Episode: 348 |
Mike Sarraille:
Winning on Talent:


Mike Sarraille

Winning on Talent

Show Notes

Mike Sarraille is a former Recon Marine and retired US Navy SEAL officer with twenty years of experience in Special Operations, including the elite Joint Special Operations Command. He is also the co-author of The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent.

Today, Mike Sarraille is the CEO and founder of of EF Overwatch, an executive search and talent advisory firm, and Talent War Group, a leadership and business management group.

In this episode Mike shares his perspective on how to identify and attract top talent.

Learn more about Mike’s firm EF Overwatch:


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Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman and I’m here today with Mike Cirelli, who is former Special Operations. He was in the Marine Corps switched over his navy seal. He’s now out he runs a search firm called EF Overwatch and is the author of the upcoming book, the talent war. Mike, welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. So Mike, tell me about how you decided to set up a search firm after your time and service.

Mike Sarraille 00:39
What I would love to tell you that I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I left the service. It’s hard leading the service, especially when you’re with such a tight knit community, like the navy seals, with a very select team within the navy seals. And you leave that support network in there. It’s very much a tribe. And I thought I had some inclinations as to what I wanted to do investment banking, private equity, venture capital, and I was absolutely wrong. And I really failed to define what success looked like to me outside the walls of the military. And had I take in time, I probably wouldn’t have made as many mistakes on the pathway trying to find what they’re for me. But one of the things I’ve always been fascinated with, is how do you build high performing teams, and I had a lot of experience doing that in the seal teams in the Marine Corps. And as I assess the business world, and how they hire and how they develop their talent, really, really found a gap in knowledge and performance, vice versa, how the military does it. And basically, I’ve created a blueprint from Special Operations and translated over the business world to help small and midsize businesses start to build their their respective elite teams dominate their respective industries.

Will Bachman 01:54
Alright, so tell me about some of the techniques that are the tips from the world of special operations and recruiting that that you’ve been able to apply to the, you know, to the civilian world?

Mike Sarraille 02:13
Absolutely, you know, it really starts with and this is where the business we’re all I think, predominantly, and I hate to make sweeping, sweeping generalizations, but I will, is they don’t have a talent mindset. So Special Operations understands that people are your most strategic competitive advantage that you can ever hope to achieve. Special Operations has actually something they called the five truths. In each of the axioms revolve around people, and how they really define successful work for special operations. And, you know, every CEO, every business owner will tell you tell the outward facing world that yes, these priority that there are people within their company, or their biggest priority, but rarely do their actions reflect what they’re saying. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. Their actions are contrary to what they’re saying, I don’t blame business owners, when you’re so focused trying to drive growth and revenue, people tend to become a secondary or tertiary priority, if not further down the chain. And so, you know, often very often you are used to actually, very rarely do you see CEOs, owners, and executives really put time into talking about their talent, but getting the right talent into the door, and then how you develop that talent and retain that talent to drive your competitive advantage for your company. So it really starts with the talent mindset. Secondary in all stop after this is there is a default mode for the business world. And that default mode is a bad mode. You know, default mode is to default to industry experience as the primary factor for hires. industry experience is not the best predictor of success. It never has been. Special Operations does not go to high schools and colleges looking for people with prior Special Operations experience. It doesn’t exist. So by nature, we become very good at attribute based hiring so people can call that character based hiring other people call it potential based hiring. Because we know if we find somebody with the mind the right mindset, in the right attitude in a series of attributes to include effective intelligence, that we can teach them the hard skills of what they need to know. And with that hiring model, Special Operations has created one of the world’s most high performing teams that the business world is fascinated with, and for good reason. But rarely do we see companies that understand this this principle. There are gentlemen you know, I’ll use a you know, Herb Kelleher, from Southwest founder and CEO that once said, We hire her mindset we hire for attitude. I teach people all the rest. But even though that that is an adage, business leaders know, rarely do they follow through on that.

Will Bachman 05:09
Yeah. Now, I’m curious about this, the impression that you get from just the media, and so forth, and the media, in film and TV, images of the seals is that buds training is, like, really physically demanding. So the sense that I always got was like, Look, I mean, I was in the military as a submarine officer, was it? Well, I can’t even consider the seals, because I’m just not strong enough. And I’m not tough enough, like I would never make it through that week, to the sense that you get is you have to be like, really strong, if to be good swimmer, you have to be able to carry those big, heavy, you know, telephone poles. But beyond that, like just beyond being like strong, and a good swimmer, and a good climber, and those sorts of physical capabilities. What are the other capabilities that the seals and special operations are screening for, that are maybe not quite as obvious from the media?

