The serious business of hiring leaders

We all know having a strong executive team in place is vital for your business, ensuring the profitability and health of your entire workforce. Hiring good senior leaders can be difficult to get right and costly if it fails. Here is how to ensure your executive hiring processes run smoothly and deliver the best outcomes.  

“A leader’s job is not to do the work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought possible.”- Simon Sinek

Hiring people at all levels is an important task, but it’s especially crucial when it comes to executives and senior leaders for your business. Finding the right senior leaders is the only way you will have a strong base on which to grow or put in place a solid succession plan. The future performance of your business, from customer outcomes through to staff retention, turns on the performance of key executives.

Part of our work as both an executive-level recruiter and workforce management consultant, is to make sure companies understand that hiring senior leadership is a different process to regular recruitment, and they cannot take this process for granted.

One of the biggest mistakes is not adjusting or refining the process enough to identify whether the individual in question has specific qualities that will make them a valuable executive or senior leader for a business. Hiring at this level is like finding a rare gem; it requires paying careful attention to the person themselves, effective due diligence, work to make your company appear as a desirable place for a leader to grow and progress, and finally, regular evaluation.

The cost of not doing this properly is deep. It starts with the time and effort taken to hire and onboard a new leader and extends to productivity cost from the leader not delivering on outcomes, unmotivated employees and customer dissatisfaction. There may even be costs associated with re-hiring any other employees that depart due to poor leadership.

The qualities of a great leader

On paper, someone can look perfect, but they may not be the best leader for your business for a whole host of reasons. For example, they have been performing a role well so far, but they’re not ready or able to move to the next level. Their personality or leadership style may not be a good fit for your company culture. Or, they are simply good at talking themselves up and don’t really have the skills to lead at this level.

It’s easy to be swayed by an overall perception rather than looking evenly at someone’s skills and performance to date. Particularly as we all have unconscious biases which come into play; for example, we naturally want to hire those who come from a similar educational or other background.

So, how can you dig deeper and avoid falling into traps based on perception alone? First, be cognizant of some of the qualities of truly great leaders and keep them top of mind throughout the process. Let’s look at examples of these core qualities in more detail.

Great leaders are curious, and agile in the way they learn. They generate ideas, uncover opportunities and learn through extensive reading, listening and professional development. They also have motivation and determination, so they can focus on what needs to be done and put in effort to see it through to completion.

Top executives need to be able to build strong relationships; engaging both external stakeholders, like customers, and motivating and inspiring their staff. Communication skills are of course essential; from clear speech to eye contact, body language and active listening.

Executive leaders need the confidence to make fact-based decisions – then stand by them. At the same time, they need to have the flexibility to adapt to different situations.

And finally, a very important senior leadership quality which can get overlooked is self-awareness, which spans being conscious of their impact upon people and empathetic towards others.

Refining your hiring strategy and process

After identifying what makes a good leader, the next stage is about developing an executive hiring strategy that detects these qualities – whether you’re responsible for this yourself or want to implement methods that other business leaders will follow.

Typically, the hiring process for executives can be lengthy – according to research from Glassdoor, senior executive interview processes are far longer than more junior positions. A senior vice president, for example, takes an average of 55.5 days.

It’s good practice to ensure your executive hiring process involves a cross-section of senior people from the business, possibly including the CEO and directors, as well as other executives.

Before you start, make sure you are clear on the exact role this new leader will fill. What strategic business objectives will their hire be tied to? What development opportunities will it present for the successful candidate? How will the role fit in with other parts of the business?

Having this solid foundation in place will make it easier for you to hire the right senior leader to take your business where it needs to go.

From there, this level of detail and specificity needs to be reflected in the job description; otherwise, it will end up a laundry list of tasks rather than a providing an executive with a vision of where this role can take them. This is the first thing your potential leader will see, and if they are the right fit for your business, they will read it carefully and address all the points in their cover letter. Read CVs carefully and with an awareness of how to mine them for information, looking for positive language, consistency and attention to detail. If there are any red flags, then don’t ignore them.

Meanwhile, interviews are an ever-evolving art, and have long moved towards soft skills and emotional intelligence to fit the requirements of the modern workplace. This is even more true for executives. Think about the senior leadership traits we identified earlier in this article and ask open questions which allow the candidate to demonstrate qualities like self-awareness, communication skills, capacity to generate ideas and ability to adapt. Ask the candidate for concrete examples to back this up.

Finally, do your due diligence. Make sure they did in fact deliver the projects and outcomes they said they did; ask their referees, and if possible, look for independent evidence. Contact others you know in the industry and see if they’ve heard about them.

Make sure your employer brand is up to scratch

Remember, the other side of the coin is not just you finding the right people, but convincing them that your company is the place that will take their career where they want it to go.

In these times, the best leaders are very savvy about potential employers – they can and will do their own research on you through social media and other means. To do this, review and then communicate your employer brand.

Your brand tells potential leaders about your value proposition and how they will feel if they come and work for your company. Revealing elements of your mission statement, culture and vision through different channels including social media – in a consistent manner – is vital. Positive stories like your latest company milestone, group volunteering activity, or staff development initiative are great examples.

The interview is also a chance for you to impart your company culture and personality, so the potential leader can make an informed decision as to whether it is the right place for them to work.

Take time to evaluate

Once you’ve hired an executive, then ensure you conduct a thorough and ongoing process of evaluation. Firstly, look at the performance of the team they are managing – if outcomes are being delivered, then it is a sign the new leader understands your strategy and can effectively inspire and motivate their team.

Another indicator is the attitude of employees they lead. If you hire a new executive and everyone under them starts resigning or asking for a transfer, then it’s time to look deeper into what is happening with the leadership. Do employees respect and trust their leader? Are they motivated? Happy?

Whether the executive is delivering will also be reflected in external feedback, especially from customers.

From there, look not just at particular executives but at how they all work together across your company, as this should give you an idea of whether your hiring process is working.

Remember, hiring the right executive-level leaders for your business is crucial for success. Each stage of the process should be handled with utmost care and attention, as should the evaluation to make sure you are getting it right.

Still need some help? Hunton Executive not only works attracting and recruiting leaders, but also offers Workforce Management Consulting – helping you to develop the most effective recruitment and talent management framework that will optimise your workforce and deliver your strategic plan.

Hunton Executive can help you identify, capture, and retain the right leaders for your business.

Contact Hunton Executive for a confidential conversation about how we can help you with your senior leadership and executive talent management planning.


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