Appointing a new senior executive is a major undertaking in any organisation. Get it right, and you are a hero. Get it wrong, and the ramifications will reverberate from the board room to the bottom line. After decades of partnering with some of Australia’s top companies to fill their C-suite requirements, we know that finding the perfect match goes way beyond a good résumé and a slick interview technique.
This why we have developed Seven Crucial Questions designed to help you navigate this critical undertaking. They are:
- Is my organisation attractive to top candidates, or do our internal practices inhibit success?
- What led to this appointment, and what context will greet the newcomer?
- Have I clearly defined the role and the candidate pool?
- How sophisticated are we when it comes to sourcing and engaging the best candidates?
- Are we up to speed on best-practice when it comes to candidate assessment?
- How do I align the executive’s expectations with the company’s expectations?
- What should I consider when integrating the new executive?
This guide has been developed specifically to help anyone who:
- Is looking to recruit executives to ensure fit, tenure and performance.
- Has experimented with executive recruitment in some form or another and maybe engaged external service providers, but with mixed results.
- Needs help in identifying and assessing the perfect candidate and wants a tangible return on investment.
BEFORE YOUR NEXT EXECEUTIVE APPOINTMENT ASK YOURSELF THESE SEVEN CRUCIAL QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1. IS MY ORGANISATION ATTRACTIVE TO TOP CANDIDATES, OR DO OUR INTERNAL PRACTICES INHIBIT SUCCESS?
To what extent do these positive characteristics accurately represent my organisation?
- Robust Values, Clear Strategy, Insightful Leadership, Positive Culture, Open Communication, Career Options, Relevant Reward.
- High-potential, high-demand talent has many options and are highly selective. You need to be realistic about your chances of attracting top talent. Rate yourself on the above factors and carefully consider the implications for your approach to market. Ask yourself:
- Why would high quality candidates choose my organisation over others?
- Will the current mix of these factors enable me to attract and retain the best? If not, am I realistic about the calibre of executive I can attract?
- Can I be honest with myself about how power, politics and culture really work in my organisation? If there are issues, how can I use this recruitment process to positively shift the business culture.
- Will I be happy with a B-level appointment, given the nature of the organisation and the role’s challenges? Ok, I might be unhappy, but can they get the job done, and will this suffice?
High-potential, high-demand talent has many options and are highly selective. You need to be realistic about your chances of attracting top talent. Rate yourself on the above factors and carefully consider the implications for your approach to market. Ask yourself: Why would high quality candidates choose my organisation over others?
QUESTION 2.WHAT LED TO THIS APPOINTMENT, AND WHAT CONTEXT WILL GREET THE NEWCOMER?
- Is there a clear purpose for the role, or has it been driven by other, less obvious, factors?
- Given this role is afoot, are there opportunities for a restructure or realignment?
- Can I unwind some annoying legacy issues and project new initiatives into the future?
- Do I have agreement at senior levels regarding the need for – and nature of – the role?
- If not, how do I caucus the relevant internal stakeholders in a positive way?
- What would be the implications of a unilateral decision on my part?
- How would the stakeholder group describe the major challenges facing the role?
- What are the values the stakeholder group would want to see in the incoming executive?
- What are the transformation and change initiatives this role will drive?
- What new capabilities will they bring and how will they impact my team?
- What impact do I want this executive to have?
- Have I considered each scenario and the ramifications for my team and the business?
Senior appointments are a cusp moment in organisational development, and they often bring opportunities for step change. On the flip side, it is not uncommon to see several strong streams running through an organisation’s culture, forged by successful executives who may be change resistant. Consider the impact on this group in your decision making prior to this appointment. Undertake executive assessment on short listed candidates to secure the required insights to mitigate risk and focus your decision making.
QUESTION 3. HAVE I CLEARLY DEFINED THE ROLE AND THE CANDIDATE POOL?
- Do I have a process to capture the essential and desired capabilities for the role?
- Do I have a process to identify preferred leadership styles?
- Consider where the role should have an impact. Where is the emphasis?
