Get Great Organizational Input

By Andrew Trechsel

After selecting a search firm, most hiring organizations want to start an executive recruitment immediately – to “hit the market” and see who’s available. Beforehand, however, it is imperative that the search team has an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the specific role that is being filled, and how it fits within the organization as a whole.

Allowing stakeholders to participate and provide their input is a critical element of a successful search. This not only allows the search firm to get a better idea of the ideal qualifications and success factors for the next leader, but it can also allow the hiring manager – often the Board or CEO – to gain a better appreciation for what the organization’s various employees and stakeholders want in the new hire, and allow for unique perspective of the organization as a whole.

Working with the hiring manager, search consultants typically use the five common methods below for getting organizational input. For each I offer advice as to how to ensure their success.

  1. Organizational interviews are one-on-one meetings where a search consultant speaks directly with Board members, C-suite leaders, peers, direct reports, and other important stakeholders such as community members and donors. These meetings allow individuals to share their stories and perspectives in a personal setting.

Keys to success: Before these interviews, it is critical for the hiring manager to explain to participants why they are participating and how their information will be used. This will get buy-in and ensure their full participation and transparency, resulting in better input. Participants also need to know that the conversations are confidential, and that what they share will not come back to haunt them. A good search consultant will reiterate these messages at the beginning of each meeting.

  1. Similar to interviews are focus groups, small group discussions hosted by the search consultants. While these meetings are less personal, they can save time and help advance the search process more quickly.

Keys to success: Focus groups won’t work if sensitive issues will be aired or certain power dynamics are at play. For example, if the recruitment is for a direct report to the CEO, the CEO shouldn’t join in, as individuals will want to discuss the role in the context of its relationship with the CEO. Hiring managers and search consultants should go out of their way to identify groups of individuals who will share thoughtful feedback with each other. . They must consider differences in power dynamics, individuals’ personalities, relationships with internal candidates or any other factors that could hinder information sharing.

  1. Electronic surveys/questionnaires allow the search firm to solicit input from a large number of organizational members, on their own time.

Keys to success: A company’s culture often dictates if surveys will work. For example, many not-for-profits use surveys to ensure that all employees feel as though they have had a say in the process. Surveys also work if an organization’s culture is built around collaborative decision-making. The trick to getting surveys right is to ensure their length is appropriate (5-10 questions at most), important content areas are covered, and that questions are clear and succinct.

  1. Observations allow the search consultant to collect data on actual behavior rather than reports on behavior. In an on-site visit, the consultant can get a better understanding of the culture and intricacies they might miss over the phone or video interview. While saving time and money are important, any search consultant will tell you being able to see the organization first-hand provides invaluable information. In addition, seeing the community the organization serves ignites the fire to find the best possible candidate.

Keys to success: When possible allow the search consultant one or two days on site. Before their visit, draft a robust schedule to include stakeholder interviews, a tour of the facilities and some time in the community. To dispense with any rumors, let employees know why a stranger is snooping around.

  1. The last method, hard data and documents, relates to information readily available including public and private records, official documents such as financial information or annual reports, and the company’s website and intranet.

Keys to success: While every organization has this information and rarely is it confidential, many do not share it expeditiously. At the start of a search, the hiring manager should designate one team member to gather and share key information with the search consultants.

Once a search firm and organization have a plan for gathering input, they should communicate it to their stakeholders. This is a chance to share the role of the search firm, and to make individuals feel like they are a valuable part of the search process—their voice is being heard.

With all this input, search consultants gain a unique insight into the strengths and opportunities at your organization, and which hard and soft skills are necessary for the next leader to be successful. The search team uses this input to inform their position description, and to screen candidates and educate them on exactly what they would be stepping into. In general, more organizational input leads to a better search.

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