RTT – C-Suite Level Recruitment: Best Practice and Lessons Learnt

C-Suite Level RecruitmentHiring at c-suite level is different from any other form of recruitment. Companies are often looking for a needle in a haystack and any decision to hire is by no means taken lightly.

With so much riding on selecting the right individual, it’s crucial for recruitment to have a firm handle on the whole process. However, this is often challenging with the level of sensitivity and confidentiality around roles; not to mention the difficulty that the top tier of the business tends to have with entrusting recruitment to take the reins…

These are the thoughts and takeaways from a Resourcing Think Tank (RTT) held on Tuesday 6th December 2016 hosted by AlixPartners’ Wendy King (EMEA Recruitment Manager) titled ‘C-Suite Level Recruitment: Best Practice and Lessons Learnt’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior Resourcing and HR professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

During this Think Tank it became clear that there three key areas to consider when recruiting at c-suite level:

  • Candidate attraction
  • Assessment
  • Onboarding

Candidate attraction at c-suite level

Typically when hiring at c-suite level your search methodology will likely blend a mixture of direct sourcing with some Agency or Executive Search usage. An avenue which shouldn’t be overlooked is encouraging your senior population to leverage their networks and make referrals. This tends to be a very lucrative channel, but it’s often challenging to get this senior population totally embedded with supporting recruitment efforts.

It was recommended to look beyond the obvious in terms of search partners. The big brands have their place and can be very successful, however more boutique or mid-tier firms can often be more invested in the process and committed to delivering.

It’s also worth noting that the level of service you receive from your suppliers will often be reflected by the value they feel you place on the relationship. Do you have a true partnership? Are you reasonable to work with? Do you honour commitments? Do you make it easy to work with you e.g. have you allowed them a face-to-face meeting and shared relevant company information to enable them to effectively position your brand? Whether an agency consciously or unconsciously ranks your business in terms of what it’s like to work with you, all of these factors will affect the likelihood of you arriving at your end goal – making a hire.

Whatever your view on the client / agency relationship, it’s important to develop a consistent internal search process and strive to have all your suppliers on the same universal terms.

An alternate approach to using recruitment agencies and their processes, is to engage business intelligence firms to undertake the market mapping stage of the process. It’s then down to you to manage the candidate ‘courtship’ and brand representation elements yourself; after all who is going to be able to talk more vividly and passionately about your brand than you?

Assessing your c-suite population

Do you actually know what ‘great’ looks like in your business? Can you define it? Sounds too simple right? One attendee referred to a scenario whereby they’d asked 12 Senior Managers that exact question, and, got 12 different answers! All largely subjective. All largely based on experience. Nothing objective. Nothing based on aptitude for potential and development or measurable traits (intellect, values, behaviours).

Clearly having a really focused picture of how you are assessing ‘Senior Talent’ has to be an obvious starting point to ensure consistency and rigour. Here are some key points to consider when thinking about defining an assessment and selection process:

When do you introduce this concept to a candidate? Too early and they may not be bought into the process / feel that their time is wasted if they don’t get through. Too late and they may feel duped – why didn’t you tell me earlier? It’s a fine balance. It’s advised that you don’t load this concept of a ‘great candidate’ into the latter stages of the process as it almost becomes irrelevant. It needs to sit somewhere in the middle as it undoubtedly informs the rest of the process. Another benefit of including this assessment piece is that it can help sustain momentum if stakeholders aren’t available for interview.

Shifting the mindset. It’s a very common belief that “Exec’s don’t do the testing… they simply just get through”. Why when you’re recruiting at this level should they be exempt?

Losing out on talent due to lengthy processes and the competition. ‘Courting’ by other businesses during a lengthy process is inevitable when it comes to c-suite level recruitment; and of course adding in a further assessment element can also have an impact on this. Processes can often drag on for months and months which is why it’s critical to prevent your candidates’ heads from being unnecessarily turned. Your senior stakeholders / Partners need to understand the importance of this continued candidate ‘courtship’ and consider how they would want to be ‘courted’ if the shoe was on the other foot. Their expectations and wishes need to be weaved into a communication plan during this stage of the process.

How are your hiring managers performing? Is this something you currently monitor in your organisation and is it something deemed as an issue? Arguably, hiring managers play one of the most crucial roles in successfully recruiting an individual. What experience are they providing your candidates? Are they honouring interview commitments? Are they on time? Are they feeding back to applicants? Why not develop a set of consistent manager metrics that are reflected in their annual appraisals to help inform conversations on evidencing the importance of experience (e.g. ‘factually you cancelled or rescheduled in x% of times therefore we are removing you from the recruitment process’).

