Block and tackle

Explain the job

The first simple step in building up a company culture starts with you focusing on the people you bring in.

“It’s critical during the recruitment process that culturally and through a thorough process of referencing you find individuals that will continue to thrive in an organization that has the same values,” he says. “There is a fascinating statistic that 40 percent of senior executives leave organizations or are fired or pushed out within 18 months. It’s not because they’re dumb; it’s because a lot of times culturally they may not fit in with the organization or it’s not clearly articulated to them as they joined.”

At Heidrick & Struggles, Kelly makes it a point to help with the recruiting and hiring process of any senior employee.

“For me, bringing the right people into the organization is critical,” he says. “I probably spend 30 percent of my time on that.”

That doesn’t mean you need to sit down in HR all day and wait for people to come in for job interviews or spend your Fridays at college job fairs. A large part of what Kelly does is about articulating the company’s goals. So while he continues to let the normal chains of command vet candidates, he does the interview where the candidate can get a full view of the company’s expectations.

“I can articulate what we want to do as a firm, how we can become a breath of fresh air in a stale industry and how we want to differentiate ourselves,” he says. “Being able to articulate that is critical in getting the right talent in place.”

Kelly notes that more than half of his direct reports have worked with him for more than five years, so it’s not that he micromanages or overturns their hiring decisions. But he takes time with candidates because it sets an example about how important the process is, and he likes to get involved when it comes to making sure a candidate can fit in.

“It’s only for getting people over the line, if you will, or talking about company culture, talking about what we’re doing, that I’ll step in,” he says. “I can’t interview all 1,800 [employees], but if they are significant hires, then I’ll step in and do that. It’s about having a great team, and you’ve probably heard this a 100 times, but it’s amazing how many organizations don’t actually do it. One of the things I learned early on is it’s critical to have the right people in place to create a unified stance in where the organization is going.”