In the last few years I’ve seen a flood of unaccustomed titles swamp the corporate landscape. Managing Director, Vice-General Manager, Department Head, and Section Chief are now as ubiquitous as are the more familiar Vice President, Director and Manager.
“I think our core businesses are extremely strong.” – Kenneth Lay, former Enron CEO
How does a company go about hiring a CEO? A Globe and Mail article recently explored this topic. Its premise was that one should not meet with the job candidate until one decides to make a firm offer. The reason for this is because we, unconsciously or not, allow our subjective biases to dominate and influence our decisions. We may make calls based on a person’s height, weight, gender, skin colour, accent – the list goes on and on.
This is a compelling argument, but I find it wonderfully theoretical and totally impractical.
In my 27+ years as a consultant, I’ve spoken with many Board members who have struggled to find the right, the very best, CEO to manage and lead their company. Decisions have been made, based on thorough and thoughtful examinations… and swiftly regretted. Some companies prefer to hire from within, selecting known individuals; others choose to lure top performers from similar organizations.
It’s critical for hiring committee members to remember that a CEO (or other senior executive) can prosper in one organization or role, but fail ignobly in another. Success in one environment does not guarantee identical or superior results in another.
So whoever is in the recruitment decision-making hot seat must be able to assess not just the past performance of candidates, but other indicators as well. For instance, how nimbly does the prospective CEO interact with others? How do they comport themselves in relation to others?
I believe that these assessments can only be done in face-to-face meetings where the interviewer can actually utilize their discretion and judgement about the candidate from what they see, hear, and intuit. Combine this with objective measurements and 360 interviews to enable one to test assumptions raised by this data.
I will accept that we cannot refute biases that may lead us astray. But biases are one thing; our own experience is another. Subjectivity really matters. It can be a great respecter of diversity. Let’s give credit to our powers of subjectivity.