“He had the background I was looking for, his references were great, but he ended up as the wrong fit for us. What happened?”
I’ve heard this question dozens of times. Choosing the right executive is one of the most critical decisions a company can make. Human resource experts estimate it will cost a company up to 400% of an executive’s salary to replace her. These costs include recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, and reduced productivity. This is a high price to pay every time you make a bad executive hire.
There are hundreds of thousands of seasoned executives in the U.S. to choose from, so why is it so difficult to find the right one? There’s a reason why executive search is a $9+ billion industry in the U.S.: Finding the right executive is rarely easy.
The following is sound advice whether you are hiring a full-time executive or talking with contract executives to fill a role as an interim executive, part-time executive, or consultant.
The same or something different? Do you need someone who can represent you and your culture or do you need a breath of fresh air to help shepherd change? Your new executive’s work style should still be consistent with what your team will respond to. For example, you do not want an assertive and aggressive work style if you know your team will not respond well to it.
Look forward. I always recommend hiring for what you need one year from now. Pull out your strategic plan and look at your longer-term vision and goals for the company. What types of skill sets are you currently missing in your company? Whether you are bringing in someone longer term or interim management, their skill sets and past accomplishments should be consistent with where you want to get to, not where you are now.
Expertise. Look beyond your job description or project scope and determine what expertise is needed for someone to accomplish it and then prioritize it.
Culture fit vs. skill sets. The old adage, “We hire for culture and personality fit since it is easier to train on skill sets,” is not the path you should be taking at the executive level. An executive is not someone you want to be training nor having them figure it out on your dime.
The chicken or the egg. Look to understand your potential hire first, what she is best at, and how she will work in an organization. Once that is determined, line it up with what you decided you needed, not the other way around, as most do.
Experience vs. expertise. Most executives have threads of consistency throughout their careers. When considering potential executives, determine who has this expertise and has displayed it throughout her career vs. those who have simply had experience with it.
Who’s doing the talking? What kinds of questions does your potential hire ask? After meeting with you, can she lay out a plan of how she will help you accomplish your goals (or those you have set out for her)? Because she has the expertise, she should be able to have the plan done after your first meeting, and the first couple of weeks is refining it and allocating resources.
“Wow, look at the big names she’s worked for!” Yeah, but what results and projects was she personally responsible for? Big names do not equate to big results for you. Make sure your new hire can work within your structure and your available resources.
“Look at what she’s accomplished!” Was she responsible for it or part of a team or division that accomplished it? Ask exactly how she accomplished it and would replicate it in your organization.
“I want someone from my industry.” The same industry can often result in the same results everyone else is getting. Consider similar industries. What industries have similar traits to yours that can provide a good understanding of yours but also bring a fresh perspective?
Whether you decide to go through the process internally or use outside resources, the top things to be clear on are the basics: Your vision, mission, and goals. These set the foundation for anyone coming in to help you grow your company.
—Kristen McAlister is president, chief operating officer, and co-owner of Cerius Executives, an on-demand executive placement firm for companies of every size. She has successfully placed thousands of interim CEOs, CFOs, and COOs at startup ventures, small-to-mid size businesses, and Fortune 500 companies.