Assessing Interim and Internal Candidates: The WittKieffer Approach

By Robin Mamlet

Context

In recent years – where a strong internal candidate exists or a viable interim has been in a leadership role – a growing number of institutions have expressed interest in a modified approach to leadership selection. For these institutions, the prospect of launching a traditional search, with the attendant time, energy and expense, may seem inefficient given the availability of a strong internal candidate. Also, the dynamic of an internal candidate often has a chilling impact on the willingness of external candidates to apply for the role formally. Instead, clients have asked us to join with them in thinking about a way to put process and structure around an in-depth assessment of one or a few internal candidates, against a backdrop of what the national or global market might bring.

Approach

Working closely with each institution that has requested this, we have constructed a process that is tailored to their needs and circumstances. While individual steps and pricing have varied, there have been several unifying principles:

  • A logical and clear structure, with a corresponding increase in transparency, around a potential internal appointment
  • Multiple layers to the candidate evaluation, leading to a greater understanding of the internal’s strengths and mitigating risk in the hiring decision, along with a professional development plan for the new executive
  • Involvement of a search or advisory committee
  • A measurement of genuine (albeit preliminary) interest in the role from external candidates, while maintaining confidentiality and without commitment to a public or formal national search (where built into the process)
  • Greater institutional confidence in the placement, following a rigorous and structured process

Shared Governance

For some engagements, our clients have chosen to move through this process as quickly and expeditiously as possible, without involving a search committee or others. Most, however, have sincerely desired the counsel, perspective and buy-in gained with the involvement of a committee. Both approaches work, and we can advise on the pros and cons of each, including the impact on time and expense.

In the time of COVID

Will our world ever swing back to the “old ways”? As far as executive search is concerned, we think that is unlikely. We have all learned that an extensive and thorough national/global search can happen virtually, saving time and money. Where face-to-face matters most is in the final stages; even in the time of COVID, our clients are finding ways to make that happen where needed.

Is this the time to bring in people who are new to the community? Will responsible leaders – the kind of leaders we all want – be willing to engage? The answer to both of these questions is yes, but that is fodder for another blog post, at another time.

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