Mike Sarraille 06:04
Well, we’ll let me actually step back. Because that is one of the biggest misnomers about special operations is that, you know, we’re looking for the fastest runner we’re looking for the fastest when we’re looking for the strongest man, that’s actually not the case. Are there physical gates that you must pass to get into training? Yes, they’re actually not that difficult. And maybe I’m warped by saying not that difficult. But what Special Operations Training is designed to do is yes, there’s a physical, you know, we put these physical stressors on the students for a reason not to see how physically strong they are, is to see how mentally strong they are. And so through physical, you know, with se trials, we actually start to see people reach their their threshold, their limits, because that’s only when you can identify some of these true characters. The reason we push people special operations to their fiscal edge is because that’s, that’s when we see what they’re really made of, that’s when the true character emerges or lack there. And so that’s another reason business businesses really, in the interview process are not applying the right a proud amount of legal, let’s say, legal pressure to do identify some of these characters. We had guys that were NCAA athletes, division one football players, we had Olympic athletes who were amongst the first to quit in basic underwater demolition school. And then that kid whose baby 40 pounds sopping wet, who did speech and debate in high school is standing with the rest of the 20% committed through at the end of Hell Week. We’ve had guys that were at jsoc, that told me they didn’t play a single sport in high school, all they did was work on their computers. It did computer programming. So it’s not a pipeline. for athletes. It’s not what we’re looking for is mental mental toughness. We’re looking for resiliency.

Will Bachman 08:04
So resiliency, is it like you’re looking for people who can we’re good at, like collaboration or problem solving skills, or communication skills? Or, like, what, when you get people to the edge of their capabilities physically? Like what Give me an example of something that you’re testing for? And like a scenario where someone who, you know, maybe great athlete might fail at it, because they don’t have the capabilities you’re looking for?

Mike Sarraille 08:35
That is a great, great question. And let me start by saying in the book, the talent war, which comes out on 10 November that we wrote, we identified now nine foundational character attributes of high performers, and one of them is resiliency. So some of these NCAA athletes and these Olympic athletes had never truly endured failure before. And again, part of, you know, Special Operations, the way it’s designed, is every one is going to fail. It’s designed to make you fail multiple times, again, not for the pleasure of the instructors, it’s to elicit behaviors that we want to see. And so you may get knocked down by times in one day in fervor an athlete who has never endured failure, that may be too much and you don’t like that feeling in the end of quitting. So people that have endured you know, trials and tribulations in life and continually got up are much more equipped for basic underwater demolition school because they develop this this mental these mental scars, these this mental toughness, but drives and other thing, you cannot create drive where it doesn’t exist. One of the things that we’re also looking for in seal, you know, assessment selection or special operations assessment, selection as a whole is humility. And if we see like a level of arrogance and ego, then that usually leads to people getting dropped pretty quick. So So you know, he’s a big one. And then team ability, the ability to work with other people to put yourself needs to the side for the common good of the group, which at the time, the group is your team. And so those are some of the core things that we look for in Special Operations straight.

Will Bachman 10:17
Alright, helpful. Thank you. So you were going through the five axioms, I’m curious to complete that list of those talent mindset. There was this one, let’s, let’s run through the other ones. So you had these five trees.

Mike Sarraille 10:32
So it’s a talent mindset is not one of the five Special Operations Forces troops, okay, I’ll read them off to you here. Number one, is humans are more important than your hardware. And oh, how many companies in the tech world get this wrong? Your again, your competitive advantage, how you win is through people, not systems, not technologies. The second one is quality is better than quantity. What a lot of companies end up sort of defaulting to when they hit growth mode is what we call a button seat mentality. The worst thing you can do is start diluting your culture by just rapid hires in lowering the bar is rally rather, you’d be better equipped or better, it would suit you better to make slow hires, even if that means everyone’s working doubly hard, until you build up the right number. Third is special operations cannot be mass produced. Now it goes to show you town can be mass produced. That’s that’s what it’s saying. fourth one is competent, Special Operations cannot be created after emergencies. Now, every time we’ve had a national emergency where we have to commit troops to combat every single time our national command authority, the President in the Pentagon have said, We need more special operations forces. And every time our special operations forces leaders, this one, you know, after 911, it was General downing that pushed back and said, we cannot do that we will not do that we will not lower the standard for special operations. So when you’re doing workforce, planning and projection, and you’re anticipating growth, you better start hiring quality people sooner rather than later. Or you’ll end up in the butts and seats mentality. And then lastly, the fifth one, Special Operations requires non Special Operations assistance. You know, yes, it’s awesome to be a Green Beret or a seal to go out and do the what you know, the movies have been let’s make movies about. But there is a long list of supporting functions to those green berets and seals that enabled them to leave the wire and go do what they do best. You’re talking about intelligence officers, intelligence, personnel, logistics, personnel, admin personnel, the list goes on. So for every business, while your sales people may be your frontline, sort of, you know, high scoring individuals, you need a players at every function in your business to set them up to do what they do best.

