Top tips for making successful senior appointments

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A senior appointment represents a significant investment for any business. Make a great appointment and you get the best return possible in terms of achieving your business strategy and objectives.

Given the inevitable authority and responsibility that comes with a senior role, however, the risks involved in getting it wrong are significant. They are measured not just in the direct cost of wasted salaries, bonuses and other benefits together with the inevitable pay off but also the missed opportunity for the business as a whole. Here we outline some top tips for getting it right. 

1. Make sure you know what you want the candidate to do

It sounds obvious but there needs to be a very clear understanding of what the role is designed to do, especially with reference to the strategy of the business and the future measures of success at the outset. 

The job description needs customising to fit the appointment at the time in terms of the business culture as much as the obvious skill set, relevant experience and the personality of any potential candidate. Do not simply recycle the previous particulars. Things will have changed and close liaison between HR and the Board will maximise the opportunity the new recruit presents. If you cannot achieve consensus on what the job is designed to do at the beginning it will not emerge later. 

Take care to describe how the job will evolve as goals are achieved so the recruit knows what career progression is on offer.

2. Decide where you want to get your candidates from

You will need to focus the recruitment to avoid excessive administrative work. Is it an internal process, an external one or (more usually) a combination of both?

Take care in selecting any outside agency. You need the best candidates for your business not just their go-to clients. A well chosen partner should give you access to appropriate networks with a view to getting the best candidates. It may develop into an exercise in specific head hunting of identified targets. How the search is conducted will determine the chances of the recruitment being successful at a very early stage. 

3. Take your time over the interview process 

You will need to assess your possible candidates in a variety of ways – some formal and some less so – to make sure you are getting the right person. 

Whereas the skills and experience factors are often taken as a given, getting the right candidate who is a good cultural fit for your organisation takes time to assess. You may benefit from a broad range of colleagues meeting the final candidates in an informal setting. 

Cultural aspects include values, work ethic and the ability to be a leader well beyond the usual academic or technical qualifications. 

Interviews need to be structured, consistent, well documented and properly assessed. Only those members of your team who have been properly trained should be involved. 

In part, the interviews do need to be challenging. Make sure the process lets the candidates express themselves and expose more of their personality and philosophy so you can assess how they would fit in. You need to see the true person not the interview model. Do they really have a genuine interest in working for you and helping you to achieve your goals? How do they treat their colleagues at all levels and will they work as part of the team?

4. Consider using formal testing 

There is a strong case for part of the process being a formal psychometric assessment or other form of business psychology testing to lend a degree of rigour that can be referenced objectively. You want to accurately identify that the candidate does have the personality and other attributes you have specified that your organisation needs. 

Formal testing helps build up detailed profiles in terms of personality measures, resilience, ability to work under pressure, attention to detail and multi tasking, all of which feed into a rigorous interview process. 

5. Don’t miss out the taking up of proper references 

You do not want to leave this too late. Often it is a final part of a process after an offer has been made and perhaps after other suitable candidates have gone elsewhere having been told they are unsuccessful. Getting the references checked is a vital element certainly at the short listing stage.

You may be able to use your networks to get a view of potential candidates from people who have dealt with them away from the taking up of the nominated referees (subject to preserving confidentiality as appropriate). 

6. Make a fair offer 

Again it may sound obvious but any offer needs to be balanced in terms of proper compensation for the candidate for doing the job and taking account where they fit in with the rest of the reward structure for your existing team. It is a balance that needs assessing. Recruiting someone on a fabulous deal may well result in problems elsewhere if the right balance is not struck. 

The plus side of the appropriate rewards and benefits needs to be balanced with the essential protections your business needs when the appointment ends. 

7. Keep in touch 

Make sure the candidate keeps in regular and close contact. When you know you have the right person it is quite possible others will be interested in their services at the same time. Often the candidate is making a very significant career choice that will impact on them personally but also on their families. Make sure the support is readily available for them in terms of potential changes of location and/ or jurisdiction. The best candidates may be sourced from anywhere in the world and their global mobility will depend on you offering the right support in relation to access to the right location and the wider issues of how the move will impact on their taxation, pension, social security and other personal finances.

Make sure the senior team are engaged and support the process and that the candidate has a ready point of contact to access the right support to make the important decision regarding acceptance of your offer. 

8. Get the service agreement right

This could be a separate topic in its own right, but in order to protect the business properly, while still getting the right candidate to sign it, the service agreement offered needs to be written in user-friendly language that makes it clear what the benefits are and makes the obligations easy to understand. 

Each business will have its own way of dealing with its senior team in terms of an attractive compensation package but the main issues to consider if things go wrong based on the normal areas of difficulty are:

  • Have you clearly specified the sums payable or compensation for breach of contract? 
  • What are your liabilities for unfair dismissal and other breaches of statutory rights?
  • Have you made the pension rights clear?
  • What about the consequences in terms of any share options?
  • Have you spelled out the taxation treatment of any payments?
  • Can you enforce any restrictive covenants and garden leave provisions?
  • Have you adequately protected what can be properly defined as confidential information in all its forms including information that may be held via social media applications personal to the employee?
  • If the senior employee is a director, have you created a mechanism for resignation or removal from office and do you need shareholder approval of any compensation payments?

9. Fully integrate the successful candidate 

A fully successful appointment process does not stop at the appointment stage.

The onboarding and integration processes are just as important in making sure you achieve the goals you have set out. Care needs to be taken in making sure the appointed candidate feels well looked after. Those already within the business on whom the appointment impacts the most should fully understand their roles and responsibilities both personally and with regards to the new recruit. 

It can be a good time to consider external coaching to help plan for a deal with substantial internal change. Taking time to provide proper transitional support for senior executive hires should not be underestimated.

10. Reflect and learn the lessons for next time

Don’t let the time and effort you have put in during a senior recruitment process go to waste so that the next time you are involved you need to recreate the process from scratch.

Take time to reflect on the process – what went well and what went less well? What will you repeat on the next occasion and what will you change?

Make sure you follow up the recruitment and, using measurable standards, assess whether the anticipated benefits identified during the preparation process have come through for the benefit of the wider goals of your business. 

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