Hiring, Buying Your ‘Second’ Choice

As scarcity grips the markets, executives are learning to get comfortable with their second, third, and—dare we say it—fourth choices.

Remember the good ol’ days, when you picked up the phone and ordered a fleet of cars or a new break-room refrigerator? Try that today, and you’ll find yourself languishing on a six-month waiting list for the fridge while retracing how you paid 25% over budget for your fourth choice of vehicle. Oh, and that talented manager you recruited? She’s taking a remote job with a deep-pocketed tech company.

Shipping delays, empty shelves, microchip unavailability, and labor shortages have leapt from the headlines into C-suite offices, where executives are learning skills like compromise, a term previously so verboten in corporate circles that it feels funny in your mouth. “People are going to have to develop a new muscle,” says Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Chief Human Resources Officers practice. “It’s both problem-solving the way through, and to some extent, sucking it up and waiting like the rest of the world.”

Historically, waiting was not necessary. A company or individual with enough cash could buy nearly any good, service, or talent, says Kaplan. Now, if a needed shipping container is floating outside a port, no amount of funding will speed its arrival.

The question is how to approach decisions at a time of scarcity. The key, says Korn Ferry senior client partner and consumer sector leader Craig Rowley, is to shift your point of view. “You have to change your perspective to ‘What do I really need?’—not your preference but your need.” Once needs are clarified, executives can look at surrounding partial or underutilized options. For example, does the building really need 24 refrigerators, or would 12 suffice? In hiring, this might look like considering the teammates surrounding a new hire, as opposed to relying entirely on one person. “You might hire someone who’s not a 10 out of 10, but you can complement that person with others who can fill in gaps,” says Linda Hyman, executive vice president for global human resources at Korn Ferry. “In some ways, that builds a stronger team.”

Once baseline needs are established, the pool of options might also expand, such as hiring equally talented but less experienced applicants. “It’s not picking a less qualified person but just a candidate with less development,” says Elise Freedman, leader of Korn Ferry’s Workforce Transformation practice. She says that this is fine as long as the manager is clear on the candidate’s development needs and has a plan in place to address those gaps.

Scarcity is also pushing firms to make their own internal processes more efficient. Hiring executives are not suddenly accepting lesser candidates but are instead improving their internal processes, says Bradford Frank, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Technology practice. “They’re saying, ‘What can we do to accelerate the process so that when we meet the right person, we can get her immediately rather than balance three candidates against each other?’”

The overall shift in perspective extends to post-acquisition, where gratitude pays dividends. “It’s about appreciating the features that you do have available,” says Miriam Nelson, a senior client partner for assessment and succession at Korn Ferry. “Everyone and everything has strengths, so how are you going to make the most of them?”