Will Bachman 13:08
Talk to me about some of the other major points you want people to remember from your new book, the war on talent, the war, the war, for war for talent,

Mike Sarraille 13:18
show this is what I want people to understand is that this takes time, you know, world class talent acquisition, or world class talent management programs are not created overnight. The Special Operations assessment and selection process, which again, you know, within private sector terms, that’s the hiring process has been evolved over more than half a century. And it continues to evolve is part of creating or the how you start creating a world class talent acquisition processes, you sit down, and you’re talking about, and you have to identify what you’re looking for, you have to define what success looks like. And usually we use our top performers to create those talent profiles that we’re looking for. Once you engage in the process, you have an extremely resilient and you have to be extremely, extremely patient and committed and disciplined. As you make hires, you’ve got to create a feedback loop. This is what exists within Special Operations. With each hire, they assess how they did and they follow that person throughout their tenure in the organization, be it six years or 35 years, and are constantly asking, asking themselves if they’re a high performer. What was it about that individual that, you know, got them through the training? What is it unique in terms of attributes to that individual that we should be looking for in our future? Special Operations? operators? Same thing with bad hires. If we have a seal that did something unethical, we’re questioning we take it very harshly. We’re looking internally to say, what was it about that individual that we missed that we missed the fact that they were they were highly unethical? How did they get past our gates and how do we make the changes to ensure that that doesn’t happen again. So that feedback loop takes a lot of time. dedication that takes a lot of discipline but that’s how you will evolve. You evolve in accelerate it improve your hiring process.

Will Bachman 15:10
I’d like to hear a little bit more about the the type of clients that your firm serves. So you’re telling me that you serve a lot of small and medium sized businesses? Can you maybe give me some sanitized examples of you know, you don’t need to reveal your clients, but you know, the type of company that you might serve and the type of role that you’d be helping to fill.

Mike Sarraille 15:33
So when I designed the Overwatch League, there were two people that I was focused on one the client naturally, that’s where the revenue comes from. We have to make sure that we’re solving the pain point, which smaller midsize businesses struggle in finding talent to drive their businesses forward. We all understand you’re listening to understand small to midsize businesses are the backbone of America to the tune of I think the last I saw was 99% of businesses are classified as small and midsize businesses. And then the second was the detriments my brothers and sisters in arms who I watched, conducted selfless valor on a nightly basis during the Global War on Terror, demonstrate innovation and adaptation to the greatest extent to solve problems for which no book answered existed. I know their potential. And the reason I chose small to midsize businesses is really there’s no specialized executive search firm that serves them you know most of the fortune five hundreds if they need a high level placement, they’re going to turn to the major industry players like Heidrick and struggles and guns and Russel moments. Well, I specifically might might be Chad was the small to midsize businesses in the hypothesis has worked exceptionally up to this point. One of those environments, the owners put a precedence on leadership over the industry experience. They know somebody with the right mindset, the right aggressive nature to get in and drive results will take a lot off their plate so that they can make better strategic decisions for the for the company. And it’s been it’s been a lot of lessons learned. But right now, things are really picking up our clients were industry agnostic, we serve people in the construction community, the finance, community, manufacturing pharmaceutical, in really with what’s key to our success is we develop very deep relationships with our clients. I mean, we need to understand their pain points, we need to understand their business. And so when we approved clients, we spent a lot of time with them. And it really also leads to repeatability as well, most of our clients come back for additional candidates.

Will Bachman 17:36
So what sorts of what sorts of roles within these companies? Are you working on? Particularly curious people coming right out of the military? who may not have that functional experience? Are you is it sales roles or supply chain roles? Or, you know, head of manufacturing? What types of what types of roles are you working on? Typically?

Mike Sarraille 17:58
Will you be surprised right now we are doing a CEO search for a basically specialized construction, manufacturing firm subsea, this is a mid sized company. And they’re talking and right now is a guy who has zero private sector experience has 20 years in Special Operations is a just absolute a player, and they’re in love with him right now. So again, people understand that, you know, leadership is the most important thing in war, it’s the most important thing in business. So from CEO to boards of directors down to about general manager is what we place hence why we’re an executive search firm.

