Monthly Archives: July 2014

Courting a New Executive: 6 things that will increase the likelihood of getting the right person to say “yes” when you pop the question.

In a previous post we began a discussion about the Courtship of Senior Executives and how to Talent Targetensure that we get it right.  These relationships are a lot like a marriage and it’s important to take significant time and investment on the front end to maximize the likelihood of long term success.

Now that you have a pool of candidates, how do you determine which ones are “right”, and once you think you found them, how do you get them to say yes to your offer to leave what they are currently doing and join you on your journey?  These questions are best answered by doing these six things.

  1. Drill Deep.  We narrowed the search from a couple hundred to about a half dozen candidates that the CEO would screen through a telephone interview with prepared screening questions.  This involved a simple resume review asking the candidate to walk through their experience, and share the research they had done to this point.  One candidate that I liked a great deal was disqualified by the CEO because his interview was so filled with “I” messages to the point that all the CEO could hear was a sense of ego and arrogance.  The process allowed the CEO to identify three of these candidates that he wanted to bring in for face to face interviews.
  1. Drill Deeper.  Before these candidates were brought in they were asked to complete a comprehensive selection assessment that would provide insight into their leadership style, personality preferences, potential performance challenges, and motives and values.  They were also asked to review the competencies that we had created, the same ranking exercise the CEO completed.   This step was designed to help us determine whether the process was taking us down the right track.  These two exercises could tell us if we had missed it completely or not.  Thankfully, we confirmed that we had found some quality candidates who were closely aligned with the CEO when it came to business, leadership and values.
  1. Don’t wing it.  Develop the right questions to be used in the interview.  We developed and agreed upon a series of situational and behavioral interview questions based on the position, their resume, their background, and the assessments.
  1. Conduct a Comprehensive Structured Interview.  We dug into their background as much as we could, checked their references, reviewed their social media accounts, and then brought each of these three candidates to join us for a five hour interview and a meal together.  We wanted to get answers to our questions, but we also wanted to see this person in different settings and situations.  Short of a comprehensive and expensive Assessment Center, an in-depth, structured interview will ensure that you ask all the questions that are important to you.  The CEO and I prepared for the interview ahead of time.  Our two-person team interview allowed us to alternate asking questions and kept the interview focused and on track.
  1. Ask for a Second Date.  This process allowed us to narrow our selection.  We asked the primary candidate to return with their spouse for dinner with the CEO and his spouse, and for an extended visit with the executive team they would be responsible for leading.  This wasn’t designed to give the executive team a vote, though I am sure they could have vetoed the selection, but it was designed to allow the CEO to get to know them further, and in different situations.  We also wanted to utilize this trip to provide the candidate and the people who would relocate with them an opportunity to visit the area with a Realtor to see if this is a place they might enjoy living.
  1. Compensation:  Don’t lose ‘em now!  You have made it this far, so you don’t want to lose them in the negotiation process.  In the midst of this process we had conducted a compensation study, and had inquired about their compensation expectations.  We wanted to be certain that we knew what the position was worth, and what a person of this candidate’s skills and experience would command.  We also discussed this with others who had been through similar processes to help the CEO be as comfortable as possible with the decision he was about to make.  The CEO also used this time to prepare his executive team for the leadership transition that was about to occur and to share with them his philosophy of leadership that had developed through the process.

All in all this process took approximately six months.  That’s a long courtship in today’s fast pace of business.  Some will say, too long, but not this CEO.  This was not the first time he attempted this.  His first pass involved a less structured approach.  Needless to say, that didn’t work out so well.  This time he wanted to make sure he did it in a way that would have a greater likelihood of success.

I know you’re asking, Is this a success story?  Time will tell.  A lot will depend on the CEO’s ability to adjust to his new role and the company’s on-boarding process, along with the President’s ability to solidify their relationship with the CEO, gain the confidence of the executive team, suppliers and customers, and to achieve or exceed expectations as planned.  However, we are definitely confident that the stage has been set for the greatest likelihood of success.  And that’s really about all you can do.

