How to Recruit and Evaluate Your CEOOct 17, 2022
A guest blog by Tony Kirschner, a partner with Leaders International, an executive search firm that works with private, public, and non-profit sector clients. Tony is also a not-for-profit Board chair and has served on boards and foundations in arts and culture and social services.
With an acceleration of leadership transition, combined with ongoing demand for executive talent in general, CEO succession in the Not-for-Profit sector has become more important than ever.
CEO succession often comes at inopportune times, or in situations wherein resources (capacity, time, money) are limited – unfortunately the “golden rule” remains intact: take no shortcuts.
When you are left with your final two or three candidates, who are often charismatic and compelling, how do you pick the right one? Ample time must be spent upfront to ensure you get the right leader for the right context.
Some questions to consider – will the full board be involved, or a search committee made up of a sub-section of the board? Are those board members not involved in the search comfortable relinquishing control?
Do you really understand your strategic direction, organizational health, key opportunities and challenges?
Clearly defining the context ensures the right competencies are crafted for your next CEO, that your “true north” is established.
Search Firm or No Search Firm
In a perfect world, using a search firm is great, but sometimes costs and timing suggest that organizations must recruit themselves. Do you have the capacity?
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Search firms use a proactive recruitment approach and provide process transparency, but organizations can use these best practices themselves. This is especially important in the common case of having internal candidates – communication is the key.
Recruitment – Passive or Proactive
With today’s competition for talent, passive recruitment methods (“post and pray”) are less effective. But few organizations have the capacity to do what a search firm does.
There are, however, approaches, like using LinkedIn proactively, that enable organizations to reach out to candidates who might not be actively looking for a new role. Building up a pipeline of leadership in your sector takes time and effort, like developing a robust fundraising function – it is a worthwhile pursuit but a long game.
When you are ready to assess candidates, the real work begins. And as noted, taking shortcuts can get us into trouble, but sometimes organizations are inefficient – it doesn’t make sense to invite six individuals for half-day interviews if you’ve never talked to them.
Use screening calls and quick Zoom meetings to ensure you’re spending a lot of time with the right finalists.
The biggest mistake organizations make is to try to find a CEO who is “doing the same thing across the street” – that is, a direct fit in terms of their experience. But this is often not realistic. A highly capable individual, even from a different background, will run circles around a less capable individual with direct experience.
Ask yourself, “who is the best candidate after a year or two?” You will get over the press release, but you’ll live with your CEO for some time so try to pick capacity over experience.
Be wary of charisma. Finalist candidates tend to be polished and energetic; they know how to tell us what we want to hear. But sometimes quiet leaders are the most effective. This goes back to the front-end work – what are the key competencies you’re looking for given your organizational context? Being clear about your “true north” helps you avoid the charisma trap.
Onboarding and Evaluation
A robust assessment process, based on behavioral interviewing that is cross-checked by proper reference checks (that go beyond their three buddies), should reveal a three-dimensional picture of your candidate and inform the onboarding plan.
The CEO’s performance plan marries interview results with your organization’s strategic objectives.
CEO evaluation should be a mix of continuous conversations with the board chair and the various committee leaders, followed by a formal review every year – there should be no surprises in the formal review.
Every three years, organizations with sufficient resources should do a full “360” CEO review that is facilitated externally.
Like everything in life, taking the time to do things properly leads to good ends; the challenge is that things rarely play out so calmly.
Tony Kirschner is a partner with Leaders International, an executive search firm that works with private, public, and non-profit sector clients. He is a Board chair and has served on not-for-profit boards and foundations in arts and culture and social services. Dr. Kirschner can be reached at 604-329-4448 or [email protected]. You can read more about Tony here.
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