In my previous blog post, I discussed six steps that we at Howard Fischer Associates (HFA) recommend that you take before reaching out to an executive or board search firm. (If you need a reminder, click here for the details.) These steps lay a foundation for success as you begin the search to find a leader who will help your company thrive and grow.
This post assumes that you’ve completed those steps and are now actively working with an executive or board search firm, like HFA. This type of engagement is truly a partnership, requiring your company and the search firm to work in tandem in order to find the right candidate. In an effort to help your search run smoothly, there are five best practices we recommend in this phase of the process, as well as five mistakes to avoid.
Executive and Board Search Best Practices
Executing a search for a candidate is no small feat. There are a lot of moving parts and personalities to manage. That said, here are some aspects of the search process that are worth some extra time and attention:
This may seem a bit obvious, but the key defining variable of all successful searches is following a clear process. You need to have an agreed-upon methodology for finding, evaluating, and selecting a candidate, and it needs to be written down and communicated with all stakeholders. At the end of the day, your hiring process is a reflection of your company, its culture, and its brand. If it is handled poorly, you may not just lose a candidate – you may hurt your brand. A top-tier search firm who has senior search partners managing the process and personally conducting the outreach will help keep you on track. Some key components of a high-quality process are: Timeline, Realistic Job Description, Internal Interview Committee, and Compensation.
You need to have a solid understanding of when you need a candidate to come on board and what the consequences will be of a delay. Based on that timeline, it is important to work with your search firm to keep the interview process moving. For example, each successive step of the process needs to be scheduled as promptly as possible. Your hiring process needs to maintain forward momentum, or you risk losing candidates.
Identify one decision maker who has ultimate hiring authority for the position. This person should be the search firm’s main point of contact and they should be empowered to lead the process and select the final candidate. Yes, this person should frequently and consistently solicit opinions from other team members, but they alone should have the authority to make the decision. Conversely, decisions by committee lead to delay, confusion, and inaction.
It’s imperative to remember that you’re dealing with real people during this process – people who have families and career aspirations. Make sure your candidates feel like they are aware of where they stand in the process and what comes next. Don’t leave them hanging! If you treat your candidates with respect, they will want to join your team. This is the single biggest point of neglect in any search process and it’s the easiest to deliver. Be human.
One of the best indicators of success for a candidate is a 30-60-90-day plan presentation to the hiring committee or the board as a final interview step. Appropriate expectations need to be set; the candidate needs to know they won’t be held to delivering that specific plan post-hire. The interview committee also needs to view such a presentation with a grain of salt – it will only be as good as the data provided to the candidate. Consider this a time to shop for the best vision of where to take the business, but, even more importantly, aim to understand how the candidate thinks, communicates, solves problems, and handles collaboration and disagreements.
Mistakes to Avoid During the Search Process
Mistakes will happen despite the best laid plans, but there are some cardinal sins that will absolutely impede progress or derail the search altogether:
Making Decisions by Committee
It just doesn’t work. You need to be inclusive of your team for sure, no hire is made in a vacuum, but your company is not “ruled by majority” and neither should your hiring process.
Changing the Candidate Spec
The most efficient and successful searches are those with a clear and realistic picture of the “right” candidate. While it’s completely practical to explore candidates from a couple of different profile “buckets,” the core of the spec should not drastically change. Be confident in who you are looking for and why that person needs to possess certain traits.
Searching for Perfection
It is rare to find the perfect candidate. Often the vision of such a person is the product of wish list thinking, and it’s likely that person doesn’t exist in nature. If you get too focused on perfection, you’ll miss the opportunity to bring in a game-changing candidate. This goes back to something I mentioned in my previous post: Identify four must-have traits for a candidate. If a candidate doesn’t possess those traits, move on to the next. If they do, then then you need to decide if the rest of their attributes are worth compromise. Perfection, in the end, is a masterpiece of the right tradeoffs.
Not Defining Compensation
There are several laws in state legislatures from California (AB 168) to others in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Oregon that will have a profound impact on the ability of employers or their agents to directly ask for a candidate’s historical compensation. These laws will underscore the importance of knowing the market value compensation range for the role you’re filling in a company of your type, stage, and financials. Laws aside, we recommend that you have a compensation range firmly in mind before you start a search – and the necessary approvals in place – so that you can strike quickly if you find the right candidate.
Falling in Love with One Person
If you fall in love with a candidate and you can close them, then move fast and close them. However, falling in love with an unobtainable or, as is more often the case, putting all your eggs in one basket is like kryptonite. It will impede your ability to objectively and realistically evaluate successive candidates and will prevent you from having viable backups in the unfortunate circumstance that your favorite candidate doesn’t join the firm. The ideal scenario is to feel great about a slate of people, so that you have the “problem” of choosing between them.
If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.568.8363. Keep an eye out for my next post in this series, which will outline what you should do once you’ve identified a candidate and made an offer.
Charles Hubbard, Partner