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Executive Selection 101: Selecting a New CEO or Other Executive Level Role

Mediocre people occupying senior leadership positions is one of the chief reasons for the fiasco and humiliation that organizations like Enron and WorldCom faced.  The practice of recruiting average people at the top is omnipresent and often goes unnoticed until the results begin to surface, which is typically too late for any intervention.

Smart people decisions matter a lot in achieving profitability.  Research indicates that a return on average human asset of 5% is typical in many industries.  However, a senior executive selection of 2 standard deviations below the average yields -15% return on asset.  An executive selection with 2 standard deviations above average causes +25% return, which is 5 times the average.  Increased investment in finding and hiring the best senior executives fetches returns to the magnitude of 1000%.

Attracting and selecting the best people for senior leadership positions isn’t a small feat.  The future of organizations depend on it.  However, the Human Resource Management function at most organizations fail in getting the right people at the top.  The decision to hire at the senior positions necessitates deliberate effort and commitment.  Identification and onboarding of right people at these levels can create a substantial competitive advantage and profitability for the organizations.  Leading companies invest a lot of time in these decisions and conduct careful assessment of a pool of candidates.  They evaluate the opportunity costs associated with onboarding wrong people at critical senior positions and those associated with performance that could not get delivered due to selection of incompetent individual(s).

To prevent the disasters caused by psychological barriers and biases and to onboard competent executives, organizations need to religiously follow these 8 guiding principles:

  1. Outline requirements
  2. Prepare a large candidate pool
  3. Benchmark rationally
  4. Appraise systematically
  5. Overcome resistance in decision making
  6. Keep the evaluation team small
  7. Finalize the deal in time
  8. Support assimilation of new hires

Let’s discuss the 4 guiding principles in detail, for now.

Outline requirements

Defining the job requirements clearly before initiating the executive search process is an imperative for finding and appointing the right persons at senior positions.  The board should take out time to hold meetings to sift through the organizational strategic objectives and prioritized initiatives.  The outcome of these sessions help the recruiters develop a list of critical skills and behavioral competencies.

Prepare a large candidate pool

Restricting executive search to specific geographies or industries limits the chances of finding the most suitable candidate(s).  For instance, to hire the country head for a computer hardware firm in Asia, a company may identify all C-level executives at specific large hardware and software providers in the region; target former top executives of all relevant companies; consider senior executives outside the hardware sector; and shortlist about 10-12 top candidates to be interviewed.

Benchmark rationally

Having a fair comparison of shortlisted candidates is possible by creating consistent benchmarks.  This helps all the appraisers to follow a defined approach and rating criteria.  External and internal candidates should be assessed without any biasness.  Likewise, comparison of soft skills—which are obvious to internal candidates but unknown to outsiders—should be done on equal footing.

Appraise systematically

After shortlisting potential candidates, it’s time to evaluate their suitability on the required competencies through rigorous interviews using behavioral-based questions.  The evaluation should constitute in-depth reference checking—through the nominees as well as those who have worked with the candidates in the past—internally or through executive search firms.

For more information on selection and hiring “the best of the best,” take a look at the Fiaccabrino Selection Process (FSP)Download a free primer on FSP here.

Interested in learning more about the other guiding principles critical for selection of competent senior executives?  You can download an editable PowerPoint presentation on Executive Selection here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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