Executive recruiters consistently hear from clients – “we chose the candidate because we felt he had the right chemistry.” While this sounds good, how do you define Chemistry? Our clients seem to know when the right candidate is interviewed instinctively and usually assign the description to chemistry or fit.
Is chemistry the butterflies in the stomach feeling when you meet someone and know they are the right person? “That’s the one!” How do you explain this to your board of directors and your CEO? “I just know,” in today’s work environment, and speaking solely of feeling, not fact, might just get a CEO terminated for exercising poor judgment.
How can you define chemistry, then? I define chemistry as a combination of can do, will do, want to do, and compatibility within the current company’s team– whether your company is a Fortune 100 or a start-up. All businesses have systems, and these systems operate on top of “values,” “moral tenants,” and “viewpoints of senior management.” It has also been explained as “the way we do things.” Every company has systems influenced by the CEO and Board of Directors. How does the CEO conduct business? How does he/she prefer to communicate? Does the CEO manage with integrity and grace, or are they more directive? Does the CEO communicate their intentions clearly and drive for results openly? How is influence managed in the organization? Is the CEO’s work style dominant or collaborative?
Let’s compare a couple of my clients – both CEOs. One CEO is what I consider a people gatherer – he creates a positive work environment, employs humor, has high integrity, is a transparent communicator, and is very upbeat. I have another very bright CEO client who likes to feel in control, and sometimes has difficulty managing his emotions. Both CEOs have exceptional success track records and are now running successful companies. As you can surmise, both companies have very different cultures due to their very different leaders. Both companies have highly talented yet very different cultures and, consequently, different personality types working for them.
Determining chemistry depends on who you work with and is defined differently by different people. What is important to remember is to learn as much as you can about people, their workstyle, their communication style, and their ability to execute in different environments and not to rely on a feeling of mutual admiration alone.
Our recruiting process is well-defined and has a skills and cultural fit assessment component. It ensures we look for candidates who inspire chemistry as a feeling for our clients and can perform well in their businesses.
LinkedIn is a great tool for recruiters and hiring managers to identify potential talent. But, like a resume, LinkedIn profiles are considered marketing material, not a full list of accomplishments, results, failures, and lessons, limited to career highlights used by people to promote themselves. Like a resume, LinkedIn profiles are marketing pieces candidates use to stand out.
Leadership Candidates now hire consultants to create content for their LinkedIn profiles. You only see what people want you to see on their LinkedIn profile. These profiles are limiting, and you can’t assess a whole person from what is presented in a LinkedIn profile alone.
Resumes have the same limitation –they are tools to market one’s skills. While there may be some truth to what is written, it must be investigated and verified. A phone interview will give you some indication of capacity, energy, and how the candidate communicates and thinks. Yet, this, too is a partial assessment.
The in-person interview allows you to assess chemistry, learn how this person interfaces with others, how they think, solve problems and work within a team. You can assess energy level, judgment, and some leadership capabilities. You need to meet candidates more than once and in different circumstances to be able to assess them fully. References are often the best source for verifying the information you collect.
This is why meeting people personally and formally interviewing and evaluating them is important. You want to have a feel for who they are as a person. Most importantly, you want to a of glimpse what they are like to work with. High-performing companies not only hire high performers, but they also focus on cultural fit.
Items to Investigate in the interview:
Timelines – Did the candidate perform well in their previous position? What challenges did the business overcome? What specific contributions did the candidate make?
Investigate the details of what the person did with whom and what resulted.
How does this person specifically motivate and lead?
What accomplishments are they most proud of?
This is part of the value a seasoned recruiter brings to you and your company. We understand how the right people influence the success of a company. We follow strong-performing companies and their key players. Strong recruiters also develop relationships with great leadership performers, like following top athletes on professional sports teams. Furthermore, recruiters spend most of their time vetting and calibrating talent. We assess people, vette them to separate the wheat from the chaff, and only present top performers to our clients.
I was recently asked to join an investor panel, and we were presenting to other investors about how we perform due diligence on a company’s management team. As you may know, investors evaluate three categories when considering an investment: The technology/service, the size and feasibility of the market opportunity, and the team leading the execution. What was most interesting to notice was how much weight was given to the team. It is more than 1/3 of the consideration. Furthermore, this evaluation extends beyond the basic skills and abilities of the members. Think of a ladder – each rung is important and necessary to climb to the next rung. Evaluation of the team is the bottom rung and often the sole go-no-go decision point.
Can You and Your Team Execute?
The first element investors look for is competency, which can be tricky to assess because competency can be situational. All people do not do well in all situations. The investor compares the stage the company is in and the skills required to advance the product/service to the skills of the CEO and team. Investors today want to see diverse perspectives and experiences, complementary skills, and a history of everyone executing well. Even better is if you and your team have a history of successful exits or outcomes in a previous company. The investors will want to know how well you know the industry, how well you have identified the problem, and who on your team is an expert in their area, i.e., product engineering, science, or clinical. Have you brought together the right subject matter experts?
