What are the factors that really matter in a role?
We focus on hiring CEOs, CFOs and CIOs but reading about success in hiring salespeople has helped further inform our approach. Success leaves clues and it is no different in Executive Search.
Met Life had a detailed process for hiring insurance salespeople. Multiple characteristics were assessed and people were interviewed at length. Despite this they had very poor success and retention rates.
They hired Psychologist Martin Seligman to help. He convinced them to hire a portion of applicants who, while they failed the general entry screening overall, scored very highly for optimism. These candidates then dramatically outperformed the group hired under with the existing process who met multiple criteria.
For all roles we ask, what are the 1-3 must have characteristics?
CEOs need a broad skillset. While they may be particularly strong on the sales, marketing, technology or financial side, they must be strong communicators with the ability to identify and implement winning strategies.
Odd though it may sound, it is often not that difficult to identify candidates with these capabilities so let’s assume you have a shortlist of people satisfying these basic requirements. What is the one thing that is going to determine who is best for the role.
We believe the key characteristic that really matters in the CEO role is resilience. An otherwise strong candidate with low resilience will be good for the recruiter’s bank balance, but not the hiring company.
Why is resilience so necessary?
We have previously written on how lonely the CEO role is. The CEO has no real peers and he serves at the wish of the Board – so there is no natural confidant. In business things do go wrong and the CEO bears ultimate responsibility, often for decisions or cultures that pre-dated their arrival. The benefit of being paid the most comes with the downside of a lack of sympathy from colleagues. So they are on their own, they will get blamed for things and they will get little sympathy – they need to be resilient.
With CFOs we will be looking for qualifications, experience, business nous and management style. Each role will have a set of ideal characteristics and each candidate will represent a set of trade-offs.
Some of the necessary characteristics may seem oxymoronic, in that communication skills and finance detail say aren’t always natural companions.
What separates the shortlist for us tends to be candidates with strong attention to detail, strong communication skills and big picture thinking.
The CIO will have to speak the truth to power and convincingly sell how the business levers will be positively influenced by any technological investment. A strong understanding of technology is not enough. They must understand their businesses value levers, understand how digital and information transformation will affect them and show wisdom in their choices of internal development, partnering and outsourcing.
Managing the challenges associated with service integration and service delivery on an increasingly constrained budget means they are fundamentally business people that have a strong grasp of technology, its potential and its limitations.
Making an Interview Worthwhile
A typical interview yields very little decision making benefit according to research. Part of the reason is that it is not structured, not repeatable and subject to liking bias largely based on similarities. Another reason is the difficulty in simultaneously being involved and being an attentive observer.
We typically Interview with another observer, so that for CIOs say, one person can observe their ability to understand and interpret business needs and translate into technological requirements and how they explain technical solutions to business problems. The other is actually conducting the interview and focusing on their personal characteristics.
Our best hires are where we are clear on the characteristics sought, their relative importance and the acceptable trade-offs. Operating in the smaller end of the market we are often seeking value.
Making the Search Process Work for You
Finding value depends on searching out the undervalued asset. Sometimes this is as simple as searching in lower paid, but adjacent, industry sectors. We sometimes find that women returning to work and candidates with non-Anglo names are discriminated against.
As we said in the previous blog post, value often comes when you find the right match. A CFO we placed over a year ago really loves the company culture and her job content. It is the right environment for her and importantly she can work 4 days. The money is good, but not great, yet she loves it and is highly regarded by her employer. All the company traded off was the 5th day.
With any hiring process it is important that you understand what characteristics are actually associated with success in a given role, that you understand what trade-offs are acceptable to you and you understand how you might get value. In Search work, like in matchmaking, perfection is the enemy of great.
For a discussion on your executive search needs, please contact us anytime – we at Hamilton Rich understand these conversations can be difficult to have during business hours.