Why Candidate Screening Is the Most Important Stage of Your Next Executive Search

Companies pay a steep price when a CEO or C-suite placement goes bad. Here’s how to align process with expectations, according to new research from recruiters Phillips DiPisa, along with five steps to take to ensure a successful search and placement.

November 27, 2017 – A new report by healthcare and life sciences executive search firm Phillips DiPisa paints this scenario: A candidate with a stellar resume finally sits before the search committee and wows the table. The search team listens closely as this highly articulate candidate tells an especially heartwarming story from the individual’s last job.

The candidate is perfectly dressed, seems to know all the top people in the industry, and looks and speaks like an executive. This is exactly the type of person you want in your organization. Right?

Sure, there were some warning signs. The interview questions were a little soft, and you never really got clear answers on the “how” behind all the achievements on the resume or the “why” the candidate is available. But, the committee members felt this candidate was the best person for the job.

Now, fast forward eight months later when it’s clear that your new executive was a bad choice to lead the organization. A big ego, an inability to connect with the team – whatever it might be. Imagine the cost of a severance package, the need to start the search process all over again, and most importantly, the loss of credibility within your organization.

“The point is that this scenario should never happen,” said Daniel Phillips, the founder and president of Phillips DiPisa, who wrote the report along with Elizabeth Conrad, chief human resources officer for Lahey Health. “And while there are many contributing factors to a failed search, the core reason that executive searches fail is the organization and their search firm are never on the same page from the beginning.”

Turnover Triggers: The Wrong Starting Mindset

Recent research shows that 32 percent of those in the C-suite plan to leave their current position in the next two years, and nearly 70 percent will leave within five years. The leadership workforce is aging, tight margins have reduced the investment in management development and there are less stressful opportunities outside the healthcare sector for up- and- coming talent.

So, the odds are that you are going to be looking for a new executive in the near future, according to the Phillips DiPisa report. The challenge with this type of turnover is that the urgency to fill positions is heightened, and too often that urgency gets in the way of a well-thought-out and well-planned process.

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Getting Everyone on the Same Page

You need not look too far to find examples of high profile, high tech CEO searches that have failed. Being on the same page means that both the client and the executive search firm must be fully aligned around both process and expectations. Agreeing to a few foundational steps at the outset can tease out the necessary information.

Phillips DiPisa offered the following steps to help ensure a good launching point:

  • Review current market conditions to include candidate supply challenges and real-time compensation data.
  • Reach agreement about the structure of the search process and set a realistic timeline that can be adjusted given marketplace realities.
  • Enable the search firm to conduct interviews with the next level to build a better understanding about the informal structures that guide decisions and can help determine success.
  • Determine who and how the decision is going to be made. Votes by large groups that are not on the same page tend to result in the selection of a mediocre candidate.
  • Agree on the immediate and critical performance deliverables of the candidate.

Transparency: An Essential Ingredient for Success

Once these initial items are agreed to, the real work begins. Thoughtful and transparent dialogue about culture and the potential barriers to success will help ensure the best candidate fit. The client and the search consultant will need to work with internal constituencies to:

  • Reach agreement about the essential elements of the role.
  • Identify the key personality traits and competencies that will ensure success.
  • Assess the current team and culture including likely challenges a new executive will face when entering the organization.

Working through these difficult conversations will help ensure that the client and the search consultant can articulate clearly the values, behaviors, and core competencies that they’re looking for in a candidate.

Close the Book on Searches and Hire the Best Candidates Quickly
Here’s a storyline that – unfortunately – plays out far too frequently: After interviewing all three final candidates for a senior level position, the members of the hiring team can’t come to a conclusion on which is best for the job.

Structured Interviews and Personality Assessments: Hardwire Your Search for Success

The Phillips DiPisa report said that very careful screening of candidates will include not just the “what” (tactical things have been accomplished previously) but the “how” (the process undertaken to evaluate needs and initiate change). Exploring the “what” is the easy part; understanding the “how” is the magic.

Having a process where documented, behavioral and competency-based questions get used with every candidate reduces the uncertainty of making the right hire the report said. That is making sure every candidate gets asked similar questions in the same way, followed by objective scoring, notes and tools to gather feedback from both the search group and the candidate immediately following the interview.

Over the last 20 years, an explosion of research suggests a strong correlation between leadership personality traits, the performance of the senior team and overall organizational performance. Assessing an executive’s personality – that important key to a proper organizational “fit” – depends not so much on how gregarious he or she is during an interview, the report said, but rather how the candidate’s personality meshes with the environment of the organization.

Essential Steps to Ensure a Successful Search and Placement

Teasing out information from client and candidate is an art, and every search has an element of fluidity. Yet there are still some essential, concrete steps that can ensure better results. The Phillips DiPisa report offered the following five steps for a successful placement:

1. Search Firm Partner:

  • Pick a search partner that has deep expertise in your industry, and make sure that its consultants will take the time to get to know your organization and your specific needs.
  • Understand the fee structure and how it relates to the firm devoting its complete, unlimited attention to your organization and working as long as it takes to find the right candidate.
  • Trust your search firm partner with the full back story; withholding key information about past challenges, internal fault lines, and a likely change in strategy increases the risk of failure.

2. Structured Process:

  • Establish a clear structure for managing the search process at the outset.
  • Determine who will be responsible for coordinating the details. It’s good practice for the client to assign one high-level executive assistant to manage all logistics and correspondence.
  • Determine who will serve on the search committee and limit the number of people who will sit on that committee. More than six or seven members become difficult to manage.
  • Determine the number of times the committee will meet and schedule all committee meetings at the beginning of the search to ensure that sufficient time is set aside to meet with the search firm, review and discuss potential candidates and meet with potential candidates. Be clear that the selection committee will ultimately make a recommendation to the board for final decision.

3. Candidate Profile Development:

  • A good candidate pool starts with a thorough internal discussion about needs versus wants, characteristics that will ensure fit within the leadership team, and bedrock values.
  • Develop a list of critical deliverables expected from the candidate within the first 12 to 18 months in the job.
  • Identify the personality characteristics of successful executives in your current organization. Is there a strong values orientation for the executive team? What are the non-negotiables in terms of behavior? List these as a foundational document and circulate among the search team for feedback.
  • For CEO positions, a diverse representation of internal and external constituents should be consulted to contribute to the candidate profile. This will help ensure that multiple perspectives are considered when developing the document.

This Recruiter’s Top Five Secrets for Landing Candidates
With the high demand for quality talent rising, candidates are in the driver’s seat in today’s job market. This means that companies, and the recruiters representing them, must move quickly when they find the right hire. Fred Medero, a managing partner at Kincannon & Reed, offers up some strategies.

4. Executive Assessment:

  • Executive assessment is a best practice for senior roles in complex organizations. It allows for a comparison of the top several candidates to describe how each will address the offered position.
  • Strong assessment programs should include multiple measures tailored to the culture, strategy and role requirements so that the data is triangulated across exercises.

5. On-Boarding:

  • For senior executives, a nine-month coaching engagement can be a way to ensure the new leader gets off to a fast start.
  • Interpreting a new environment, diagnosing the need for change, and quickly engaging stakeholders are key tasks that can take up to a year to fulfill.
  • Coaching may entail an extended feedback session and action planning based on assessment data or new leader assimilation to jump-start the leader’s team relationships. In short, trust and transparency between client and search firm will help reveal the fundamentals of an organization’s culture and allow the best chance of success in finding qualified candidates.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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