Will Bachman 18:42
Okay. Talk to me about some of the ways that you assess the talent. So you’re working on a search for, let’s say, a CEO, General Manager, beyond looking at the person’s record, and obviously, you know, having been in the military, you have a pretty good sense of what you know, the different campaigns and ribbons and evaluations, you know how to translate those. But beyond that. You can’t put the person through buds. So how are you? How are you evaluating the talent?

Mike Sarraille 19:17
Quite frankly, most of the people have already gone through special operations assessment selection, so they’ve already gotten through the build the world’s most rigorous and longest behavioral interview. Most of our our candidates come from the Special Operations community, the combat aviation community, it’s very easy for us to reach back to credible sources and to find out, you know, about their performance and their credibility and their character. So we have a market advantage where, you know, executive search firms that pull from just disability populace, it’s a little more difficult to, to validate those those candidates. We still do put them through a personal assessment. You know, one we use Something called the elite performance indicator that was designed by Dr. Josh cotton, who was the main contributor on the book, the talent war, he finally the director of assessments for all of Honeywell. And then we are also talking to him as well. So I’m a senior leadership consultant with Echelon front, which is the leadership consultancy, led by jakka willing to make batum, the two co authors of Extreme Ownership, they’re also my managing partners in Overwatch. So we are really looking for the nine foundational attributes, we’re grading them on those, we’re doing reference checks, it’s very much a multi variant assessment and selection program.

Will Bachman 20:39
Oh, so most of your so a lot of your candidates are from the Special Operations community. So from your kind of personal network there, you’re able to get references on folks.

Mike Sarraille 20:52
Yes, and, you know, I’m sure the older I get, and further I get away from military service. If we maintain the relationships that we have, it’s just not hard to get them. And a lot of them hold their, their, you know, their top secret security clearances, we do do a lot of placements outside of the Special Operations community, what we’d like to say is that we really look at military leaders, the top 10%, from each of the respective communities to include, you know, the sub murders. And you know, a lot of those sub areas are extremely bright people. And they are ripe for placement into the lighter, the correct roles.

Will Bachman 21:31
What have you found are some of the most important things to get right for folks leaving the military to be able and be set up for success in a civilian role.

Mike Sarraille 21:46
So the most important point is we help them start the pathway. So we developed something called the accelerated career development pathway. And it really starts it’s a 10 week sort of training platform virtual that we designed, that starts with defining success. Again, a lot of them don’t define what success looks like, in that process for a lot of veterans means that your husband or wife is involved decision makers are involved in and then really help them before the after they define success. It is, let’s take a personal inventory as a leader, where are usually your What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses, you know, what can you contextualize in terms of military leadership and how that translates to the business world? And because of that pathway, I think it’s helped a lot of veterans get their heads, right. You know, this, this, this, again, this is, you know, veterans are wildly sort of boxed together, as if they’d have, you know, PTSD issues. That’s not the case. We only take veterans that are well rounded, that are high performers that want to get into business, they want to get into a leadership position, they want to drive results, and they proven that in the military. So we are very selective in who we take and

Will Bachman 23:01
tell me more about this process of defining success. And maybe almost Can you give us maybe a sanitized example of what the output from one of that exercises would look like?

Mike Sarraille 23:11
Yeah, you know, defining success. George Randall, now the co author and Carly Walden who’s coming on as the president ceo of EDF, Overwatch, she was the Air Force that George was army. Yeah, they say when you go to the grocery grocery store hungry, you end up shopping in the center aisles where they have all the, you know, the, let’s say not so good food. But if you go to the supermarket with a plan, and you end up on the outer aisle, aisles getting things. Same thing with the bandit success, if you have to sit down and evaluate what’s important to you. And if you have family, what’s most important to the family, and ranking those type of things like location is location, a primary factor in your in your search? For some people, they want to go back to the home of the record, maybe they dragged their family across 10 deployments and 10 moves in, they just want to go back to their home record, I get it. Maybe compensation is a primary factor or industry, maybe they know they want to go into construction. And they want to know that they want to go into the fence. Other things could be values, finding a employee that has shared values, with the veterans, work life balance, benefits, sometimes title titles a big one, that that’s if they get a C suite position that is success in their eyes, regardless of industry. So it’s different for every vet. And that’s what we walk them through is the process of identifying those factors that are most important to them, and it’s sort of prioritizing them, and then conducting the search in accordance with those priorities.

