Avoiding Predictable Mistakes in Hiring Leaders
(Editor's note: This blog was written by Francie Dalton, the founder and president of Dalton Alliances Inc., a full-line business consultancy in Columbia, MD, specializing in the behavioral, management and communication sciences.)
Once you've affirmed the need for a new leadership position, the next challenge is to implement as flawlessly as possible the process of hiring the best person for the job. Whether you're hiring your own direct report or are interviewing on behalf of your internal customers, you can avoid predictable mistakes by following these recommendations.
1. Evaluate the candidate as well as the credentials. Don't be so enamored by the candidate's credentials and background that you impute managerial competence and fail to assess behavioral fit. The ability to generate desired outcomes just isn't enough. If the candidate's management style is antithetical to the needs of those who will be their direct reports, even if s/he can execute substantively, it won't work. Rather, consider what management behaviors will be effective, using these as the behavioral criteria against which you hire.
2. Steel yourself against the seduction of star quality. The concept of what constitutes good management can get clouded by a candidate's public prowess. It can be challenging to stay focused on the fact that dazzling networking connections have little to do with one's ability to manage others. One's reputation outside the organization, no matter how illustrious, cannot compensate for a lack of managerial capability.
3. Accept that there will be a learning curve. Realize your own success is in part contingent upon making this hire successful. Permit the new leader to shadow relevant internal colleagues. Include him/her in key meetings. Encourage questions about decisions and methods. Understand that it usually takes 60 days for a new executive settle down and begin to hit stride.
4. Draw significant comparisons. Rigorously compare your organizational culture and that of your candidate's past employers. Make sure you hire a leader whose exposure to other organizational cultures is like yours, or is like the culture you want to create.
5. Take your time. Don't bow to the pressure to hurry up and get someone on board. You must subordinate your desire for quick hire to the need for sustained success.
6. Guard against hiring in your own image. You're not looking for a clone or a best friend. The skill set you're recruiting for in an executive may, in fact, compensate for your weaknesses. Know where you need shoring up, and be willing to hire accordingly.
7. Rely on more than personal attraction. Don't hire based just on chemistry. It's not enough that you're comfortable together and seem to agree on everything. Instead, identify the behavioral characteristics that your organization can and cannot work with. Then be relentless in your interviewing to reveal these. Identify the leadership qualities you seek, and inquire specifically about these characteristics when checking references.
8. Use behavioral interviewing. This is an interviewing technique that helps leverage your risk to making assumptions about a candidate's capabilities. Let's say you're looking for someone who has the confidence to take initiative. Rather than simply asking whether or not s/he possesses this trait, ask the candidate to tell you in detail about a few instances with past employers when s/he demonstrated considerable initiative. How quickly the candidate responds, and how clearly their response depicts the trait you're seeking will help validate whether, and the degree to which, the candidate actually possesses the desired trait.
9. Use 360 interviews. Allow those who'll be peers and subordinates of the candidate to participate in the interview process. It's useful to create a scoring grid for important competencies and behaviors. Summarize the scores and debrief with the group who participated. Ensure that emotions don't override the quantitative scores.