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Laurence Jackson

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All Change

With any senior external hire, the organisation is usually looking to introduce some type of change but over the last two years we have noticed a marked increase in clients declaring an appetite for more radical, challenging, innovative recruits. On some occasions the outcome of these searches has been extremely positive – truly transformational for the hiring business (and the executive themselves). On one or two occasions however, it has not really worked out. Here we explore why, and identify lessons learnt.

Is there a genuine mandate for change?

When talking about recruiting a senior hire there is usually no shortage of good intentions and lofty aspirations. Colleagues tend to find it quite easy to identify exciting changes and improvements this person could bring. But they do not always think through the full implications of these proposals, and when the rubber hits the road their initial support can quickly melt away leaving the new recruit high and dry. This is why good Search Consultants will want a detailed understanding of the context and background to the role before they begin, and will often challenge the recruiting organisation about the depth and breadth of commitment to the new direction. This can feel uncomfortable on occasion, but can be crucial part of a successful search.

Holding your nerve

Having started a search exercise for a challenging, transformational executive to shake the business up (in the right way) it is not unheard of for the organisation to be slightly taken aback when they meet the type of candidates that are both willing and able to fulfil this brief. Concerns start to be voiced about the impact of taking on someone who might disagree with existing thinking, destabilise the current operation and call into question established practices. It is at this point that internal applicants, previously thought of as ‘part of the problem’, begin to appear more credible; there is something reassuring about a known and trusted manager who already has the confidence of decision makers. If this happens, a shrewd Search Consultant will sense that the organisation is backing away, and will challenge: Do you really want to change, or deep down do you not want the consequences that come with it? If after probing the commitment to genuine change is lacking, then the assignment should be aborted, or as a minimum, the candidate specification modified accordingly.

Cultural fit

Imagine a higher education establishment that wants to bring in a commercially-minded FD, ideally from the private sector, in order to bolster revenue-generation through innovative JVs and other service developments. How the new recruit goes about doing this will be just as critical to their success as what he/she actually does. In this particular example, failure to engage with and consult the academic stakeholders is bound to end in failure. The new recruit needs to understand the climate and operating rhythm of the organisation he/she is joining, and be comfortable there. Usually (but not always) this boils down to a common set of shared values, but certainly cultural fit is a major consideration. The best Search Consultants tune into this cultural milieu, especially over the course of several assignments with the same client, and develop a nose for identifying those who will and will not prosper in that environment. They also deploy modern assessment techniques such as credible psychometrics to get under the skin of each candidate and fully understand how their leadership style and approach will manifest in practice.

Get the induction right

There is a definite list of activities a new senior hire should do in his/her first 100 days, including identifying all the key stakeholders (not always as obvious as it sounds), data gathering, and setting expectations. When entering with a transformation agenda, a basic knowledge of change-management techniques coupled with an appreciation of the history of the organisation are powerful tools, and together provide a solid platform from which the new joiner can trade. Again, a good Search Consultant will ensure the appointed candidate has this mix of skills, and will support the new recruit through their early days, providing on-boarding coaching if required.


Ultimately clients want, and have every right to ask for, a ‘goldilocks candidate’ with just the right amount of heat in their porridge. But good candidates are scarce, even in a tough employment market, so it always pays to invest the time and thought required to set new hires up for success.

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