April 3, 2018 – Many ingredients go into finding the right individual for a specific leadership role. The key to a successful hire is finding the balance between the science of management assessment and the art, says Nancie Whitehouse, founder of the talent acquisition consulting firm Whitehouse Advisors.
“As a science, we establish core competencies for a prospective executive, assess the individual’s abilities against those competencies and predict how successful that individual might be,” she said. “As an art, we probe beyond the obvious and become attuned to an individual’s body language, behavior and personal chemistry in evaluating a prospective ‘fit’ with an organization. By finding a balance between ‘gut feel’ on one end and metrics on the other, we can develop a process that yields both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of internal or external candidates.”
A well delineated and in-depth process, in fact, helps to minimize hiring risk. “There are many assessment firms, tools and programs available to augment a company’s internal practices; but a clearly defined strategy and process may help to increase the probability of a successful, long-term hire,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “A carefully planned and executed course of action will also provide a diverse group of assessors with a single methodology to make their decision.”
The Practice of Management Assessment
In this brand new episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ we delve into how the practice of management assessment is both an art and a science. Our host Andrew Mitchell is joined by Nancie Whitehouse, founder of Whitehouse Advisors. According to Ms. Whitehouse, “You need to make the hiring manager and recruiting team understand that there is a very strong process to recruiting.”
The plan, however, should not be boilerplate, she said. Instead, it should be designed for a specific role, be it a director for the board, a new CEO or a key member of your senior management team.
The first step is to determine who will be part of the selection process. The team, whether it is a formal search committee or a group of select individuals, should be comprised of those who are in the best position to evaluate, influence and select candidates for a specific role in the company. “These individuals must have an in depth understanding of the position’s (and the company’s) unique challenges,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “They should not be diverted from the evaluation by a candidate’s charisma – the fact that we like a candidate personally is not always the best forecast of their performance. Nor can we assume that if a candidate has achieved prior success within one culture, that it is a guarantee of his or her success in any other culture.”
The next, and perhaps the most important step in the process, is for the team to review the company’s strategic business plan, determine the critical issues the desired executive will face and define the specific competencies that will be essential to the individual’s success. “This detailed list may be used as the foundation for a formal position specification,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “Specifically, it should identify the professional experience and accomplishments required of prospective candidates – industry expertise, leadership ability, etc. – as well as the softer attributes – listening skills, integrity, ability to energize a team, etc. – with a defined ranking system to measure candidates against.”
“You have to be able to build the case for why this is going to matter to the organization, how it is going to improve the business objectives they have, and how to go about looking at the whole process as an end-to-end standpoint,” said Ms. Whitehouse.
“Culture does not have to be for everybody, but it has to be the right fit for the right person,” said Ms. Whitehouse.
The list should also address the characteristics necessary for a strong cultural fit. Indeed, lack of fit is the most prevalent reasons that senior executives fail. “When this procedure is completed, and the assessing executive or team has been selected, candidate identification and the interview phase may begin,” said Ms. Whitehouse.
The Idea of Cultural Fit Might Be More Myth Than Reality
Human resources executives and recruiters have been using the term “cultural fit” – generally defined as the ability of an employee to fit with the core beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that make up an organization – for a decade or two.
Vetting candidates is based on the previously identified criteria, complimented by behavioral interviews in which open-ended questions are posed to elicit detailed responses that help determine the potential personal harmony between the hiring executive and the candidate, said Ms. Whitehouse. Such questions, for example, might include: “Give me an example of a conflict you faced and how you resolved it,” or, “Describe the riskiest decision that you have made and what you learned from the result.”
Once the final candidate has been selected, thorough referencing must be conducted. It is critical to talk with those individuals who know the candidate well but were not the candidate’s chosen references. “While some references may be done by an outside source, such as an executive search firm, hiring executives who are directly involved in speaking with references have a much better chance of understanding the subtle nuances that may not come across strictly by reading a document,” said Ms. Whitehouse.
“We’ve seen more and more situations where people leave an organization because they do not fit into the culture, or they have not been properly vetted,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “They get inside the company and they realize the environment is very different from what they expected.”
A Measurable Impact
Selecting the correct executive has measurable impact not only within the senior management team but on the board, shareholders and customers. “While companies have yet to find an infallible method of selecting the right leader every time, a well defined and comprehensive process will help reduce risk and increase successful hiring practices,” said Ms. Whitehouse.
“Make the hiring manager and recruiting team understand that there is a very strong process to recruiting,” said Ms. Whitehouse. “Compromising the process or trying to move too quickly, or eliminate steps, will not give you the right person.”
A recent study, called “The Change Agents,” by Dow Jones Customer Intelligence and the HR Certification Institute, found that 95 percent of the 300 C-suite executives surveyed said that hiring and retention directly affect their companies’ bottom line. And eight out of 10 consider HR to be a strategic partner that helps drive talent strategies across their organizations.
Retaining New Hires Now Seen As a Critical Issue
Retaining new hires is on the minds of leaders at the vast majority of companies these days which provides advisory services and recruitment services for middle to upper-level management. Ninety percent of the executives surveyed said this is an issue for their companies.
As an executive search firm, said Jim McGuffin, senior principal at 20/20 Foresight, a recruitment firm that specializes in the real estate, financial services and service industries, “one of our most important steps is to evaluate the culture of the organization and to seek out the candidate who not only has the required professional skill sets, but who will fit in and thrive.” Finding that match, he added, “is crucial to improving the stick rate of the placement.” His firm, he said, works with the human resources and finance teams of clients to craft sustainable and compelling compensation plans to set the table for long-term retention.
A Top Concern
Talent strategy and engagement is indeed a top concern, as survey respondents ranked it among the top five items on the corporate agenda. Those five areas, in order of priority, were financial growth, customer experience, new technology adoption, talent strategy and engagement, and cybersecurity.
Still, among those surveyed who identified their companies as industry leaders, only 59 percent consider their companies to be effective at attracting and retaining talent. These high performers said they feel more confident in the areas of customer satisfaction, profitability, revenue growth and innovation.
Prior to her role as principal at Stamford, CT-based Whitehouse Advisors, Ms. Whitehouse was director of search strategies for General Atlantic, vice president at Huntington Group, vice president at Norman Broadbent and an associate at Korn Ferry.
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