Courting a New Executive: 5 Things to Ensure a Good Match

Courting a New Executive?  Getting to Yes I Talent Targetcall it “courtship”, because bringing on a new senior executive is a lot like getting married.  While it may not be lifetime commitment like marriage, you are getting ready to join arm in arm for many years with a person you are hoping will grow your business.  We all know the cost of getting a yes from the wrong person.  We also know the disappointment of wanting a yes and not succeeding.

Throughout my career as an HR and OD executive and consultant I have been surprised at how quickly some executives on both sides of the equation leap into these significant relationships. Maybe it is because some look at it as more of a transaction than a relationship.  Some base these hires on no more than a phone call, a reference and an interview.  Some do an “extended” search and include lunch.  These “love at first sight” relationships work out for some and make a great story line, but relying on passion and first impressions as a foundation for a successful, long term relationship has disaster written all over it. These may be the same people who tend to be surprised when the person they hired fails to live up to their expectations.  They may also be the same ones who blame the person hired for this failure rather than their hiring process.

With the “meet & greet” approach being pretty widespread, it’s little wonder that the derailment rate of leaders is between fifty and sixty percent (according to The Center of Creative Leadership, DDI and Hogan Research). So what is the right length of “courtship” for senior executives?  Some resist a more lengthy process because they think they have it all figured out, or they believe they have “good intuition” about talent, or because they really don’t have the time.   The latter statement always reminds me of what one of my clients, who was a senior executive at a very large company, used to say, “When you need people really bad, you hire really bad people.”  That tends to be true more often than not.

Consider the marriage metaphor.  Shoals and Rodriguez in Psychology Today say that a 2-3 year courtship results in the longest term marriages.  Ted Houston, Professor of Human Ecology and Psychology at The University of Texas, says couples who begin with a 2.25 year courtship will remain married up to 7 years longer than those with shorter courtships or courtships lasting longer than three years.

While such a lengthy hiring process may not seem feasible, there is definitely much more you can do to ensure a greater success rate. One thing that many organizations are doing is developing and promoting their executives from within through succession planning.  A well-designed succession planning process allows the company the opportunity to “court” the high potential leader and see them in a variety of situations over a long period of time, sometimes over an entire career.  Many high performing companies are being led today by leaders who have come up through their ranks.  A few good examples are in my own back yard, with Doug McMillon at Wal-Mart, Donnie Smith at Tyson, and John Roberts at J.B. Hunt.  I’ll grant that this is easier to do in a larger organization.

So, what do you do if you aren’t a big company with the depth of talent in your pipeline?  Large or small, any time you don’t have the time and resources (including talent in the pipeline) to develop talent internally, you have to look outward.   This makes the “courtship” even more critical. Five Things to Ensure a Good Match:

  1. Start courting long before you need the talent.  One thing I learned from Sam Walton is that good leaders always keep their eyes open for talent.  When you find it, begin the courtship.  Begin learning about them to determine if they would be a good fit.  Tell them about your business, your vision and your plans and hopes for the future.  Ask about theirs.  Prepare them and yourself for the day that you will actually pop the question.
  1. Define your values for the business.  I have known and worked with a particular client for over 10 years and knew the CEO and the company quite well, but when it came to finding a president, I wanted the CEO to be sure he was able to fully articulate what he was looking for.  So before we began the search, we focused on helping him clarify his core values and what he considered to be the foundational pillars of the business.  These were the things he believed to be essential to the company’s past and future success, things he wanted to be certain his new president would sustain and strengthen into the future.  Defining your core values will help you screen candidates more effectively and will allow you to feel more comfortable handing over the reins to a new leader.
  1. Define and rank the competencies required for success in the position.  Once this CEO was ready to start the search we began to refine his definition of the core competencies required of a president.  We ended up with four broad categories broken into nineteen competencies, with seventy-two statements defining those competencies.    I asked the CEO to rank these competencies to help refine the search.   His response was, “This is tough.  All of these are important.”  That’s the point of the exercise.  It’s not likely you will find a single candidate with all of these competencies.  Ranking them will allow you to select the candidate who is aligned with you on those that are most important to you and your business.
  1. Write a compelling position posting and job description.  This document is intended to describe the company, the opportunity, the position, the competencies required, the required experience and education and a few things about the importance of the role.  It will be used to inform people about the opportunity.  Once completed, we sent this document to several hundred people within his and my network of business acquaintances, where we surfaced and screened a lot of interested candidates.  The posting is designed to help people self-select in and out of the opportunity. There are few things more frustrating than having a boat load of resumes that don’t even come close to meeting the job requirements.
  1. Refine your expectations.  While going through this process to this point the CEO reflected on and refined what he was looking for in a president.   Since he was founder as well as CEO, this transition would result in a new role for him and would require an especially talented president to fulfill their role.  At this stage he began to define what his new role would be when a new president joined the company.  It became apparent to him that he needed an experienced business leader with a track record of success more than someone from within his own industry.  This refinement made it evident that we needed to reach out more broadly, so we posted the position on a couple of selected job boards target within and beyond his industry.  We surfaced and screened literally hundreds more great candidates.  The length of this refinement period is greatly reduced, the more frequently you engage in the hiring process.  Building a relationship with a trusted recruiter will also help minimize this refinement process as well.