Next, investors look at character – Who are you? Do you possess and demonstrate intellectual honesty? How open-minded are you to hearing feedback? How do you process information and incorporate it into learning and growing? How have you demonstrated grit and resilience throughout your career? Can you find your way out of tough problems with finite resources? What is your reputation/brand in the industry? Your narrative needs to be tight and honest. If you have had a misstep by making a poor choice, own it, discuss what you learned from it, and how you have integrated this knowledge into your current decisions.
Investors, unlike employers, can and will do a deep dive into your history, often working informal networks of people they know, met, or are introduced to as part of their process of discovery and diligence on you and your team. They want to know if you are who you say you are and can do what you tell them you can. This is part of the trust-building process.
This important ingredient is more nebulous, hard to control, and centrally critical to initiating, building, and maintaining relationships with your board/investors. You need chemistry or a connection to the people backing you with money and other resources. Not only do the investors need to trust you, but they also need to feel some affinity for you and your team. You want to leverage your board and their resources, and a sense of camaraderie and connection helps. Ideally, you would like this feeling to be mutual.
Most investors have a leadership team scorecard – it can be on paper or in their head, but you need to remember that they have it. The investors will use this scorecard to evaluate you and your team. Knowing this will make it easier for you to prepare and identify gaps/lapses in your team/strategy/company. It will also allow you to hire team members with the right skills and abilities. When building your team, it is wise to integrate what investors seek. Remember, your investors are just as excited about your technology as you are and want to foster your success in any way possible. They want to see you win.
One Last Thing
Likely, the most important and least looked at by investors is how well your team works together and collaborates. In investor meetings, you and your team must demonstrate cohesiveness and alignment. You want to rehearse who covers what in the presentation and ensure you are all on the same page concerning strategy and goals. The investors are keen to know how you work as a group through solving problems, how well you respect each other and your differing points of view, and how you ultimately come up with the best solutions. This demonstration will foster confidence in your investors that your team can work through hurdles and obstacles and deliver as promised. They want to know that you and your team will navigate through and around the inevitable roadblock and come out winning.
Investors, like executive search people, have the advantage of seeing many companies succeed and
fail. This “cat-bird” seat provides perspective and knowledge of what a winning team/technology/execution looks and feels like. Adopting their view will only enhance your success – if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
I hope these insights were helpful to you – and I love to hear your feedback. Feel free to email or call me if I can be of service.
We have all experienced it – make the offer and boom, and your leadership candidate declines. WHAT??? How does this happen? After all, you got verbal acceptance, checked references, and the last thing you know is that the candidate was all in. Or were they? Probably not. Most candidates juggle perceived risk when deciding to change from one company to another. Let’s examine the 3 main fears and how to understand, address, and negotiate through them before you make an offer, ensuring you have the right hire.
Top candidates consider four areas of risk: New Manager Risk (especially if they have not worked
with you prior), New Team Risk, New Product/Service Risk, and Market Risk. In any recruiting
climate, you must address each of these risks and ensure that your opportunity exceeds
what the candidate currently has, or he/she will not move.
New Manager Risk
The most important to address is the new manager risk. Assuming you are the hiring manager – this person
is coming to work with you. You need to show them what a great manager you are and a great human you are. You need to build trust to the point that your candidate believes and feels that you are the very best choice they have. It goes beyond chemistry and into work ethic, integrity, trustworthiness, leadership ability, and how well you communicate. Finally, the candidate will assess how you treat them every step of the way in the recruitment process. You need to consistently send the right signals, present an emotionally even persona, and follow through promptly on all promises. Including phone calls, setting up follow-up interviews, and emails.
You cannot take too long to decide whether you like this person. You must perform your candidate diligence in parallel with the candidate’s hiring – or you will lose them. You must communicate continued interest to your selected candidate every 48-72 hours. You should also ask them out socially -like to dinner with their spouse or significant other – so you get a feel for what they are like (and they will get a feel for what you are like) in a more casual setting.
Your process to hire from start to finish needs to be about 8-12 weeks max. If the candidate does not feel important, you will lose them. This conveying of significance to the candidate can be as simple as thanking them for their time, following up when you say you will, and communicating the next steps and timelines while they are in the process. Also, openly addressing any concerns you may have will go a long way toward building trust and a strong working relationship.
New Team Risk
The candidate must coalesce with their peers – the people you have in the company at the executive level. It is important that all key stakeholders (maybe even a customer or two) be exposed to your top-selected candidate. It would be ideal if you sent candidates in a short time for everyone to meet and decide if they are a good “fit.” – You want the candidate to share the fit sentiment – and the team and the candidate can see themselves working together constructively. The fit equation must consider communication styles, work ethic, stamina, and alignment. It should be a mutual “feel”.
The New Product/Service Risk
The candidate wants to feel comfortable that the product or service will perform and that their contribution will significantly impact the business. Most candidates want to add something to their resume, meaning that the “been there-done that” candidate will not be enticed unless you can offer them something to add to their CV. For instance, a Chief Medical Officer/SVP Clinical wants a product to go from the start in the clinic until approval and market. A Chief Commercial Officer needs to have a product launch and successful commercialization. A CFO wants to take a company public. You get the point. The CEO is a different animal, typically loves a challenge, and wants to lead a team to develop a product that impacts the market in a way no other product has to date or fix a company that is underperforming. The CEO will ultimately join because he feels the board will support him/her and likes the product and the market opportunity.
