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Risky Business:

Seven Fatal Hiring Mistakes

Finding the best leader for your organization—whether it’s a high-growth startup, or established industry leader—can be a daunting enough venture, even under the most optimal conditions. While there are a number of ways for a Board or senior hiring executive to unintentionally throw a monkey wrench into the search process, here are seven of the most common mistakes we frequently counsel clients to avoid:

1. Going Along to Get Along
Trying to achieve absolute, universal consensus can be counterproductive and disastrous—resulting in stellar candidates needlessly overlooked and opportunity wasted. Especially in geographically dispersed leadership environments, or corporations that have highly differentiated business units, it is nearly impossible to develop 100 percent complete consensus on a successful candidate. Eliminating a candidate because only 22 out of 24 stakeholders agree he or she would be an A+ contributor is a foolhardy move.

2. One Size Fits All (also known as “Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Future Results”)
Just because an executive looks great on paper, has been successful in the exact markets you are looking to enter, or has led through the same growth trajectory you are looking to achieve, if he or she is not a fit culturally, and does not have chemistry with the rest of the team, the individual will not be tenable over the long term—and can seriously derail a successful organization. Unless the Board is looking to clean house, they can be certain that bringing in a CEO who seems perfect in the abstract, but doesn’t “click” with management, means there will soon follow a voluntarily or involuntarily rebuilding of the leadership team.

3. Dragging Your Feet
Every search encounters unforeseen impediments that stretch schedules and extend timeframes, and all executives constantly manage competing priorities. However, in virtually every search process, time—and specifically, lost time—works against you. To allow unnecessary delays to occur is to commit a totally unforced error. Beyond the risk of losing a top-tier candidate due to perceived lack of client interest or enthusiasm (or disruption of the natural rhythm of the search), if you believe Candidate X is a superstar, then more than likely so does another company—one that may snatch them up by moving faster.

4. The 100,000 Mile Club
Your company is based in Los Angeles, your Chief Operating Officer candidate is based in Boston. Structure on-site interviews so that you maximize time, both yours and the candidate’s. Remember, beyond interviewing with you, they (usually) have a day job, too! Requiring candidates to return for three or more rounds with the exact same interviewers shows disrespect for the candidates’ time and can indicate analysis paralysis, that your organization is incapable of efficient decision-making.

5. “I’ll Know It When I See It”
As the visionary and senior leader, if you aren’t able to clearly articulate the ideal attributes, success factors, and profile for the superstar executive you are searching for, how will your team—including your search firm partners—know what to focus on in assessment and during the exploratory process? Or how can your vision be successfully communicated to potential candidates? It is always worth investing the time up front to develop a clear understanding, in as much detail as possible, of the personal characteristics, experience, abilities, and organizational value-add the ideal candidate will embody – rather than the scattershot approach of “seeing what sticks.”

6. Hire in Haste; Repent at Your Leisure
A couple of years ago we interviewed leading Chief Information Officers across the country concerning hiring practices, and asked each to describe their biggest hiring mistake. Almost to a person they said it was when they were rolling out an enormous project and felt tremendous pressure to hire someone to manage it in a compressed timeframe. They hired quickly—settling for a “B” player, or a less-than-ideal candidate—and paid the price. In some instances the person departed on their own accord, in others the person was terminated, but in any case, whatever time gains were realized in making a quick, incorrect hire were negated by the need to begin the hiring process over again.

7. My Way or the Highway
One highly respected, senior executive we know has an unbreakable rule that if a candidate is even one-minute late to an interview, they are immediately disqualified. His view is that if the candidate values the job, they will ensure that they arrive with plenty of time to account for any delays. As key stakeholders at their respective organizations, however, senior executives occasionally have last-minute conflicts that they can’t neglect. If a CFO is delayed by 10 minutes because the CEO called a last-minute meeting, it is incredibly shortsighted to disqualify them based on an intractable rule. The business world is too fast-moving and unpredictable to deal in universal absolutes, exclusively.

Bringing onboard top-tier talent to an organization is difficult enough for the best hiring executives. By eliminating needless obstacles and self-inflicted injuries, you can ensure the process is as efficient and successful as possible.

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