Service & Product delivery
New Products / Markets
- Have I created a role blueprint that includes capabilities, leadership styles and preferred impact areas?
- Am I able to identify companies, sectors, and geographies where the required executive capability may originate?
- Am I open to explore possibilities and consider lateral movement from another sector where my existing and forthcoming challenges may have been encountered and surmounted?
- Are these capabilities readily transferable from other sectors, or is it a domain-specific role?
- Can I visualise the impact I want this person to have on my organisation within the next three years?
There is no point having a sharp machete if you are in the wrong jungle. Invest plenty of time upfront defining the requirements of the role. There are sound processes to get the stakeholder group involved and help everyone to come to a shared understanding of the role, from a leadership style to the preferred impact this role will have. Having a role blueprint in place at the very outset of the process is key to risk mitigation.
QUESTION 4. HOW SOPHISTICATED ARE WE WHEN IT COMES TO SOURCING AND ENGAGING THE BEST CANDIDATES?
- Are there budgetary, confidentiality or competitor issues I should consider?
- Am I clear on my value proposition (having considered the factors in question 1)?
- Have I accessed appropriate sources of information to determine correct remuneration?
- Am I clear on the best sourcing approach: database, advertisement, or confidential search?
- Use a combination of these or adopt an escalating approach, depending on how it goes?
- Do I have access to professional research to identify high quality passive candidates?
- Now I know where and who the best candidates are, can I communicate the role effectively?
- Am I going to undertake this assignment myself, or do I need support?
If considering support, be sure to ask a potential search service provider the following:
How deep is their access to talent? What separates a good executive search firm from a great search firm is their ability to interest and engage top candidates who are by their very nature, successful and satisfied in their current roles.
Do they have a sound ethical track record, and will they ensure confidentiality and discretion? Trust is not only critical to the candidate, but it is also critical to your organisation.
Will they be objective? A quality executive search firm will bring depth and breadth of experience — beyond one firm, one industry and one market.
Do they have the expertise? Are they able to widen the talent pool by being willing and able to look for talent outside the industry?
What are their assessment capabilities? Combining the art and the science of assessment is critical to this process.
Can they get under the skin of my business and match us with candidates who are exactly right for us? Can they minimise risk? It is essential to minimise the risk of an inappropriate appointment by exploring every facet of the candidate’s profile and capabilities. The search firm must be willing and able to assess, evaluate and recommend candidates based on your unique requirements.
If you recruit directly, you must be crystal clear on your capacity to play the ambassadorial role and your ability to represent your opportunity effectively. You only get one shot at pitching to top talent and your story needs to be compelling enough to interest them.
QUESTION 5. ARE WE UP TO SPEED ON BEST PRACTICE WHEN IT COMES TO CANDIDATE ASSESSMENT?
Do not be guilty of shoddy assessment practices. Here is a list of some common pitfalls to avoid:
- Create job spec – with no idea of dynamic context.
- Source the market through ads or networks – focus on availability not capability.
- Shortlist from resumes –basically a test of how well they write.
- Interview shortlist – all this tells you is how well they prepare and present.
- Reference check the best one – referees do not say bad things, right?
- Appoint – and hope they last.
A best practice approach combines the themes from the business, role scoping and sourcing strategy phases. It uses them as inputs to design a highly focussed assessment process. They key is to re-asses the major themes along the way with a view to mitigate risk and boost the chances of a successful outcome. Capture as much information as you can at arm’s length. Have the candidate do the work.
Structured telephone conversations to capture base line information: ratify the resume, confirm role alignment with career aspirations, get remuneration out of the way early on, explore timing and competition issues, reinforce your key messages. Look for cultural fit.
Emailable questionnaires to preferred candidates deliver focussed case study examples of the preferred leadership styles and impact areas. This generates candidate investment in the process to create stronger shortlists. Look for personal involvement in delivering outcomes.
Executive Assessment: use recognised providers (Saville, SHL or Hogan) with high quality web-based products that are user friendly, accurate, and relatively inexpensive. Post appointment use this information to fine-tune coaching, development, and succession planning.