Now that you have great candidates flowing your way, how can you be confident that you can find “Mr. or Ms. Right”?  That’s the subject of part 2, Maximizing the Likelihood of Getting a Yes when you Pop the Question

What’s Running Got to Do With It?

I guess you could say I have been a runner all my life.  Early on, Kim, a classmate of mine Lana's Half Ironman challenged me to get out and run the Louisiana levies with him.  I was about 50 pounds overweight at the time and was pretty sure I was going to die each time I ran.  His encouragement to me was pretty simple, “You ran track in high school, surely you can make it to the next pole!” and off we would go until he thought I had enough.  When our families moved to Vancouver together he continued the encouragement, and I continued to run.

It wasn’t long before my wife started running as well.  She found similar encouragement from her sister and a friend who would get up early several mornings a week while I stayed in with the kids and would run a few miles each time.

When we left Canada to return to graduate school we didn’t have a lot of money, so running the trail around the park near our house became our family’s recreation.  Usually it was just my wife and I running while the kids walked the trail or waited for us to finish our exercise.  Now, when I say “running” I’m talking three miles maximum.  And I am not sure our speed actually qualifies as “running”.

The nice thing about running is that it is very portable and relatively inexpensive.  Running became one of the things that came to identify and differentiate our family.  When we moved to Northwest Arkansas the first time in 1990, it seemed like we were the only people in the area who exercised by running.  We were certainly the only ones in our circles of influence.  We would grab the kids and the dog and run over to the local high school track to do our laps where we would see a walker or two, but seldom any runners.  FYI, Northwest Arkansas has changed significantly since then.  Today it is truly a running and cycling community.  We can hardly go on our regular morning (5:00 AM) runs on the new Razorback Greenway trails without seeing multiple runners and regular cyclists.

In those days, running was simply a form of exercise and fitness for us.  We didn’t know of any other couples who ran, had never heard of Runner’s World magazine, and if fitness and running stores existed, we certainly didn’t know about them.  So, I guess you could say we were pretty surprised when our son, who was in his first year at university announced that he was going to run a marathon.  I mean, who does that?  This is the same guy who had earlier resisted all of our attempts to get the kids to eat a little healthier and run with us for exercise.  We were so proud of his run that we took his metal and bib and had them framed in a shadow box.  We were certain that he would have an office some day and would be proud to display this feat of youthful fitness.   Well the office, seemed to be a long time coming, so we hung this picture and the picture of his second marathon finish in our computer room above the desk.  This would be the start of the Hawk Family Wall of Pain.

It wasn’t long after this that I changed jobs and began working with a former Wal-Mart executive who had also completed a marathon.  So when we travelled together, we would get up in the mornings and run together.  While he was inspiring, I was still only running about three miles at a time.

I was also a fair weather runner at the time.  So during one particularly cold winter, my wife and I joined a local fitness center where we took up spin classes.  This had to be one of the most intense forms of exercise I had ever engaged in.   I may be a fair weather runner, but if there is anything I hate more than running in the cold, it is exercising indoors.  I will never forget the day that winter after I had completed a spin class, I told my wife, “If I can do this for an hour, surely I can run for an hour!”  So the following Saturday morning when I was scheduled to attend a spin class, I opted out for a one hour run outside.  To my amazement, I actually finished it fairly strongly.  Not to be outdone, my very competitive wife ran the following week for an hour and five minutes.

