You are thrilled. You have just made the perfect hire for a critical leadership role.
You’ve done your due diligence. Your new hire has done EXACTLY what her new role requires several times over in prior companies. Her qualifications and experience are a direct match with the position specifications and her references are stellar. Plus the two of you have really “clicked.”
Yet, flashing forward six months, things simply are not working out. So you make the decision to part ways and suffer the consequences – financially and organizationally, not to mention the lost momentum that these changes can bring.
It can be all too easy to “fall in love” with the candidate and fail to assess her cultural fit within your organization. It’s also possible that you aren’t entirely clear about what your organizational culture truly is. Without a doubt, failed executive hires most often result from a lack of cultural fit vs. a lack of qualifications.
Based on over 30 years of senior management experience, here are three simple, yet critical strategies to help minimize the risk of a cultural mismatch:
Know your company culture
Most businesses make public statements describing company values and beliefs, but the reality is that culture can only be known by seeing how people in the company actually behave. For example, how do important decisions get made and by whom? Is this a collaborative process, or dictated from the top down? Does the leadership team speak with a common voice? How do people get ahead? How do people in the company talk about their clients, their customers, and their colleagues? Getting real about what shapes your culture is imperative to the success of any senior-level hire – especially if you’ve been immersed in the business for years, are in a new company or role and looking to fill out your senior leadership team. Walk the floor. Visit the plant. Sense the energy. Test the openness of employees to discuss challenges and ideas. Taking an honest look at the culture that really exists within your company will help you better assess the fit of any candidate.
Also read: Hiring is a Top CEO Priority
Though my experience now focuses on placing candidates into senior-level roles, I remember two instances where the issue of culture came up when I was on the other side of the equation. In one case I was having a final interview with the CEO of a Fortune 50 company for a Divisional President role. The CEO was known to be a colorful, dynamic individual. You can imagine my surprise when I was taken to the “executive floor” at the corporate headquarters. You could have heard a pin drop. There was no movement, no life. I could not get out of there fast enough! In another instance, I became an executive officer at a publicly traded company. Shortly after my arrival, a consultant was hired to do a cultural assessment of the company. The consultant confided in me the answer she had consistently been told in response to her question, “What does it take to get ahead in this company?” Over and over again, the response was, “The CEO has to like you.” Regrettably, that was true. Demonstrated results came in a far distant second.
Know what shapes and drives the candidate
There are a number of tools that can be used as inputs in assessing candidates. These can be often be administered by your search consultant or a third party. The Hogan, designed specifically for use in businesses, assesses individual’s business-oriented values – money, power, and control; how she is likely to behave in “normal” circumstances; and how she is likely to behave in times of significant stress. These assessments can be helpful but only as data points in a broader assessment. Never underestimate the value of learning, in-depth, the candidate’s story. In our firm, we conduct a 3-4 hour interview with finalist candidates, starting with their childhood, through each of their transitions – to college, first jobs, etc., to really understand the people, circumstances and experiences which have shaped them into the leaders they are today.
It may sound old-fashioned, but we always encourage our clients to spend time over lunch or dinner with the finalists for any senior role – so long as it is “off the clock.” The course of the discussion, the questions she asks, the topics that are of importance to her, both business and otherwise, the extent to which she focuses on herself vs others, how she interacts with the restaurant employees, all tell a lot about how she will fit in your company.
I’m a member of The Committee of 200 (C200), an organization comprised of the world’s most successful female executives and entrepreneurs, and recently advised a fellow member on a critical hire. The member, a brilliant leader with a highly technical background and strong process orientation was, not surprisingly, attracted to a candidate who was similarly technical and process-oriented. The in-office interviews remained in that “plane” and as a result, there was comfort but not closure. Closure came over dinner when one another’s stories and values were revealed.
What’s the bottom line? You will always be able to find more than enough candidates to fill your key roles who have the necessary qualifications and experience. Most critical is ensuring that the cultural fit is there, which will allow your terrific new hire to thrive and make the difference you need her to within your organization.