How to Evaluate Executive Candidates

How to Evaluate Executive Candidates

“A man’s got to know his limitations.” Clint Eastwood’s immortal line as San Francisco detective Harry Callahan in the movie Dirty Harry stands true today when board of directors and management teams think about how to evaluate executive candidates. If you have been in management, ownership or board leadership long enough, sooner or later you’ve learned that no one has a perfect track record when it’s come to hiring.

So how do you increase your chances of success?

You’ve already taken the first step – by thinking of interim executives in order to mitigate your risk. You are making sure you have a clear roadmap and understanding of the leadership skillsets needed to get you where you want to go before committing to anything permanent too soon. That’s good.

Whether interim or permanent, there are questions to ask and ways to evaluate your organization’s fit with an executive leader.

Consider the Executive’s Mode in Relation to Your Company’s Exact Needs

We’ve developed a thesis on matching companies with executive talent, and while our research is ongoing, it’s foundation are the 5,000+ executives who have presented themselves to InterimExecs over the past 10 years. Great leadership is genius, no doubt, but when it is best applied it has orders of magnitude better results. Consider a leader of the caliber of Winston Churchill, arguably one of the greatest leaders of the modern era. Churchill saved the western world from tyranny, but interestingly, the British public voted him out on the conclusion of World War II. Why? Because he was best “designed” for crisis, in which he was vital and irreplaceable.

Your company has a particular culture, market, way of operating and particular set of circumstances – right now. In matching your exact situation with brilliant leadership, first look to the leader’s process, approach, style and system.

Evaluate the mode an executive typically operates in when you dive into their past experience. There’s a Zen saying: how you do anything is how you do everything. Why are they drawn to this work?

Evaluate Executive Fit on Nine Dimensions

Many interviewers have a good idea of how they will evaluate a candidate, whether it’s for an entry level job or the interim CEO, but they often don’t go far enough. We’ve created a tool called MatchMatrix, to help structure a thorough analysis of executive fit ranging from skills and industry background to “winningness” and chemistry.

One of the biggest traps companies fall into when considering an interim exec is believing that the primary component of good fit is industry – that an executive has to have come from the company’s own arena in order to understand them. Perhaps true in highly regulated industries like health care or insurance. But in most cases, the benefits of cross-pollination with rock star executives is far more valuable than prior industry. This is not to say industry experience isn’t valuable, and may still guide the permanent search. But when it comes to interim, there’s usually a good reason a company comes calling – it’s because something wasn’t working perfectly despite industry expertise and a huge base of knowledge within the company.

Want to figure out if an interim has the chops to jump into your industry? Get their reaction to your current situation. Put them on the spot. Find out how they will operate on day one, day 90 and beyond with your challenges.

Ask Great Questions

As the great negotiations coach Jim Camp wrote in his best-selling book on negotiation, Start With No, “the most important behavioral goal and habit you can develop is your ability to ask questions.”

Great thought-provoking questions can uncover more than any other tool in your arsenal.

Check References and Google

The beauty of this special breed of executive is that the rock stars always have significant, successful track records. And when it comes to project based work, there’s nowhere to hide. Interims either perform, or they’re out.

So the best way to see how an interim approaches her assignment is to talk to clients whether an investor, board member, or senior member of the management team. They have to be able to speak to the results the executive created or caused to occur with the team, in initiative, leadership, and tangible, measurable results.

This can appear overwhelming but in reality we’ve found a disciplined process can proceed quickly. InterimExecs fastest engagement to date proceeded from initial contact by a public company board of directors to deployment of the interim executive onsite in six days.

Legendary football coach Vincent Lombardy put it this way: “I firmly believe that any person’s finest hour – their greatest fulfillment to all they hold dear – is that moment when they have to work their heart out in a good cause and be exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” Its time to find your victorious executive.