Sometimes, when we initiate a search project, the client requests sound similar to this: “We want to hire an ‘up and comer’ or a ‘high potential’ candidate”. Generally, the motivations are along this thought process: The candidate will work harder for us, they will not have expectations or limitations and biases from their past similar roles, and the client can pay a lower salary and bonus to get the job done. Efficient thinking, right?
This can be true of many C-Suite hires, VP roles, where the client believes a senior director, who is ready to step up, would work very well, especially in a smaller company. While I agree with the logic of this, many times this is not how it plays out in real life. You need to be certain of the candidate’s capabilities – that they are not just “high potential” but also highly capable. We tend, as humans, to be enamored by potential. What is important is capability. So, how do you measure capability?
First you need to clearly define your business goals and objectives for the role you intend to hire for – in other words – if you hire a great candidate, what outcomes do you expect? What do you want to accomplish with this hire? Then you need to look at what the candidate has already accomplished to date in their current and previous roles to see how they measure up to what you want to accomplish.
For example, you want to commercialize a novel and disruptive technology, in doing this, you will replace or improve a standard of care treatment protocol? Has this person done this before? Did they set the strategy for the launch? What were the results? Did they hire a team and consultants or use partners and distributors? Were they on target with sales? What was their spending budget? How well did they coordinate with other key members of the leadership team?
If the candidate has not demonstrated mastery of these skills and abilities, then they will not be able to bring that to your company. However, if they have hired and led teams of people, mentored and developed subordinates, and demonstrated key leadership capabilities while they executed well, then they could step up into a bigger role.
When defining capacity, it is very important to conduct thorough reference checks – from the people that the candidate has worked for, with and supervised. You need to understand the candidate’s “in the trenches” strengths and weaknesses, not just the surface person you meet in the interview process. You also need to understand how this person’s skills have evolved and grown over past roles, that will also provide insight into how this candidate will grow with you. It is especially important to understand how the candidate manages pressure and unexpected events. This information will allow you to learn just how to motivate, and manage the candidate, as well as their capacity for growth and execution.
Working with a seasoned executive search consultant can help you not only identify strengths and weaknesses, but also help you rank candidates with their peer group, ensuring that you make a great hire every time.