7 Tips to Find Your CEO Candidate in a Robust Market
Wednesday, July 3, 2019
By Cory King, Kittleman & Associates
It seems that every time I sit down with a client to discuss the search for their new CEO, the question is asked: How many qualified candidates should we expect to attract? While there is a general range that every firm seeks to provide in their “long list”, more often I find myself reflecting on the environment in which non-profit organizations find themselves.
Today’s recruiting market is one that presents a wealth of opportunities for talented leaders and, as a result, is a truly competitive market for non-profits in a leadership transition. Given the robust economy, relative recovery of housing in many markets, and the continuing retirement of the “Boomers”, exceptional leaders now have the freedom to be very selective with the next step in their career. What can Boards do to best position themselves for success in this market?
Know your market: It is important for Board members to understand the hiring trends in their specific sector. The non-profit world is a vast industry encompassing everything from the local food pantry to a hospital system with revenues in the billions. If there are specific compensation strategies in the sector, familiarize yourself with these strategies or engage a firm that will bring that knowledge to the table.
Change happens: Talented leaders are visionary and thus, agents of change. The biggest criticism we hear from candidates in post-interview debriefings is that the organization “wasn’t ready for the kind of change” they would bring. Showing throughout the interview process that you are receptive to and have an open mind, at a reasonable level, to the ideas and vision that a new leader will bring is often all it takes for the Board to keep a great candidate engaged.
Be prepared to compete: This is recruitment after all. It is possible that you may encounter a candidate who is weighing other opportunities (a more frequent occurrence even at the CEO level these days). Additionally, we see candidates weighing a current opportunity against one that will likely come up soon. Accept that this might happen and do not discount candidates for “lack of interest” as they view your opportunity through the lens of the current market dynamics.
Be aligned, very aligned: Speaking with one voice is critical. All too often candidates conclude that Board members were “not on the same page”. Long before the first candidate walks in the door, you will need to discuss how you will answer candidates’ questions about the overall strategy, current status and future direction you envision for the organization.
Get ready for an annual check-up (and perhaps a few tests): Once intrigued with an opportunity, most candidates will commence a high level of due diligence. They are now asking for much more information about the organization in addition to the typical financial information, strategic plans, bylaws, etc. Often, they are asking for items like employee satisfaction surveys, member surveys, copies of contracts with partners (public and private) and in some cases Board and staff self-assessments. You will need to discuss your position regarding requests for further information.
Pony up: The adage “you get what you pay for” has never been truer. The talent market today is demanding a higher level of compensation. This is, in part, because candidates are keenly aware of the demands and expectations placed upon them as the chief executive. Early in the process, consider what your threshold is and creative ideas on how to meet those demands should they arise. Seek counsel from your search firm to ensure you are both realistic and competitive.
Don’t panic: CEO recruitment is a journey often filled with twists and turns, many discoveries and some intense moments. It is a process that takes time and finding the right fit requires a level of communication and dialogue unlike any other hire. Don’t be afraid to have the sometimes-difficult conversation about the “attractiveness” of your organization to potential candidates. Bring your best thinking to the table, work with a firm who will help position you best for success, and be honest, transparent and enthusiastic.