This is evaluated in three ways: market opportunity size, the competitive landscape, and timing. Is the market ready for this product/service? Another factor to consider is whether the candidate buys in. Does your candidate think the opportunity is real, and is the timing for this product in the market right now or soon?
Top-level candidates will evaluate opportunities in a way that others won’t. They are typically loyal and risk-adverse, want to see a product from start to finish and build strong relationships with their current CEO and team. Your opportunity must exceed what the candidate currently has in a significant way for you to acquire this talent. A strong recruiter can help.
As a highly respected management consultant focused on helping companies hire exceptional talent, I understand the importance of finding the right individuals to contribute to an organization’s success. While different roles may require specific skills and qualifications, here are five essential attributes I would prioritize when evaluating potential leadership hires:
1. Expertise and Relevant Skills: Look for candidates with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills in their respective fields. They should have the necessary expertise and technical abilities to excel in the specific role they are being considered for. I also like to check for career progression and the capability to lead a similar-sized team.
2. Adaptability and Learning Agility: The business landscape is constantly evolving, so it’s crucial to identify candidates who demonstrate adaptability and a willingness to learn. Look for individuals who can quickly adapt to new situations, learn from their experiences, and proactively seek opportunities for growth and development.
3. Strong Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills: Hire individuals with excellent problem-solving abilities who can critically analyze complex situations. Look for candidates who can identify root causes, evaluate various options, and make informed decisions based on available information.
4. Leadership: Even if the role does not require direct managerial responsibilities, it is valuable to identify candidates who exhibit leadership. Look for individuals who can inspire and influence others, collaborate effectively in teams, and take the initiative to drive
positive change within the organization.
5. Cultural Fit and Alignment with Company Values: Hiring individuals who align with the company’s culture and values is crucial for long-term success. Look for candidates who demonstrate integrity, ethical behavior, and a passion for the company’s mission. Assess
whether their work style and personality align with the team dynamics and corporate culture.
Remember that these attributes should be evaluated in conjunction with the specific requirements of the role and the company’s strategic objectives. Tailoring the evaluation process accordingly will help identify exceptional talent that can contribute significantly to the organization’s growth and success.
You are recruiting an executive for a critical role. You have hired a search professional because you have run out of network. The senior recruiter has met your team, understands your company goals and objectives, and pulls together a targeted position description. You are now ready to start evaluating candidates.
The recruiter shares a candidate and reviews a list of prospects and people they plan to contact with your blessing. You decide you like the lead candidate, so you call a few of your buddies to check the person out before scheduling the first interview. One of your colleagues tells you that the candidate is very talented. Another colleague has a different point of view and says the candidate is stubborn (insubordinate, difficult, etc.) You decide that stubbornness is not suitable for you and your team, and you decide to tell the recruiter that you don’t like the candidate after all, and you have not had a phone call with the candidate
Now what? Well, you have eliminated someone on a couple of data points and possibly a strong opinion, not on a full capabilities assessment. You have no idea how long ago this negative review was observed or if the candidate has grown out of this bad habit. Nor do you know if this data point came from when they had some personal struggles – all you know is what your colleague told you.
If the candidate is currently working – it is more dangerous. You are poking around in the candidate’s past and character; the inquiry may unintentionally put them at risk of losing their current role. Another risk is that this could start a chink in the relationship of that candidate with their current team.
Backdoor references provide a very limited and often biased view of a person’s performance. Every good reason to hire a search professional is not just because you cannot find people yourself but because you want to hire right, and you need to democratize the process. You need someone to keep you accountable for hiring the right person, be unbiased, and ensure you make a great hire.
There are no perfect candidates – only perfectly flawed humans with specialized skills in your industry. What matters most depends on the function and performance. What results did they get? How did this person communicate and build relationships? Hopefully, you hire someone unafraid to provide pushback, feedback, and divergent perspectives. The singularity of thought kills many good products and companies.
You don’t want to hire a criminal or someone who creates HR issues. Personal quirks can be accommodated. You are hiring a human being, not a God, people will have faults, and you need to know what they are before you hire them, so you can determine how to integrate this person into the team.
A good reference provides a balanced candidate view – both strengths and weaknesses. What the candidate can and cannot do. You want the whole picture, including understanding what motivates the candidate. The best way to manage and lead the candidate, and what they excel at, in what sort of environment. You need to know what drives this person and makes them want to leave. Every one of us can behave badly; it is your job, as CEO, to make sure you are not the one pushing this person out the door. It is your job to channel and focus people on what you need them to accomplish.
In short, backdoor references are not the best way to discover everything you need to know about a candidate and how they will perform for you. This form of reference checking lacks depth and balance. Hiring a search professional and partnering with them will get you a great hire. A search professional will also provide you with a balanced view of positives and development areas for a candidate and prevents you from any discriminatory bias you may develop as a result of performing a back-door reference, resulting in losing a great hire, too.