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How To Hire An Executive And Make It Work

2015-01-12 | Blog | Bob Swidler

After almost 44 years of practicing the executive search profession and witnessing thousands of searches, I’ve been able I think to distill what differentiates a successful from an unsuccessful assignment into a few succinct points. “Successful” means that a candidate is hired and has a significantly positive impact on the company over a three year period at a minimum. We’ll use the female gender for purposes of simplicity:

– Draw up a detailed Position and Candidate Specification culminating in a list of competencies required. Assess candidates against these competencies through a rigorous set of structured behavioral interviews. What are structured behavioral interviews? In a nutshell they focus on the competencies you’ve identified as being necessary. Instead of asking candidates what they think of themselves or what they would do in the new role, both of which have been demonstrated to be statistically unreliable as predictors of performance, ask what they have done in the past in related situations, how and why they did it that way, what they learned from the experience and what they would do differently this time. You want to see that someone is continuously learning and improving and, more importantly, acknowledging less that perfection in previous endeavors.

- Now this is the key point. Hire someone when you find that she has 70% to 80% of what is called for AND you deem that she has both the ability and willingness to continuously improve. It’s more important to move the ball forward than to sit around waiting for perfection. Our overwhelming experience is that your chances of finding a better candidate diminish with the passage of time and further iterations of the search (bird in the hand). Stretching the search out creates uncertainty and anxiety within and causes the market to “smell a rat”.

- Make a commitment to her success and create a game plan for it. Get her to acknowledge where she falls short and the need to fill in the gaps. This can be accomplished through a development plan (courses, coaching, mentorship from others in the organization) and/or through her promoting or hiring others to complement herself.

- Support her through thick and thin. Do not allow others in the company to undermine the hiring by going around her or torpedoing her in other more subtle ways.

- Provide regular performance appraisals to her (as often as every six months or even quarter in the early going) and ensure action is taken to address issues identified.

The key to succeeding at the above is that you are committed in the first place. This may seem obvious. Why would anyone go through such a time consuming and internally contentious process without being committed to the end result? We’ve seen three possible reasons for this common occurrence:
- A belief that the position shouldn’t be created or filled.
- A feeling of being threatened by an outside hire.
- A conviction that an insider should get the job. (This doesn’t mean that internal candidates shouldn’t receive consideration. Valid ones can be included in the process and should even be slightly favored with certain exceptions, all other things being equal.)

So it is a commitment to a successful hire – a king of relentless determination to build your organization’s capabilities, a conviction that you can’t move forward as well without this person – that differentiates the successes from the failures in this increasingly high stakes matter. This commitment, combined with a properly run process as outlined above, should do the trick.

Our best wishes to you for the upcoming holiday season and kind regards,


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