Will Bachman 24:48
And that’s no I have a similar discussion when folks asked me for advice on doing a full time search for a job. It’s you want to think about each dimension of the Job like you said, geography, the industry the function, you know how much compensation you’re getting? You know, what’s the role, what type of company it is big, small, private public. And then you want to think about what you want in each one of those, but then you want to prioritize across those categories. Because you can usually optim you can usually get what you want, and maybe one category, but not necessarily all of them.

Mike Sarraille 25:25
Yeah, yes, you have to rank. You have to know when your top priority is your second priority, if you need to wait them. Wait them. Yeah.

Will Bachman 25:36
How have you gone about getting the word out? And you know, doing doing the client development for your firm of, you know, finding finding clients? It’s, it’s probably even tougher for a firm like yours. It’s focused on small and medium sized businesses. Because it’s much more diffuse larger number of potential clients versus going to you know, the, you mentioned Russell, Reynolds, Heidrick and struggles from like that, you get embedded at one firm and you kind of expand outwards. So how have you gone about the, you know, the business development side for your firm?

Mike Sarraille 26:11
Well, I think it’s okay to say nothing well. So you know, that, that that was not a core skill of mine, one of our learn through through trial and tribulation. And so what we focused on is, hey, let’s make some, you know, a few quality placements. Let’s tell a story after that. And that’s what we’re slowly developing, you know, I’ve got my marketing director, right, right next to me. And we’ve made, you know, about 75 placements in our hit rate, our success rate is extremely high. So he and I are doing a traditional road trip, we’re not getting in a Winnebago, we’re gonna fly, but we’re gonna go out to clients, and, you know, film, just discussions with both the client and the candidate together at the same time, and start to tell that story more. The other thing was writing the book, we understand that we were passionate about the book, we also understand that if the book hits with some semblance of success, that will act as part of a funnel, both candidates and clients, and then ultimately, you know, it really is the quality of our placements. It’s that story that that we can tell, building businesses, you know, takes time, and I’m impatient, trust me, I want this business to grow as rapidly as possible. But I also understand I need to make the right decisions, I need to be thorough in the decisions I make, and give it a bit of time.

Will Bachman 27:41
What do you believe, and to be true about talent, that most people in the sort of Human Resources industry, or the search industry would not agree with?

Mike Sarraille 28:01
You know, what I think our book will naturally get a lot of criticism from people in the HR world. And what I would say is that will come from a place of love of fear. And you know, George has 20 plus years and talent acquisition at the executive level, and a guy stood up the veteran hiring program and EULA Packard KPMG, before it was bought by Deloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton. He’s made over 1000 hires highly respected. And even though he spent 20 years in the industry, and I came out of special operations, I’ve only been retired for two and a half years, we both had the same observations. HR is not structured in a way that is set up to be a strategic function for companies in sometimes it pains me to say that HR is not exactly a dumping ground for a players. And so when a B player or a C player in the HR industry reads this, they may feel that we are thrown criticism, criticism, and we’re not. We’re not we just took a harvard business case example the Special Operations community. It built a book that that is a it’s a case study on how to take best practices and incorporate them into the HR world. But I think there will be a lot of people that disagree with what we’re saying and they will they will want to argue that industry experience is predictive of performance, in a degree, the right industry experience, which has been shown to prove results maybe. But I think that’s where we’ll see a bit of criticism. And you know what we’re Welcome to that. We’re Welcome to civil conversation with those people if they want to have it if they want to throw insults over digital venues or mediums, then You know, George and I are more than happy to, to take it and we’re not perfect either. We are still learning in this game as well we’ll be learning until the day we die.

Will Bachman 30:12
Right? So for folks that want to learn more about your firm and about the book, where should they go online to do that I can include these links that you’ll share in the show notes but where should people go to learn more?

Mike Sarraille 30:26
Yes, via the company get Overwatch is e f, Overwatch comm you can go to our executive search on the book can be bought the talent war, anywhere books are sold. And based off the book, we’ve started something called the talent more group which is powered by the Overwatch Echelon front. It is 40 just amazing leaders from top ch sorrows to Special Operations leaders with significant leadership and talent acquisition and talent management experience. psychologists and we’re going to be putting out a lot of content on LinkedIn to assist small business they consider a small to midsize business leaders guide to building elite teams and managing the most important asset on their balance sheet, human capital. And that’s that can also be found at the talent war.com.

Will Bachman 31:19
Fantastic. Well, Mike, thank you so much for joining today. It was really amazing to hear about your experience in Special Operations and how you’re applying that to executive search. I was great speaking with you. You too, sir. Thank you for having


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