this crisis to your advantage. With your strategic plan in hand, add Top Talent to your executive team who can make an immediate impact. If you need to wait to make an offer, or you have multiple hires in one department, rely on an external search firm to build a talent pipeline so that you will be able to hire the best of the best.  

Which leader are you going to be?

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