Tuesday October 23, 2012
When hiring senior officials what are we looking for; what is this 'X' factor?
Talking HR with Pauline Ng
USUALLY, by the time I am sitting in a CEO's office discussing the need to find his or her replacement, the sentiment is usually that we needed the person on board yesterday and there is no room for errors.
Hence, it is clear that we have no time to lose in kicking off the search and getting it right the first time is crucial. In the course of conducting executive search projects across various industries, I've noticed that there are some competencies or traits that almost always top the list when hiring senior executives or leaders for an organisation.
We often hear these expressed as the “X” factor or chemistry but if we were to go into details about what we are looking for, the common “must haves,” other than the necessary functional skills, could include the following.
Understanding the business
Understanding the business is not only about having the right industry knowledge or specific technical know-how, but also encompasses the awareness of economic trends and the ability to understand what the company's competitors are doing.
I've recently met a CEO of a large services based business who came from a consumer good company.
He had dealt with products for the better part of his career and was able to translate his experience into selling services to consumers.
Hence, his ability to understand the business is clearly evident as he has successfully made sense of the common patterns between the two different industries and the trends in the services industry that he now operates in.
Some individuals who lack integrity can sometime be quite adept at hiding this fact during an interview and there is really no practical way to find out if someone is telling the absolute truth.
However, cases like Enron have demonstrated how crucial integrity and ethics are to a leadership role.
Integrity cannot be detected just by reading a candidate's resume but this is where a comprehensive reference check is usually helpful.
In fact, I would recommend conduct more than one reference check done to get a different perspective of the candidate.
During the interview, I would be looking for “red flags.”
The candidates' ability to clearly articulate any gaps in employment and be consistent with his or her answers are some initial indicators I would look for.
This refers to the ability to understand complex situations and see the big picture. From my experience of interviewing and speaking with various senior executives over two decades, seeing the big picture is not easy as it usually begins with adequate mastery of a skill or experience in an area of specialisation and involves the thought-process of the individual as well as their ability to relate to the vision or long-term goals of an organsiation.
There is a significant difference between someone who knows the vision and someone who understands it enough to align goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) to the vision.
For example, the talk that Simon Sinek gave on TED Talks suggesting asking a simple question, “Why?” A quote he shared that inspired me is this, “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they'll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they'll work for you with blood, sweat and tears.”
No one has ever told me that they wanted to hire a “yes-man” or woman for that matter. Managerial courage refers to having the courage to make difficult decisions or stay the course when faced with challenges. When trying to ideintify this trait in a candidate, I'd look for evidence of him or her having taken responsibility for a situation and not being overly intimidated by authority. If a candidate is low on managerial courage, he or she may come across as someone who often lets others take the lead or avoids confrontations. In my opinion, candidates who lack managerial courage are often good second-liners but it is unlikely that the individual would possess the necessary “hunger” to take on the number one role in an organisation. However, this is a competency that can be honed with interventions such as executive coaching or mentoring, if the candidate has a strong enough desire to change and succeed.
Innovation and creativity
Most CEOs are required to take the organizations they lead to the next level. Shareholders are always looking to increase return on investment (ROI) and the business needs to be both profitable and sustainable. As such, concepts like the “Blue Ocean” strategy have become increasing prominent in the business arena. The premise of this strategy is to find new markets or innovation in a space that is yet untapped. A practical example of such a strategy would the success of Ikea. At a time when many furniture businesses were scaling down or perhaps even shutting down their businesses, Ikea flourished. They were selling the same product but the innovation in the modular design and packaging of their products gave them an added advantage that became their differentiating factor. In fact, they have probably even changed the way consumers view furniture stores. For this trait, I'd be looking to see how well the individual is able to think outside-the-box and perhaps question the conventional ways of executing strategies.
In summary, I personally find that it is useful to keep some basic “must haves” in mind along with the requirements of the role when assessing potential leaders or senior executives in order to satisfy the additional unspoken needs that we earlier referred to as the “X” factor.
If our objective is to hire the best candidate for the role and get it right the first time, I'd suggest we consider giving more thought to what is required of the candidate not just from the functional skills perspective but also the traits we want the individual to possess. Using these competencies as a benchmark for hiring is by no means a guarantee of a successful hire but it is an additional step we can take towards finding a great candidate for the role.