Unleashing the capabilities, capacity, and potential of a team or organization is a signature skill of a transformational leader.
Yet, it would seem that many of today’s leaders vastly underestimate the opportunity to increase the performance capacity of their organizations. We see this play out over and over again in our interactions with hundreds of senior leaders, in our roles in executive search and management advisory/executive coaching. Yet, the truth is, the current capabilities and limitations of an executive team or functional group are just that. They are what exist today. But they are only limitations, if no action is taken.
When considering the goals and expectations of their organizations, we believe leaders should regularly ask themselves these questions:
- Can I coach to improve the performance of the players I have?
- Can I improve team performance by ensuring the players understand their individual roles, our strategy and plans, and how we will work together?
- Can I make the team better by acquiring more talented or better suited players?
We tap our years of experience in executive search and leadership advisory to offer thoughts and strategies regarding each of these questions and share some best practices for acquiring better leadership talent.
Planning for better hiring
Recruiting new executive talent is a high leverage opportunity. Done well, it can change the trajectory of a business. Done poorly, it can cost a great deal of time and money.
In our experience, doing it well requires the following four steps: Define, Prioritize, Evaluate and Onboard:
1. Define the characteristics of the ideal candidate by listing all desired skills, capabilities and experience. After all, you can only recruit to what you have clearly defined. Have the clarity to say, “I would consider this position a success if the selected candidates did X in the first year.” This is a practical way of backing yourself into the needed skills and experience. Too many hiring managers start with only a vague idea of what they need. Spend the time to be specific.
2. Prioritize the list. As you may have to hire someone who doesn’t perfectly fit the profile, decide what is most important at the onset. This is critical. Designate the top 5 criterion and hold to that. For example, a VP sales, must have 1) enterprise software experience, 2) managed a team of 50, 3) had quota oversight of $100M+, 4) relationships in a certain domain of customers in industry, education, or government, and 5) lives in the Southeast. When a hiring manager really likes a candidate or becomes fatigued in the process, it is easy to stray from what is important. Assign someone the role of keeping you focused on the original list of candidate priorities. Stay true to those initial decisions.
3. Evaluate candidates for three things: Capability, Motivation and Fit.
- Capability — Hiring managers tend to be fairly proficient in evaluating capability, and they invest a great deal of time doing just that. Looking at past experience to assess what a candidate has done and how well that maps to your needs makes sense. However, as you assess a candidate, there are two important things to avoid:
- Assessing the hypothetical – Ask more questions about what a candidate has done and fewer about what they might do. Unless you are hiring someone to be hypothetical, assess past examples.
- Leading the candidate – Telling a candidate the details of what you want allows them to agree that is who they are. Don’t give away the answers before the test.
- Motivation — Learn what motivates a candidate, as people tend to spend the most time and energy on what they enjoy. Make sure that the specific work of the role gets a candidate excited — not just the job title or high-level definition of the role, but the reality of what they will do every day. In a sales role, if a candidate most enjoys meeting people and negotiating deals, but the job requires 50 cold calls a day, you are heading for a bad hire.
- Fit — Hiring managers often do an inadequate job evaluating the candidate fit to the organization and team. Important considerations might include:
- How decisions are made
- Level of formality in the organization
- Pace and complexity of the business
- Level of staffing, budget, and talent available
- Amount of edge or aggression on a team
- Tolerance for risk
In our experience, a poor fit is the most frequent cause of new hire failure. Take the time to define a best fit profile. Ask yourself: what does it take to be effective in this role, on this team, in this company and at this time?
4. Onboard A good hiring decision is a great start. But this is only the first part of adding game-changing executive talent to your team. Effective onboarding can dramatically reduce the time it takes for a new hire to begin performing at a high level. Planning for effective onboarding includes:
- Thoughtful announcement messaging to all stakeholders to set and manage early expectations for the new executive
- Clear definitions of success in the new role
- Well defined decision rights
- Mapping of key stakeholders and the roles they will play
- Transparent early feedback
In our professions, more than a few times, we have witnessed the transformational impact that the right executive hire — brought in under the right circumstances — can make on an organization. There is no doubt that great hires offer a direct and effective path to improving organizational performance.
And yet, we also believe that upgrading talent is an underutilized tool. This is a missed opportunity for many leaders, and one worthy of consideration if leaders truly aim to improve team performance.