As my frequent readers will know, I love to talk about Ethics and their interplay with established rules and laws. Today I thought to share a little more of my history, and my decision making process. Perhaps it will make you trust me less, or perhaps more and if nothing else I hope it will make for an interesting diversion.
I worked as a ‘salesman’ for some time. The firm I worked at was superb, I really enjoyed my time there and I learned a bunch. We had no marketing team or budget, just a group of sales people like myself all working in the eat what you kill mindset. We were a recruitment firm, income would be generated on a contingency basis, and whoever closed the deal first would get the payout from the client. Clients would frequently engage 3-10 firms on a search to fill just a single role; there was a lot of pressure to perform.
In the recruitment world we have Candidates and Clients. Clients are the companies hiring, and Candidates are the people they hire. Not once in my time recruiting did I pressure a Candidate to sign a deal, though I did work my butt off to present their offer in the best way possible, if after doing so they weren’t happy to join, I would gladly let them ‘off the hook’.
I wanted to share a story of when I ‘broke the rules’ in order to get to goal.
As a salesman, I ignored rules that were not ‘relevant’ to my goal. I remember closing the biggest deal in our firm’s history, and I did it by ignoring a rule. We worked on a 50/50 basis, one team member would manage the client, and any other team member could present a candidate to the client. My colleague acquired a new client and after the call he briefed the team about the search, it was confidential and that he has been instructed that we cannot release the name of the client to the candidates. It was a replacement position and they didn’t want the existing President to know of this maneuver occurring. We were told explicitly that this must be kept confidential.
My job, if I wanted to split the commission with him, was to bring him a candidate that was suitable for the role. With no marketing team, no existing contacts in the space and no leads I did a quick search of competitors and started dialing company Presidents. The first guy I spoke with sounded right, so we met for coffee that day.
The goal from such a meeting is two-fold. It is to build a trusting relationship that allows you to share the resume with the client, and also be considered on ‘their team’ so when it comes to salary negotiations and such you have a position to work from. When I met with this person I was restricted by the confidentiality, and couldn’t reasonably convince him to allow me to share a resume with a company without knowing what it was.
I decided to break the rules and tell him the name of the company. We talked some more about it and he agreed to proceed. After many more steps he eventually took the position. If I had not told him the name, it is possible that we could have still worked with him and got him the job, but it was my feeling that it appeared cagey and defensive of me, and that it appeared I was representing the client not the candidate. At the very least this would have weakened a negotiation position.
Breaking a rule is not for everyone, but our worlds are filled with ‘reframing’ things to make them work. In this case I could argue that it was the fault of my colleague for not ‘reframing’ the client and making them allow us to release the name, which could be due to his naivety and fear of client conflict. Furthermore, we were not working on this role exclusively, so if another firm HAD pushed back and got the approval to release the name, if they had approached the same person I had met and told him the name, they would have represented him and earned all the commission.
I look back on this decision frequently, and not with regret. And while it may seem wrong to some, I think that is just because you were told that by someone who perhaps also had the fear of conflict or a naïve innocence. Experience and lack thereof can create situations where transparent flowing of the views of another person in the process is actually perpetuating a fallacy, being able to spot the issue early and reframe any problems can save a lot of future conflict. I would face this frequently if I worked with people in HR, as they were frequently less experienced by nature than people at the CXO level where I typically operated.
The challenge as always is ‘where does it all end’ in a land without rules, and a life where you change them to fit your goals there is massive potential for abuse, and I think that is where a sense of right and wrong can co-exist with an ability to move around the mindsets you encounter. We managed to make it work at that firm by always putting the individual first. We put the candidate above all else, including the rules of the client and our co-workers. The rationale was that even ‘the client’ wasn’t actually the corporation. Many of the client contacts we had brought their own ‘baggage’ with them when it came to the deal.
I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on this, and how you can be a filter in a process and extract ‘baggage’ from it in order to achieve goals, or if it is better to let everything flow through?