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How to Hire the Best Possible Executives

Aug 17, 2007
There are many different opinions as to whether or not a company needs to hire the absolute best "A-Player" talent for every single position listed on a corporate org. chart. That said, most CEOs believe their company will perform better if the executive team is populated with the absolute best "A-Player" executive talent available. Unfortunately, many companies actually fail in their attempts to hire the best possible executive talent. When this failure occurs, in retrospect, many executive hiring authorities feel the process broke down somewhere during identifying, attracting, qualifying, recruiting of executives into their respective roles. The truth is that in most cases the process was broke even before any attempt has been made to engage candidates.

So where does the process typically break down when attempting to hire the absolute best "A-Player" talent?

The process typically breaks down in the preliminary stage where the specific quantified objectives for the executive role in question are actually being defined or failed to be defined.

Typically either the role's objectives and/or charter have only been loosely defined in concept, but have not been defined at all in detail in terms of the quantified specific business objectives/metrics the role will be responsible for delivering against. In other words, no one has defined explicitly what the role is expected to accomplish/drive in the near term let alone the long term with respect to the measurable impact the role is expected to have on quantifiable business metrics.

Many times all that is known is "We need an EVP of Sales", or "We need a CFO" as far as the functional concept of the role. The problem with this is it translates into simply focusing only on - what - a prospective candidate has done in their career. This in turn translates into candidate assessment overly focusing on whether or not a candidate does or does not have the required scope & scale of quantifiable responsibility/experience implying they will not be "in over their head" and possess "been there; done that" experience of appropriate scope & scale.

So why is it so important to quantify and define the specific business objectives/metrics the role will be responsible for delivering against? This might seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how often this isn't done in a deliberate concrete way.

It is important to quantify and define the specific business objectives/metrics the role will be responsible for delivering against because, from a specific objective, you can derive/infer the specific executive capabilities, skills, and attributes that a candidate must possess in order to have a chance at achieving the specific objective. This "peeling the onion" so to speak causes you to focus on - how - a prospective candidate achieved - what - they claim to have accomplished.

Focusing on - how - they accomplished something exposes the prospective candidate's executive capabilities. Identifying a candidate's executive capabilities will give you a much stronger indication of their ability to meet/exceed - your company's - business objectives chartered to the role you're trying to fill.

Example Business Objective:

* This executive will be required to drive revenue growth in excess of our industry's growth rate while maintaining planned profitability.

From this you can derive/infer the specific requisite executive capability an "A-Player" candidate must possess.

Example Executive Capability:

* Executive must be able to ensure our organization actively monitors and manages financial performance in both up and down business conditions while driving measurable success.

This required executive capability translates into an interview question:

Example Interview Question:

"How has your ability to ensure your organization actively monitors and manages financial performance in both up and down business conditions driven measurable success?"

Example Candidate Response:

"Fluctuating business conditions would cause me to alter my plans, either to accelerate hiring or promotional activities, or to suspend them. My primary goals were to exceed the industry's revenue growth rate while maintaining the planned profitability of 26%. It's interesting to note, I did not look to exceed the profitability goal as excessive profitability would indicate we were not aggressive enough in pursuing maximum growth."

Expanding on the profitability objective for the executive that own revenue production for the company could translate into the following executive capability:

Example Executive Capability:

* Executive must be able to ensure, through a predictable formal sales process, the "right deals" are pursued and won to maintain margin targets by minimizing/wasting the deployment of company resources on deals that either don't close or aren't scalable, repeatable, or referencable.

Again, this required executive capability translates into an interview question:

Example Interview Question:

"Describe your approach to sales strategy, planning and execution, including any "solution selling" methodologies you've consistently employed, specifically focusing on how your incremental assess/qualify opportunities has translated into a win/loss close ratio."

Example Candidate Response:

"I make sure every deal over $250K goes through our strategic selling competitive war gaming session in order to bullet proof deal specific sales strategy, tactics, and execution ownership. This also involves incrementally categorize opportunities based on associated Can We Win, Do We Want to Win, Will We Win ongoing qualifying/assessment criteria through the entire lifecycle of the specific revenue opportunity. Our close rate for deals managed through this process is over 90%."

By beginning the process of filling a new executive role in your company with quantifying and defining the specific business objectives/metrics the role will be responsible for delivering against, and then deriving/inferring the associated requisit executive capabilities, you can then develop very focused probing interview questions to draw out a prospective executive candidate's resonant executive value proposition associated with - each - requisit executive capability an executive candidate must possess to excel in the role. This will give you a much clearer picture of what you are investing in when considering bringing a new executive onto your team and give you a much better indication of an executive candidate's ability to excel in the critical role you're trying to fill on your executive team.
About the Author
Ron Bates is an expert in mission critical retained executive search. Ron has been referred to as "the most connected man on Earth" with +31,000 direct contacts on on-line professional networking platforms. Find his Internet Presence: Case Study - Recipe for Success at http://www.search-advantage.com
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