I was speaking recently with the Senior Director for Talent Acquisition at one of PeopleFluent’s clients, who oversees the North American Talent Acquisition efforts for a $14 Billion dollar services organization with 100,000+ employees. Her scope is wide, and she oversees a team that handles recruiting across the entire organization from top to bottom. Our discussion turned to the unique challenges of recruiting executive leadership into the organization. She cited the need for a specific leadership strategy, a clearly defined set of leadership skills needed for the role, and the belief that intelligence, drive, and cultural/team fit can outweigh experience in many executive hires.
Her insight into the complexities of recruiting for leadership roles prompts an important question: what can talent acquisition leaders do to ensure successful Executive Leadership hiring?
A Corporate Executive Board (CEB) survey of C-suite executives helped highlight the implications of successful leadership hiring. In this study, respondents hired 40% of leaders that were sourced externally from the organization. What is so eye-opening is that half of those external hires failed within the first 18 months. That cost to hire is staggering; in these cases, those organizations are paying twice the cost to hire, given that the position opens again in under 2 years. Even then, there is no guarantee for success the second time, which means that the cost to hire might increase even more.
The CEB Study points out that the benefits to recruiting high-performing Executives are easily translatable to the bottom line. Ninety percent of teams led by high-performing Executives meet their 3-year performance goals. In addition, direct reports of these Executives are 13% less likely to leave than those of average leaders. Business units’ lead by high-performing leaders can realize as much as 5% improvement in revenue.
The flip side shows a significant negative impact for failure in your Executive hiring. Direct reports perform 15% worse than the first group, and are 20% less likely to stay than those reporting to a high performing Executive. Failing Executives negatively impact almost half of their peer Executives. With a clear ROI picture, the question remains, how do you ensure success in Leadership Recruiting?
The most effective solution is to build talent within your organization that will one day ascend to the Executive team. Home grown leaders have the benefit of knowing your product/service intimately and have shown that they can work well within your current culture and team structure. In order to grow internal talent, you need the ability to target your high performers and then build a clear succession plan for getting them ready for a leadership role.
However, if the perfect candidate is not available in-house, then your recruiting team will need to focus on the following areas:
Experience vs. Fit
In the client discussion referenced earlier, my client talked at length about finding a leadership candidate that was a strong fit with the organization vs. a candidate with perfect experience and background but a different working style than was existing at her organization. This may run counter to many Recruiting efforts, as it is experience that typically rules the sourcing strategy. She went on to define what she sees as “fit” at her organization:
Every large organization has a culture that has developed over time. There is a significant emphasis on culture in Employer Branding efforts today. It could be collaboration, empowerment, a guiding sense of philanthropy shared throughout the organization, a focus on diversity and inclusion, or some other characteristic that best highlights the feeling of working at your organization. With a clearly defined culture, your recruiting efforts can focus on the types of culture each candidate is coming from, as well as asking the type of culture each candidate feels is a best fit with their style.
This may sound easier than it actually is; many candidates will have done homework on your organization and, if you have a well-defined culture that shows in your Employer Branding, you may hear some answers that are too perfect a fit. Dig deep here and determine what elements of your organization’s culture to focus on to determine the best fit. Have the candidate provide examples of how they have fared in different cultures. Interestingly, another finding in the CEB study was that cultural fit was not as strong a predictor of success as was team and peer group fit. These findings tell us that while cultural fit is important, it is not the only area to look at when choosing a successful leadership candidate.
As an Executive Leader in your organization, the new prospect will have a peer group of other Executives who have all built a working environment and professional relationship among the group. It is important that the candidates being considered for a leadership position have the personality and working style to fit within this peer group. This is a particularly challenging trait to put your finger on when evaluating candidates. It requires a seasoned recruiting leader to review and determine the true working style of the organization’s executive team. Once that has been determined, it is critical to ask detailed questions of your candidates that shed light on their communication and collaboration style among peers. This is also where references will help clarify and confirm what you discover in the interview process. Areas to focus your questions:
- How would your peers describe your work style?
- How would they describe your communication style?
- Describe a conflict you have had with a fellow leader and how did you resolve it?
- What do you believe is essential in building a strong Executive Leadership Team?
- What qualities/strengths do you bring that meet the criteria you outlined in the previous question?
By nature of the Executive position, the candidate will be overseeing and leading a team. An important piece to the success puzzle comes together if the new leader can mesh with their team quickly and effectively. This should not be translated as the new leader needs to be best friends with her team. Instead, it means that the team will receive her leadership style appropriately. As your team sources candidates, make sure they spend time determining each candidate’s leadership style. Here is another place that specific examples will help paint a true picture of the potential fit.
One strategy employed by a late stage start-up in the Technology space in Boston that I have worked with in a previous life might be worth considering. This start-up prided themselves on a “no-jerks” hiring policy. This meant that each of the employees and leaders who interviewed a candidate had to agree that the candidate was a fit. If any one person said no, the candidate was not hired. While this may not be realistic in your organization, you may consider having a small group of managers, who will report to the new Executive, interview the finalists. Their feedback will help determine if they see a fit with the group. It will also allow the team to feel empowered and that they were a part of the overall process.
While none of these strategies alone will guarantee success, together they will help you make a more informed decision and, hopefully, bring in a high-performing leader to your organization. With a tight market and high-performing leaders in demand, Talent Acquisition Leaders will need to play a significant role in defining a clear sourcing and review strategy. Done well, this is a win for the entire TA Team that delivers significant ROI to the bottom-line of the entire organization.
When recruiters need to find and hire for an Executive position, they need the right technology to empower them to source and vet each candidate. Check our Talent Acquisition Buyer’s Guide to learn how to choose and implement the right solution.
 CEB Recruiting Leadership Council Report, In Search of Great Leaders: Recruiting Executives for Today’s New Work Environment