Hire Better, Fire Less – Poor Decision-Making and Garden Leave is Money Lost – Part 2

Last time we discovered that recruitment of and by senior executives is fraught with danger and the potential to lose or miss good people.

According to Austcorp (https://www.austcorpexecutive.com.au/c-suite-and-executive-leadership), “Research shows that companies adept at recruiting at a senior level enjoy 3.5 times the revenue growth and 2.1 times the profit margin of their less capable peers. Proven top leadership is a powerful strategic asset, and there is no room for error in the selection of your leadership team. Research conducted by the Corporate Library (http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/Library/Corporate-library), puts the customary severance that most companies pay a departing CEO equal to approximately three years’ total compensation”.

So, in our exploration, the reasons recruiting and to-be-recruited executives need to get it right go on.

Executives need to be aware of what their company looks for—or doesn’t look for. Not in terms of what the company “is” but what type of candidate it seeks. Most companies look primarily, and even exclusively, at a candidate’s education, IQ, job history, and the like. They rarely look at the candidate’s emotional intelligence. And yet, emotional intelligence is a critical predictor of professional success.

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularise emotional intelligence, there are five key elements to it: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. And every role – and corporate-type or context – requires a different combination. The MD of a furniture maker which is based and trading in 1 country, and with a long-standing large team, requires different “soft” traits than a CTO taking over a failing IT infrastructure programme in a local authority. During the interview process, most people look like they have social competencies in spades. Indeed, people are trained throughout life to act calm, be friendly and amenable, etc. when meeting people who will decide their fate.

To avoid all the pitfalls, executives need to follow a systematic process. They need to plan, at the outset, what is it that they expect the recruit to do, and how he should go about doing it? What initial objectives would we agree on?

Then the executive needs to identify the likely situations that the new executive will confront and must be able to master to be considered a strong performer. Critical incidents are often left out of the hiring process, perhaps because it takes time to develop a list of them. But they are enormously useful.

Judgment blunders, office politics, and the pace of business often lead hiring executives astray. But careful planning steps can mitigate that.

The new executive needs sound knowledge of certain technologies, for instance, or skill at motivating frontline workers. He needs strong analytical skills and to be comfortable taking risks. It can be useful to conduct an informal competency survey of the people who will be working closely with the new executive. They may have some of the desired competencies themselves, making those traits less than imperative in the new person. Key competencies that are entirely missing from the new executive’s colleagues, or in short supply, should be explicitly identified—and moved to the top of the list.

Every job description should include the emotional intelligence competencies critical to getting the work done. No list of competencies would be complete without an acknowledgment of the personal and interpersonal factors required for success. Every job description should include those few emotional intelligence competencies critical to getting the work done. With a clear, agreed-upon list of competencies in hand, the next phase of successful hiring is generating and evaluating candidates and finally recruiting the right person.

Once a list of candidates has been generated, the evaluation phase begins. Sounds obvious enough, but companies usually combine evaluation with recruiting. In other words, they try to assess candidates at the same time as they try to sell them the job. That’s a mistake. It diffuses the energy needed to evaluate candidates fully and dispassionately. Naturally, it’s important to keep candidates interested in a possible job, but recruitment happens later in the process and shouldn’t be allowed to muddy up the evaluation.

Instead, the focus should be on conducting structured interviews. Conventional wisdom has it that the best interviewers are highly intuitive. That helps, but it is much more important to do the hard work of preparation. The best interviewers prepare a detailed plan for each meeting with a candidate—a plan that includes each competency to be investigated as well as the questions to measure each one.

Structured interviews are the result of careful planning and disciplined implementation. For a two-hour interview to yield meaningful information, it could take at least that much time to get ready for it. The most important part of preparation is creating a list of questions that will identify whether the candidate has the competencies required for the position. It means asking the candidate about his experiences and behaviour, and yet most interviewers usually just let the candidate tell his story.

The most important part of selling a job is understanding the main motives—and the primary fears—of the candidate. Some people are motivated by money, others want challenge, and still others are eager to work with a great group of colleagues. A job offer needs to take such differences into account. It should even be tailored to do so. At the same time, it is critical never to promise something the company can’t deliver. If a candidate seeks a great team but will be handed a mediocre one, say so. Nothing short-circuits a “successful” hiring faster than the new candidate walking into a lie.

As for fears, every person has a different attitude toward risk. In general, new C-levels want their risk reduced. They want to take over a stable, profitable company so they feel they have made the right choice. For instance, they don’t want to be held responsible for the next period’s results if they are coming into the organisation too late to affect them. Others may be concerned about a potential spin-off of the business; or, if the company is family owned, about the role of family members in day-to-day operations. Some of those risks can easily be “insured” through contractual conditions. Clarity helps facilitate a smooth integration.

Hiring well requires a systematic approach. But just as important, it requires discipline. Given the pressures of time and convention—not to mention organisational politics—it is easy to fall into any number of traps.

To keep hiring properly, executives must never veer from the agreed-upon list of competencies, otherwise the process is almost instantly corrupted. They must invest the time and effort to define the problem and do the homework; there are no shortcuts to the information these steps generate. And finally, executives must instil the discipline of the process in others. After all, no executive can implement a strategy alone. And hiring well is just that—a strategy. Probably irrefutably its most important one.

Written by

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.

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