Your workload is steadily rising and there’s no sign of things slowing down now that an executive search process has been added to your leadership team’s plate! This vital acquisition process must be well-executed, as finding the right CEO to lead your mission at this critical time is a non-negotiable imperative. If you have concerns about your team’s ability to attract, identify and shepherd a diverse slate of sector leaders through the search process, your approach may need to be re-thought. And, if your board is considering handling the search internally based on the notion of saving resources on the front end, now is the time to challenge that process.
Many organizations have done this successfully by outsourcing their leadership search function. Not sure if it’s time to outsource your leadership search? The following five reasons are ones that commonly influence an organization’s decision on whether or not to outsource a leadership search. Which rings true for your current scenario?
1. Our organization lacks trust internally and we are having trouble building consensus around important decisions that address, rather than recycle, the current challenges the organization is facing.
Hiring a new leader is an intense and anxiety-provoking process that requires trust, shared vision and alignment around the desired outcome. In many cases though, the lack of trust in an organization is the impetus for engaging in a search at all. The good news: You’ve identified a problem that needs to be fixed and have (seemingly) reached the point of intervention. The bad news: You don’t trust yourselves to do it well. It’s time to hire an expert. A search consultant with experience in your mission and sector will likely have engaged in numerous searches of the kind you’re hoping to launch. The best search consultants will thoughtfully guide your search committee through a discovery process that will uncover business challenges, opportunities and ultimately, the profile of and process for finding the best new leader to advance your mission.
2. Our internal HR department lacks the skills to conduct a leadership search of this caliber.
Most people miss the fact that executive search is an area of specific expertise. Instead, they incorrectly assume that the function falls within the broader landscape of talent acquisition and management within an organization. On the contrary, especially at the CEO and executive director level, executive search is a function of a board of directors and should only be supported (not led) by an internal human resources department. In thinking of the level of effort required to successfully conduct an executive search, it doesn’t make good business sense to shift the burden of executive search to an internal HR department. The average CEO search takes 3-6 months to complete. Unless an organization has made the investment in an internal executive recruiter, it is impossible to maintain a portfolio of HR functional work while successfully running an executive search.
3. We can’t seem to get the attention of high-caliber executive candidates.
It’s already been stated, but the message bears repeating: Executive search is an area of subject matter expertise. The best search consultants have dedicated time to building a network and cultivating a reputation that ensures high-caliber executives will pay attention. When the top search consultants call, the executives answer. Executives understand a few things about an organization who chooses to engage a search consultant: (1) they’re taking the search seriously and have made the investment to back it up; (2) their confidentiality will be honored, and they do not have to worry about the wrong person learning of their search; and (3) they have a partner and an advocate as they maneuver the process, from the first conversation through the final offer stage. Anyone who has reached the executive level thinks very carefully about these things when considering the continuation of their legacy. This is why it is important for an organization to position itself as a viable option through thoughtful execution of the search process.
4. My organization is experiencing a cultural shift and it’s practically impossible for someone in the organization to translate that to an executive candidate.
It’s difficult to teach what one does not know. Often times, an organization will make a statement and forget that the statement alone changes nothing. Cultural shifts are amazing changes in an organization and are generally an indication that leadership is listening and paying attention. However, the heralding of a “new day” requires much more thoughtful and intentional work than simply circulating a cultural statement. Often times, without a fresh set of eyes or outside consultation, despite the most gallant efforts, organizations end up hiring more of the same—recycling and deepening current issues. A leadership search consultant will listen to your pain points, uncover opportunities for deepening your culture-related goals and hold your leadership team accountable to what you deem necessary for success. In conducting this assessment, your search consultant will easily convey the current and desired future state of your organization to candidates and help tell their stories to best highlight alignment.
5. We’ve tried it on our own before and it never works out.
If you find yourself jaded and exhausted from the executive search process, you are not alone. Searching for a new CEO or executive director is the least favorite duty of every board member I meet; and hiring a new one after an executive leaves abruptly, whether voluntarily or by invitation, makes matters even worse. The best leadership search consultants understand that their job is to be a partner and advisor to a board of directors, and in many cases, that starts with a bit of healing. Transparency is key. Be sure to tell your search consultant what went wrong and be honest about all contributing factors. An executive search process is a clear example of “you get out what you put in.” Your search consultant has signed a non-disclosure agreement, so it’s time to be candid, to be level-set and to move forward. Be honest about your fears, your biggest goals and ideas for the role and most importantly, the core issues that this leader is being hired to address. Commit to sticking with the process until you get it right and changing course when you realize something isn’t working. Interview your search consultants before engagement and be sure that you approve of the consultant who is assigned to do your work, even if it’s a different person than who’s engaged during the proposal process. Above all else, give yourselves some grace as you are making a decision that will have a significant impact on the ability of the organization to deliver on its mission, and making that decision will take some time.
As an industry leader, you’ve seen that hiring the wrong c-suite executive can wreak irreversible havoc. Aside from the time required to find good leaders, today’s search is just complicated, especially regarding negotiations around total compensation and rewards. Search experts know this and are pros at factoring these elements into the search process to keep it on time and on track. It’s not enough to be good at executive search, the process for identifying your next CEO must be stellar! Your lead internal recruiters likely have limited bandwidth to conduct searches but mid-sized search teams, on the other hand, have the capacity to complete a minimum of four searches per month!
One fatal flaw that internal search teams make when going it alone is posting ineffective job ads in all the wrong places. For one, very rarely do job postings result in viable candidates. Second, the best mission-driving leaders are not seeking a new role—in fact, they may be in their dream job! And because job ads tend to be the internal recruiter’s number one resource, they simply won’t capture the attention of your ideal leader! Having been an internal recruiter and now leading a team of professionals who were also internal recruiters, I know that internal recruiters simply don’t have time to do the work that goes into uncovering the passive candidates that are a perfect fit for a role or the nuances that deem one candidate a better fit than the other. It is incredibly time-intensive to accommodate top candidates, and internal recruiters, more often than not, find this process daunting. Why? Because when it comes to fielding executive talent, internal recruiters don’t have the time nor tools to shepherd these fast-flying influencers through a top-notch process.
Several years ago, I was leading a search when the top candidate’s child was attending an especially competitive school for gifted students. The candidate had limited time, but I was able to create an exploratory conversation with her, and she eventually accepted the position after I flew out several times to meet with her. A few of those meetings didn’t occur because she had emergency meetings pop up just as I arrived! My determination did not wane, however. Had I not gone the extra mile to accommodate this leader’s incredibly busy schedule, I would not have been successful at securing her attention. Years later this leader still proved to be the absolute best pick for the organization. She is still thriving in this role and has led the organization through major shifts. Experienced search professionals understand the unique dynamics of working with executives and have the time and resources to see the acquisition process through to the end.
Experienced search professionals know how to navigate impossible schedules, but we also understand that taking on a new executive role is the equivalent of making a major life change. It’s important that an internal or external search team knows that they’re a critical player in the process. Many times, the news of a high-profile leader’s arrival can cause ripple effects that extend beyond the workplace. Social impact leaders impact communities, industries and global causes. Leaders are not only tasked with learning their new role, exploring immediate opportunities to make early impacts, setting a new culture, putting out any immediate fires and getting to know their new board. They’re also juggling personal responsibilities, helping those in their personal and professional sphere of influence adjust to their new role and lending their skills to valuable causes. An experienced executive recruiter knows that candidates are aware of how their lives will change and will expect a search process that makes it easier for them to entertain exploratory conversations.