Leadership: Hire the Right Executive

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Developing a world-class executive selection process isn’t fortuitous. There is a lot to learn that is often overlooked, according to The Executive Committee (TEC) resource Barry Deutsch. Here’s an opportunity to fine-tune your company’s hiring capabilities.
In a nutshell, the hiring process should include three discreet activities:
1. The interviewing phase. This is where the firm should try to uncover as much information about the candidate as possible to make an informed hiring decision. Most TEC companies use several internal interviewers for this process. At the CEO level, it’s usually the owner and board involvement, although it can include other senior-level managers.
2. The personality assessment phase. The first step in validating what has been learned about the candidate during the interviewing phase.
3. The reference-checking phase. The second step in validating information gleaned during the interviewing phase.
Much has been said about the interviewing phase. Most companies have this phase down to an inexact science, customized to meet their own needs. Some firms use highly elaborate interviewing techniques. Others rely on "gut feel," or the views of contracted professionals.
Let’s take a harder look at the second and third phases, often overlooked as crucial to a successful executive hiring.
By the way, using an industrial psychologist can be invaluable in selecting the appropriate assessment device.
Deutsch says that personality assessment tools fall into three broad categories:
• Level 1 Assessment Tools. These tools are quick to administer and inexpensive as well ($25 to $50 a person). Many can be taken and processed online. They represent a broad-brush assessment, if you will. For example, you will learn if the candidate tends to be (or wants to be) extroverted or introverted, sociable or more of a loner, high or low achievement-oriented, high or low control and influence oriented, and so on.
• Level 2 Assessment Tools. Examples would include the 16 PF or Calipers. They are much more subtle, drive deeper and, generally, prevent a thing called "social desirability" from infecting the candidate profile, which can happen with Level 1 tools. Social desirability is a normal human response to fill out a personality test, giving the best "image" of oneself, even if this image is a fantasy in terms of the individual’s actual personality. Level 2 tools cost about $250 or so per candidate, unless someone in the firm has a license to administer the test.
• Level 3 Assessment Tools. Industrial psychologists are trained to administer a battery of tests. These include personality, intelligence, analytical, creative, motivational and a general assessment of the candidate’s fit with the requirements specified by the organization that retains the psychologist. Costs for these services can run from about $500 to well over $3,000, depending on the depth of consultation needed.
Some final thoughts on the use of these assessment tools:
Never do an assessment before you have completed Phase 1, the interview process. Use a test that doesn’t have a cultural or racial bias. Test producers, the good ones, certify to this. Finally, do not withhold the opportunity to take the test from any candidate who completed Phase 1. Make the test optional. If the candidate refuses, well, I guess he or she is no longer a candidate.
Let’s look at Phase 3, checking references. First, when asking the candidate for references, Deutsch suggests the following:
• Ask for two references each (notice I said each) from past superiors, subordinates, peers and outside contacts such as customers, suppliers, professional services providers, etc.
• Tell the candidate to notify the selected individuals that every effort will be made to contact them within 48 hours. Make sure the candidate indicates that you will be the source of contact and the reason for the call. Make sure the candidate specified to them that a voicemail reference check is not acceptable.
• Try to get the cell phone and home phone number of each reference. It may be that their company prohibits discussing reference information on company time.
When contacting a reference, divide the phone conversation into two parts:
• Standards of reference. Now this is new in reference-checking. Ask the reference to briefly describe what his or her firm holds inviolate in relationships with employees such as codes of values or conduct, performance expectations, goal accomplishment, etc. Ask how well the reference judges that the candidate met these during the term of his or her employment. Ask for specific examples. Listen carefully for any indication that the reference is dodging the question.
• Ask the reference to assess the candidate. This is the toughest part of reference-checking. Try to relate back to the candidate’s answers in Phase 1. For example, "Harry says he was always respected for the team attitude he took on any project thrown his way. Can you comment on this?" If necessary, assure the reference that his or her opinions will be kept anonymous. Pay particular attention to "I have no opinion," or "I’m not the right person to ask," or the other extreme, a glowing send-off to "Harry" with no support for it.
OK. We live in a very litigious environment. Besides, who wants to say something negative about an "average Joe" employee who was let go for something less than exceptional performance?
The reality of reference-checking is that you must be diligent, pay attention to pauses, pay attention to gushing admiration, pay attention to the, "no-answers that don’t say anything" and so on. If you don’t, your firm might make a very costly hiring mistake. It’s happened more than once from my recollection.
Until next month, good success with Phases 1, 2 and 3 of the hiring process.

Harry S. Dennis III is the president of The Executive Committee (TEC) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at (262) 821-3340.

August 5, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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