Client Interview: bring information relating to knowledge, skill, motivation, expectations, and remuneration together. Interviewing with a panel provides varied perspectives and adds value. Your interview is about values, culture fit and operating style.
Reference Checking: get several perspectives (upline, peer, subordinate, customer) and focus on the major themes. Enabling evidence-based decision making is the purpose and outcome.
Background Verification: undertake a third-party background verification which covers identity, national police checks, qualifications, certifications, and work history.
Offer and Acceptance ensures the executive joins your business with momentum. Be upfront, gain commitment to remuneration and do not “low ball” previous remuneration intimations, nor should you allow the candidate to leverage their situation; be prepared to raise the money to secure great people; generate the letter of offer promptly and close the deal.
Your role blueprint ideally will have translated your business strategy into a search and selection blueprint covering strategic, operational, and behavioural elements. It is the repeated examination of these elements, with both objective and subjective methods, that delivers excellent outcomes.
QUESTION 6. HOW DO I ALIGN THE EXECUTIVE’S EXPECTATIONS WITH THE COMPANY’S EXPECTATIONS?
- Is there clarity around the business strategy and is it clear how exactly this role aligns with that strategy?
- Do I see several horizons for this role, or is it constrained to the 3-to-5-year execution of a particular challenge within a specific function?
- Have I considered the impact of external forces, such as emerging competitors, increasing globalisation and technological disruption, on my business and on this executive role over time?
- Can my business adapt to both the changing business environment and a highly capable executive with an exploratory mindset who pushes the accepted boundaries?
Your business wants some combination of: VALUE, QUALITY, CHANGE, SPEED
The executive wants some combination of: PURPOSE, MASTERY, AUTONOMY, MONEY
So, the business has a clear strategy and the executive role is clearly defined. How does the business respond to market changes, unexpected challenges, and its own performance? Does it reinvest cleverly to capitalise on opportunities? Does it pull back from exposed positions appropriately? Does it release people with dignity? Your business needs to be sufficiently nimble to redefine its business strategy and communicate this effectively. These are the hallmarks of an adaptive organisation, and a key element in keeping quality executives fully engaged.
QUESTION 7. WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER WHEN INTEGRATING THE NEW EXECUTIVE INTO THE BUSINESS?
- Have I shared enough information, particularly the culture of the organisation?
- Am I confident this executive has a good feel for the business and the executive team?
- Do I have the time, inclination, and appropriate organisational processes to successfully onboard, integrate and manage this executive?
- If not, can I delegate to others to onboard this executive?
- If there are structural issues preventing this, can I quickly infill these weaknesses?
- When onboarding, have I considered primary relationships, early introductions, possible mentors, and appointee expectations?
- Am I confident the reward structure for this executive is well aligned to their temperament and the nature of the role?
A sound, well-constructed process is designed to head off any emergent money issues. If I find I have a star in my midst, can I set and accelerate career and development plans to capitalise on different or new priorities? There is not much point investing in a comprehensive process if the onboarding is not carefully constructed to address the above questions. Set a 90-day plan; break it into 3 manageable components , set some objectives, and align your expectations. Having come this far, you do not want to lose your new executive at the final hurdle. This is your opportunity to embed, engage and inspire your new colleague. Make it count.
If you struggled to answer any of the Seven Crucial Questions, or did not like the answers, consider these three simple steps to get – and keep – the process on track:
- Invest plenty of time up front in defining the role and agreeing the sourcing strategy.
- Relentlessly assess capability at all stages of the process.
- Ensure the onboarding process is well-conceived and thoroughly executed.
Peter Tulau has enjoyed a diversified career in operations and production management in industrial and process engineering environments before joining one of Australia’s largest recruitment and human services companies. Over a 25 plus year career, Peter worked across executive search and organisational consulting and led major organisational transformations in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Peter is currently a Director with AltoPartners Australia and the practice head for the industrial, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.
Peter can be contacted on +61 490 460 492 or email@example.com