Why Battalia Winston Practices Relationship Recruiting

Peter Gomez, Partner, and Susan Medina, Partner & Diversity Practice Leader, of Battalia Winston. Photo by Sheila Barabad.

Recruiters, take note: companies nationwide are implementing diversity and inclusion strategies, offering Latino job candidates more options than ever before. Battalia Winston’s Peter Gomez and Susan Medina are leading the charge by leveraging their collective relationships and experience to connect top candidates with corporate employers. The two sit down with Hispanic Executive to talk about their passion for recruiting and explain how they are shifting the conversation about diversity within companies across the United States.

Hispanic Executive: You’ve worked together for many years. What was behind your move to Battalia Winston together in 2011?

Susan Medina: We’ve been recruiting collectively for 30 years. Nine years ago, I interviewed with Peter for a search he was recruiting on and never left his office. We came to Battalia Winston together to build its diversity practice and expand the Midwest practice.

Peter Gomez: We met with Battalia Winston’s partners and CEO Dale Winston, and they all saw the value of diversity. It was the right fit, as diversity will never be successful for any organization unless it is embraced top to bottom, bottom to top.

Now that diversity strategies are being implemented, what are you working toward?

PG: Today, the diversity strategy concept is still really new to a lot of organizations. We talk to our clients about how diversity and inclusion can be ingrained in the search process and in their overall organization. Because of the networks Susan and I bring, we guarantee an inclusive slate for all of our searches. Case in point: if I’m searching for a VP of Sales for a major company, there is an understanding that at least half of the slate will be made up of US minorities or females. No other search organization can promise that without being exclusive during their process.

How have you developed the ability to deliver those numbers?

SM: We’ve been proactive in this space for twenty-five years, and everyone else is working reactive. In 2009, we worked together to start LatinoExecs. We had clients with diversity needs who were coming to us with specific talent requests, but these same clients did not have the budgets for a full search. LatinoExecs.com was a combination of TheLadders.com and LinkedIn for Latinos and became a place where Fortune 500 companies could identify diverse talent at a fraction of the search cost. We worked with clients like General Mills, AMC, and Starbucks. We had this great network of top Latino talent.

And then what happened?

PG: We missed the search game. That’s our passion, and we wanted to get back into executive search. That’s what we’re doing now, but now we can use this great database we created within LatinoExecs.

How do you find candidates for leadership roles?

PG: Best practices of traditional executive search coupled with our proactive methodologies. For example, we use leadership lists such as “Who’s Who” and “40 Under 40” to help the initial identification of top diverse talent, but we do something unique: we actually meet with these people well in advance of our assignments. We take them to coffee or lunch to find out who they really are and what makes them tick. We get to know their aspirations and find out what kind of work environment makes them thrive. Mainstream search firms will only try to recruit these people during a live assignment; there is no genuine relationship being established.

SM: For this kind of recruiting, you have to have a real relationship. These candidates get hunted. They get multiple calls from recruiters, and they have to be comfortable with you. We spend time with them, we perfect their résumés, and we are there for them to offer our advice. I recently had a VP of HR come to me because she was starting a confidential search and wanted some advice because she hadn’t interviewed in years. We created a list of companies where we could make introductions for her and coached her for interviews. I didn’t do this to gain a fee—I did it because she’s someone that I want to build a long-term relationship with.

What’s your strongest business argument for diversity and inclusion?

PG: On the simplest level, diversity of thought is directly tied to a company’s performance. It has been proven time and time again: diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups.

SM: Diversity doesn’t mean lowering the bar of talent; it means casting a wider net and thinking outside of the box when adding talent to your organization.

Do most companies embrace this, or are you still educating them?

PG: It depends on the industry, although we find most companies embrace diversity. This said, almost all Fortune 500 companies still struggle with diversity representation at the leadership ranks.

What makes a company really “get it”?

SM: Sometimes a company will have a wakeup call after it starts to lose market share. Other times they see the success of a diverse team that executes on a new product or service.

What examples have you seen?

PG: W.W. Grainger in Lake Forest, [Illinois,] began partnering with us in 2010 as their entire industry was traditionally white-male-dominated, but leadership began seeing the shift in the demographics at the customer level. We began the relationship by helping their sales function—HR and talent-acquisition teams—with its approach to locating talent, i.e. by diversifying the organizations they were targeting in their talent hunt. Since this time, they have added a robust internal recruiting team with annual diversity goals. The organization realized the returns from this strategy. Diversity has been an undeniable part of the growth the organization has realized in the last four or five years.

SM: The bottom line is that diverse companies are more innovative and, thus, more successful. In 2014, the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) conducted a study of 40 Fortune 500 companies and found that “serial innovation,” or the type of continuous, consistent innovation that is a trademark of companies with long-term success is strongly linked to “two-diversity.” CTI distinguishes “two-diversity” as inherent diversity, which refers to gender, ethnicity, etcetera.

Inherently diverse companies are more innovative and successful because they are better able to understand the needs of the market—which is, of course, made up of very diverse individuals as our country’s demographics change. What’s even more compelling is that even a small amount of diversity can have a huge impact on a company’s understanding of its customers. CTI found that a team with at least one member who can directly understand the unmet needs of the target market can be up to 158 percent more likely to understand the target market and develop solutions accordingly.

With all of this progress, what barriers still exist?

SM: Sometimes getting the conversation going is the hardest part. Our job is to make diversity a very easy conversation. We do this through education and providing the framework for why most companies continue to struggle with diversity, particularly at the most senior levels. The understanding that “you are not alone” sets a better environment for the conversation.