Stick to the plan

Executive searches require a strong plan and partner to succeed

Smart Business
Andy Hickman interviewed by Adam Burroughs

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An executive search generally takes 120 days from start to finish. There are, however, circumstances that could add another 60 to 90 days to the process.

“Whether an executive search is anticipated, to fill an expected opening for instance, or is needed to replace an unexpected opening has a big impact on the process,” says Andrew Hickman, a partner at ON Partners.

“However, there is always an urgency associated with a paid search, which is why establishing a timeline and a process of evaluation upfront is essential.”

Smart Business spoke with Hickman about getting the most out of an executive search process in the shortest possible time.

What expectations might companies have about an executive search that could be detrimental to the process?
A search firm’s goal from the outset is to understand the dynamics of the situation, then manage expectations based on that. There are natural time extenders that get introduced in a search, some of which can be mitigated.

However, the process is always never fast enough in the eyes of some companies, especially those that believe the search will take as long as recruitment for lower-rung employees.

Companies are paying for a search firm’s speed, efficiency and market knowledge, and expect that to equate to a very fast hire. Much of a search firm’s work is done in the first 45 days. The rest is contingent on the schedules of others — managing interview cycles and reacting to each candidate’s timing, etc. can extend the process.

Again, it’s up to the search firm to set realistic expectations upfront.

What is involved in an executive search process that may require it to take longer than a company might expect?
Companies that don’t have the position’s role defined, and skill and experience requirements determined will inevitably add time to the process.

There are strategic reasons to leave ambiguity in the description — a role may be upgraded, two positions are combined or perhaps it’s a new position for the company — so some companies will begin broadly and reassess as they review prospective candidates.

But more often uncertainty is behind that approach, which results in meandering, poor potential initial matches resulting in a longer search process.

Candidates, in many ways, dictate the length of a search. The best candidate may be unwilling to leave a position until an equity event occurs, bonus is paid, etc.

Travel can be an impediment, but coordinating schedules upfront can help speed up the process. Search firms can help clients travel to meet candidates where they are based, use Skype technology to conduct interviews, etc.

What are the risks in rushing an executive search?
Anytime a senior hire is rushed it introduces the risk of making the wrong hire. The costs are high to redo a search when someone in that role fails.

Cutting corners also means not fully exploring the market or not fully vetting candidates, which can lead to missing or glossing over candidates’ red flags. It can also mean missing a better candidate that could have been found if more patience was applied.

How do experienced executive search firms dictate the process?
It’s incumbent on the search firm to establish trust and a high level of engagement with the client from the start. There must be direct, expedited communication between the client and firm when reviewing profiles and providing candidate/client interview feedback. This can help identify and address search time delays when they surface, and even anticipate them beforehand.

Time-based milestones should be set early and client schedules should be pre-coordinated so that the necessary stakeholders can meet with candidates.

A validated candidate profile is essential. It gives clarity to what’s being sought, and the certainty it provides saves time.

Everyone in an executive search wants it to be done quickly and successfully. Searches are tough. Make the commitment to the process upfront and stick to it, and the outcome will be a great hire. ●

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Resources: Smart Business Online

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