Hiring Senior Executives
4th December 2023
Why is hiring senior executives critical for an organisation’s success?
In any organisation, senior executives are the people who lead. They are the ones who either set the direction and goals for the business (if they’re board-level executives) or set the strategies in the areas for which they’re responsible to help achieve those goals.
Senior executives are the people who lead business transformation. They set departmental budgets (and hold the managers who work for them accountable for meeting their budgets too). They manage the people in their own department. They make decisions.
You probably knew all that. But what you might not know is just how much of a difference senior executives can make to an organisation’s success.
If we look at the most senior of all the senior execs — the CEO — data suggests that they can be responsible for as much 25% of a company’s market value1. Some estimates put this even higher.
The impact of other execs may be less than the CEO, but there’s no doubt that senior leadership has the potential to dramatically impact an organisation’s success. So it’s unfortunate that 77% of organisations feel their leadership is lacking2 and just 11% of organisations feel they’ve got a “robust leadership bench3”.
That’s why hiring senior executives is such a big deal for every business.
How can organisations attract top senior executive talent?
The whole point of executive recruitment is to hire people who can drive things, change things and make a difference. As Forbes4 notes, hiring top executives will require a salary that’s consistent with the role, but real executive talent will often view the project as the driving factor in switching organisations.
This is about organisational purpose. But it’s also about personal purpose5. Most senior execs, like anyone at any level of any organisation, want to do work that is fulfilling and rewarding (in more than a financial sense). We speak with lots of execs who might resist working within an organisation which they see as having ‘peaked’ because they feel their potential to add value may be limited. They would, however, be eager to work in a company which they feel hasn’t yet fully delivered on its potential.
So attracting senior executives is as much about selling the vision and the project — and the role they can play within it — as it is about the remuneration.
What are the key steps in hiring senior executives for a company?
Key steps for finding senior executives include:
Define the candidate
Understanding the role you want your senior executive to play will be crucial in defining the right candidate for the job. This is about more than simply skills, qualifications and experience because the chances are that many (if not most) of the CVs that come your way could, on paper, be from viable candidates.
What really matters is how they will fit the company culture and the role/project you need them to take on. By crafting an individual, tailored job description that focuses on the key challenges, roles and attributes you want to hire — as opposed to a long list of nice-to-haves — you immediately increase the chances of success in your executive search process.
Strike the right balance of speed and patience
You don’t do senior leadership hiring on a whim. Candidates expect the recruitment process to be rigorous. But there’s a limit. As we know from the general state of organisational leadership (see earlier), top talent is in demand, so it’s important to ensure your recruitment process isn’t so drawn out that candidates are poached mid-exercise.
Revisiting your screening, assessment and interview process and removing any non-essential elements can help keep candidates onboard, give you a larger pool to choose from, and reduce executive recruitment costs.
Your recruiter also plays a key role here. They can assess candidates and identify those who are committed and are most likely to stay the assessment course, and those whose application is just one of a dozen they’ve made that week, and who may be less likely to commit to the process.
Focus on cultural fit
While the executive search process is ongoing, ensure cultural fit is at the top of the selection criteria. The person you hire will be making major organisational decisions, and it’s important they’re able to make them in a way that dovetails with the rest of your senior team’s ways of working and doesn’t cause friction for friction’s sake.
Help candidates deliver their best
If you want candidates to be able to give you a real insight into what changes they might make within your organisation, you need to give them the tools to do the job. There is a limit — no candidate should be receiving anything confidential unless they’ve first signed a non-disclosure agreement, but providing reports, strategic documents and any analysis will help ensure they are able to deliver their best.
Understand candidate intentions and way of working
There’s little point in finding senior executives who can make a difference, only to find that, once in post, their plans don’t match your direction.
While there’s a limit to how much detail you might expect them to go into ahead of joining the company, it is reasonable to ask them to put together a plan of action, with their quick wins and long-term goals, so you can assess not just their strategic thinking and understanding of the business, but also that their plans fit the overarching direction of the business.
You will, however, need to have addressed point four to enable the candidate to tackle this challenge.
How can organisations retain top senior executive talent?
We’re going back to the project and purpose we explored earlier, but hiring senior executives who have a project to deliver and a mission to achieve are more likely to stay with the organisation than those whose role has authority but lacks real purpose.
Additionally, offering meaningful professional development opportunities — conference attendance, speaking opportunities, the opportunity to study for a Master’s degree, or professional memberships could help to create a sense of value as, of course, could their remuneration package.
Finally, and as a consequence of creating a purpose for your executive recruitment, it’s important to realise that great leaders move on when they believe they have achieved their goals.
It’s vital, therefore, to ensure you have succession plans in place and that, ideally, you can balance bringing in new blood (essential for any organisation) with promoting from within.
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