It wasn’t long before we cancelled the gym memberships and began to run regularly.  Before we knew it, we had signed up for our first half marathon.  We were fortunate that we chose the Country Music Marathon in Nashville.  It was small compared to the number of runners it hosts today, but it was fun, filled with country music, lots of fans cheering us on, a great city to visit, and a country music concert the evening following the run.  Though we were hurting a lot, we had achieved a victory that was beyond our comprehension, and we were hooked.  We decided to register for the full marathon the following year, and again, had a great time, even though we hurt even more than after the half.

Of course, we were so proud of ourselves, that we had our pictures framed and hung them right beside those belonging to our son.  Before you knew it, our two adult daughters noticed the pictures hanging in the computer room, and, not to be outdone, registered for their own half marathons.

Since then, our son has gone on to become an Ironman, having completed three full ironman distance races, several halves and training for a fourth full.  Now, I thought a 26.2 mile marathon was tough, but these guys start out with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and wrap up with a full 26.2 mile marathon, for a total of 140.6 miles.  No wonder they call them Ironmen.  These things take 9-12 hours to complete.  I’m always exhausted when I go just to be a spectator.  Oh yes, we have a family member present at each of these, because we want to be there in case it kills him.  I’ve decided that when I am ready to check out of this world, I will just register for one of these and go out with a bang, because I am certain it will do me in.

When my oldest daughter married, it became apparent to her husband that running is the thing we (the Hawk Family) do.  Eventually, our reluctant son-in-law found the motivation (which for him means destination) he needed to run his first half-marathon.  Some ten or more years later the other two kids married and their spouses also joined the Wall of Pain.  Our youngest daughter’s husband joined us in a half marathon while they were engaged, and our daughter-in-law joined on a 10K, which was allowed to count, just to help her get started.  I say allowed to count, because, while she is an athlete (university swim team) she was not a runner, and certainly not a marathoner at all before she met our son.

My wife and I just got back this weekend from watching our daughter-in-law complete her first half Ironman triathlon (that’s her in the pic).  Just take the distances above and cut them in half.  That’s 70.3 miles.  What an accomplishment!!  Especially for a person who never envisioned this of herself.  Who knows what’s next.  Even if she decides, this stuff is not for her, she has learned some valuable lessons through this experience.

I have watched and participated in a lot of sports.  However, there is truly nothing quite like finishing one of these races for the first time, whether it’s a 10K, half marathon, marathon, or half Ironman, or Ironman.  You simply know that you have done something few others will ever experience.  You have pushed yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of and won.  You learn that with grit and determination, few things in life are impossible.  You learn the power of the mind to take you where the body doesn’t think it can.   You learn the power and value of discipline.  You learn the importance of taking care of both your body and your mind.  You learn that “bad days” or “bad runs” happen, but don’t define you.  You learn to get up and give it all you’ve got, even when you don’t feel like it.  You learn the value of support and encouragement from those who care about you.  Sometimes those who care for you are the strangers running next to you who recognize you’re struggling.   These “strangers” offering an encouraging word can mean more than you would have ever expected.  You know they have once been where you are right now, and want you to know that you can push through and win.  Some will even slow down and run with you through part of the race, just to help you along.   Who does that?

Today there are more than fifty pictures on the Hawk Wall of Pain.  I keep thinking that one day the kids will want to take their pics with them and put them on their own wall.  But for now, they are a wonderful reminder of one of the ties that bind our family.  No matter where we are, or how far apart we may live from one another, there is always a race we can register for and run together to add just one more memory to lives well lived.  And for that I am grateful.

Gotta go.  Gotta get registered for our Fall half-marathon.  This one is to celebrate my wife’s birthday.  She changes age brackets this fall and is convinced she will earn first place in her age group (as if she needs to do it again).  Our son chose the race.  He said the course is flat and the race is relatively small, so she will definitely be better positioned to achieve her goal.  In my eyes she has already won, regardless of the time on the clock or the place she finishes.  She is the one who keeps me going, and going, and going.  I’m looking forward to resting someday.  In the meantime I think I’ll run.

You may be asking, “What’s this post have to do with leadership?”  I expect that you already understand it.  If not, just give me a call.