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“The warm body syndrome” versus hiring the talent you need

Considering a poor hire at director level with a salary level of £100,000 can cost a business upwards of £314,000, recruiting the wrong person at executive level is a situation that no board wants to find themselves in. Yet, all too often, businesses suffer from warm body syndrome – a condition which, if not caught early, can have fatal consequences to productivity and culture.

For those unfamiliar with the term, warm body syndrome doesn’t refer to a mass-failure of air conditioning units in workplaces during the height of summer, but rather an employee who is physically there but not mentally engaged in their work. This can be for a number of reasons: perhaps they lack passion, commitment and investment in the company. In other cases, they simply don’t get it or don’t want to get it. Then there are those who actually can’t do the job they were hired to do, but do a great job of pretending they can or doing the minimum to avoid getting the chop. If you’re really unlucky, your so-called ‘warm body’ is all of these things.

The question is, how do so many businesses wind up with warm bodies in their executive team?

Many start-ups finding their feet fall victim to warm body syndrome as quick fix solutions quickly transpire to be more damaging than beneficial to the business. Instead of hiring talented executives who are perfectly matched to the position they’ll be taking on, people are brought in out of convenience and cost-efficiency. In other cases, boards look to candidates they are already familiar with; they favour contacts from their own professional networks such as ex-colleagues due to the sense of reassurance gained from not taking a gamble on a total stranger.

Warm bodies are the by-product of taking a short-cut to speed up recruitment, rather than an investment opportunity with a compelling ROI.

Then there are companies who avoid seeking out the specialist support of an executive search firm to save themselves the costs – unbeknown to these businesses, the wrong hire costs significantly more than the fees typical of a search firm.  At first, it won’t seem like a significant issue. However, left untreated, it is these warm bodies that will drag your business down in the long-term and stand in the way of profitability.

Warm bodies are the by-product of taking a short-cut to speed up recruitment, rather than see it as an investment opportunity with a compelling ROI. Perhaps they looked good on paper, but failure to perform sufficient due diligence to unearth the details of how the individual performs on a day-to-day basis, should not be taken lightly. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but at this stage, it’s clear the employee was not the right person for the role.

Most leaders agree that talent is their greatest asset, and yet fewer companies than expected invest in finding the right talent.

Fortunately, there are several remedies to the problem: a new pattern for hiring that is focused on value rather than time constraints is a good place to begin. Most leaders agree that talent is their greatest asset, and yet fewer companies than expected invest in finding the right talent.

The most effective way a business can avoid a costly hiring mistake is to invest in a proven hiring strategy that thoroughly assesses candidates, builds a clear picture of their past achievements and is backed up by evidence to support the stories of their performance in their previous roles.  If you are to reduce the risk of hiring someone who could do more harm than good to your business through their lack of ability, engagement or commitment, due diligence is non-negotiable.

The most successful companies are driven by passion; they are bound by a shared vision that is felt from top to bottom. While warm body syndrome can be contracted through recruitment, it can and commonly does grow in a culture that allows it to thrive. In an organisation in which employees feel demotivated and disengaged, you can’t expect more than the minimum in regard to the level of effort they put in.

While the task of employee engagement will, in the long term, rest entirely on your ability to incentivise your talent, you can still avoid bringing a warm body into the businesses by teaming up with an executive search firm. Unlike regular recruitment agencies, good executive search firms don’t simply post jobs and give you the best of what came into the posting. A specialist recruiter within a search firm does not rely on inbound talent – rather, they tap into their broad range of industry contacts and draw on their in-depth market knowledge to find the best (most often passive) candidates for their clients, emphasising the vision and opportunity more than just salary and title.

Beyond screening, they conduct appropriate background checks and thorough telephone and subsequent face-to-face interviews to reduce the risk of clients taking on talent unequipped or unprepared for what’s required of them.

At 360Leaders, we’ve been in the business of sourcing high-calibre talent for Boards, C-level and leadership positions for over twenty years. With clients such as Apple, Secret Escapes and BenevolentAI on our roster, we’ve earned a reputation for the impact our placements have had on global technology businesses. The next time you dismiss an executive search firm as an unnecessary expense, try to bear in mind the negative impact that a warm body can have on your business and the long-term loss of productivity you could suffer from a bad hire – then give us a call.