The Key to a Strong Staffing Function: It’s Having a Strong CEO Behind Them

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to attend Microsoft’s Global Staffing Summit. Now, I’ll tell you that, traditionally, people like me aren’t invited to events like this. It’s for their internal teams to strategize, celebrate, and talk about where the company and their staffing function is heading over the next couple of years.

I avoided most of the sessions that would cause me to get a knock on the door from the folks at Microsoft if I ever wrote about them (I’m sure they have my address) but I couldn’t avoid one: CEO Steve Ballmer opened up the day talking to their recruiting leaders, answering their questions about what he needed from them and where the company was going.

It was a fascinating look at the interaction between the CEO and recruiting organization supporting him.

Drinking the kool-aid

What reminded me of my Microsoft conference experience was an interview that Ballmer gave during the recent Web 2.0 Summit down in the San Francisco Bay Area. His unbridled enthusiasm for Microsoft’s own products has garnered him less than favorable mentions in the tech press. In reality though, if you’re the CEO of a tech company, you let the analysts and press sort out the so-called winners and losers and you drink your own kool-aid.

And to me, it related to a post Kris Dunn did over at the HR Capitalist about a spat on the field between two NFL head coaches:

Your team is watching. Sometimes being passive is the right call. Being passive all the time is rarely the right call. If you’re going to lead, you’re going to need to show passion. There are a million different ways in an organization to show you’re standing up to the challenge.

The main thing is that you show your team you aren’t afraid to rise up if you’re being disrespected. They’re watching and waiting for someone to rally around.”

Sure, at times Ballmer comes off as a bit nutty about some of Microsoft’s products to those of us on the outside (the same way Detroit Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz looked this past Sunday). But what do people on the inside think?

Enthusiasm is infectious, especially from the top

If last month’s Global Staffing Summit was any indication, it seems to be working.

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

The conversation with Ballmer was wide-ranging, but the most interesting parts were the questions from the recruiting team at Microsoft. Ballmer showed remarkable candor about some of the challenges that Microsoft is facing from competition. He talked about perception issues. He talked about big wins the company was making.

One of the most memorable parts was when he talked about a candidate that got away, something every recruiter everywhere has experienced. How he worked his tail off to get a candidate and it didn’t work out. The enthusiasm was insurmountable and was definitely a highlight to watch him enthusiastically tell this story.

What happened at the end of the story got the biggest applause of the day.

Many of the people in the room believe they have the best jobs in the world offering the best jobs in the world to candidates, and when one doesn’t accept, they need a leader who will tell them that person is crazy. Or, maybe they weren’t thinking right. Or, maybe we have some improvements to make. But hey, I’m the CEO and understand where you’re at and I’m behind you.

After hearing Ballmer speak, I was half-ready to sell my MacBook, Android phone and PlayStation and grab myself a PC, Windows phone ,and Xbox 360 (with Kinect of course). Even if it is only on occasion, if you can get your CEO and other top executives out there in your staffing organization to infuse them with your organization’s collective mission, enthusiasm and strategy, it will pay dividends down the road.


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