Have your hiring managers been given the tools to perform? It’s all well and good questioning the ability of your hiring managers, but have they been given the tools to support them during a recruitment process? For instance, how do you know if hiring managers are conducting high quality interviews? Part of the solution is obviously consistent interview training and feedback loops. It’s important to get past the belief that all hiring managers are great at interviewing and are all “too senior to have interview training”.

TA’s involvement in the interview process allows you to show hiring managers what ‘great’ looks like (in terms of interviewing capability and process) and ask the questions that get below the surface. Have a small wash-up after those interviews to share feedback and some small pearls of wisdom. In this instance, it’s recommended that TA badge themselves as the ‘observer’ (not the ‘leader’). In a lot of instances this feedback will be well received (but not in all…!!).

Are we giving ourselves enough credit? Do we have preconceptions around what the senior population may think of us? Do we give them too much leeway / credit vs changing our psyche about our role and how we lead and guide? Do we sometimes seek too much permission or over-complicate things? I suspect we might say yes to many of these questions, particularly when recruiting at this c-suite level. The important thing to do is to stop undervaluing ourselves and remember that we are the experts.

Check and de-brief at each interview stage – what are the keys aspects that were identified in a prior interview that should be clarified at the next stage? This ensures that a) there’s an evolution during the process, b) the candidate isn’t asked the same questions over and over again, and c) there is rigour and thoroughness to the assessment (there are no gaps). This also ensures that the next interviewer in the chain knows what to ask and will almost always appreciate the ‘heads up’.

Champion advocates and evidence success stories (however small) and relate it back to the bottom line and the story of what it impacts. But conversely also ensure you have diversity in your hiring process (i.e. it’s not always the same 6 or 8 people that make the decision). Otherwise this drives the same decisions, group thinking and arguably a lack of diversity.

Consistency is key. Evidence what the process is. What’s the ‘wireframe’ to ensure the assessment process keeps its integrity and isn’t pulled apart and changed in every instance? Certain bits may happen in a different order but this is the process that we commit to.

Onboarding c-suite level employees

Broadly speaking if you don’t onboard people properly, they leave! When you’ve gone through the often painstaking candidate identification, assessment and selection element of the process, why on earth would you lose out on your new top talent at the last hurdle?

Onboarding at c-suite level can be significantly more complicated than other roles due to lengthy stints of gardening leave and long notice periods – this is why it’s crucial and is given adequate attention to be done successfully. It’s important that you join the links early on between Recruitment, Talent and ultimately the business. The business being engaged in the importance of onboarding is also paramount for the individual hitting the ground running and more importantly not going elsewhere.

Here are some key elements of a successful onboarding process:

  • Basic administration – latop, pass etc. on DAY ONE!
  • Transition of information from the ATS to the internal HR database
  • Preparing in advance from the minute they sign their contract – team events, team nights out, leadership dinners, meetings, conferences; all exposing them to your culture (getting them match fit ready and offering a sense of what it’s actually like to work with you)
  • A buddy system setup in advance
  • Coaching when in the role – engage with Talent teams to ensure they are continually coached, prepped and supported over a six month period which is looped back to the leadership team.

Concluding points:

  • We don’t need to reinvent the wheel!
  • Much of the content in this blog reinforces what we’ve known for 10-15 years – it’s the consistent application that’s crucial. Having a new shiny technology platform is not the elixir that many may think
  • Getting a solid process, with key buy-in, key milestones and being aware of ownership is key
  • Always be mindful of the candidate experience. Would you be wowed and amazed if you were the candidate?
  • Assess your hiring managers! But also give them the tools to deliver in the first place
  • Ensure you choose and nurture key partnerships with suppliers who speak your language and deliver.
Mark Barnicoat

Written by , Managing Director

Mark is the Co-founder of Oasis HR and, as Managing Director, responsible for all day-to-day operations and strategically realising the over-arching vision. A Law Graduate with over 17 years experience in the recruitment space, Mark has a passion for people & personal development and is a trained NLP Master Practitioner. Outside of work Mark enjoys sports and adrenaline activities and (kids permitting) enjoys downhill Mountain Biking, Snowboarding and anything with an engine! Mark is also a Licensed FA coach and committed member of his son's Football club. Positive, honest, focused, hard working and family orientated Mark has been instrumental in creating a recognisable, well regarded and respected name in the HR world; an achievement recognised through multiple award successes.

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