Is It Time to Change How You Hire Executives? - Boardroom News

Is It Time to Change How You Hire Executives?

Cowen Partners

By Cowen Partners
The executive recruitment team at Cowen Partners has shared an insightful answer to the title question of this piece with Boardroom Pulse.

You know how to recruit and hire great company leaders. Or do you?

In a world changed by both COVID and technology, the archetype of a successful CEO is changing, too.

Executives are much like brand ambassadors — if customers, shareholders, and even other employees like your executives, they’re more likely to support your company as a whole.

If you want to stay competitive in the rapidly evolving business landscape, you need to recruit leaders who can move from the transactional to the transformative. 

Here’s how to do that.

Understand That Great Leaders Are Great Communicators

It’s a complex time to be a business leader — the workplace is full of traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z. An adept leader will be able to effectively communicate with all five.

Changes in Modern Leadership: Finding the Right CEO for Your Organization

After all, a great executive can unify and motivate your whole team — not just members of their own generation.

Generation gaps aren’t the only time communication comes into play. Most contemporary corporate debacles play out on the social media stage, so depending on the exact role, an executive might need to be exceedingly comfortable on social media. They also must be able to communicate with shareholders and customers.

If that seems like a tall order, it is. In the old days of business, you needed only two things to become a successful executive: great business insight and transactional industrial skills.

But now, companies would be wise to place greater emphasis on candidates’ social and communication skills.

Bearing this in mind during the recruitment process can help you narrow the field from the start.

However, depending on how many qualified candidates are interested in the job, it may make selecting one that much harder.

Be Transparent About Problems

This one might sound counterintuitive. After all, you want to attract great candidates, not chase them away! 

However, the need for corporate vulnerability is a feature of the modern executive job market. Today’s best business leaders are problem-solvers who are eager to take on new challenges. This means that if you’re open about your company’s challenges (within reason), you’ll be able to draw in top talent.

So how do you do this? Some experts suggest being generally open about your company’s problems, both on LinkedIn and in your job advertisements.

Put Candidates’ Skills to the Test

Anyone can say they have great social skills on a resume. If you want to actually select the best candidate for the job, you’ll need to ask your potential executives to illustrate those skills. At this level, any candidate will be able to give you a stellar interview, so the interview alone isn’t a great way to assess social, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Instead, you want to set up a scenario that mimics a real-world situation as closely as possible. If you include some kind of simulation during the interview and ask your candidate to walk you through the way they would handle it, you’ll get a more accurate glimpse into their problem-solving skills. 

As a bonus, you will also be able to see how well each candidate can think on their feet.

Know Your Meaning and Your Mission

You want self-assured, confident candidates. But the best executive candidates are looking for companies that are making a real difference in the world.

Two ways to demonstrate making a difference are to:

  1. Have a respectable ESG footprint.
  2. Make a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (more on both in a moment).

your company also needs to be credible about the work it does. 

Thanks in part to the new ability of AI to complete menial tasks, most people are looking to perform work that matters. Make sure you’re doing more than posting a boilerplate-heavy mission statement on your website. If you’re sincere about your mission, candidates will sense that. But if you’re insincere, they’ll sense that, too.

Mind Your ESG Footprint

Several organizations study businesses and rate them on how well they adhere to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles. Many of today’s top leaders strongly prefer companies that are committed to environmental and social responsibility, so if your company hasn’t yet adopted an ESG framework, now is a great time to do so.

The exact standards you use might vary based on your industry, but some common actions include the following:

  • Establishing an efficient system for waste management
  • Lowering your carbon footprint
  • Having strong policies to support equity and diversity
  • Engaging transparently with stakeholders

More investors are leaning toward investing in sustainable and responsible companies, so adopting an ESG framework might also benefit you in ways that don’t directly relate to leadership.

Commit to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Executive candidates seek out companies they view as being socially responsible. And in most cases, they see companies with robust diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as being the most socially responsible.

When your workforce is genuinely diverse, everyone benefits. But it takes more than just encouraging members of underrepresented groups to apply for leadership positions. If you want to attract great candidates, you need to be able to illustrate a definite, long-running commitment to diversity.

If your company is large enough, you might be able to establish a DEI committee.

But whether you have a dedicated committee or not, you can move closer to real diversity with initiatives like these:

  • Focusing on pay equity across different teams and roles
  • Crafting an inclusive, welcoming company culture
  • Conducting diversity training for all employees
  • Establishing employee resource groups (ERGs) for employees in minority groups

Of course, if you currently don’t have DEI initiatives, you can’t accomplish this overnight. But any move toward a more inclusive workplace is a good one.

Your Senior Leadership: The Most Critical Employees You’ll Ever Choose

As you can see, plenty of variables come into play when you’re hiring your newest executives. Remember that your search shouldn’t only be about meeting your selection criteria. It’s also about taking a closer look at your company and making sure you’re the kind of organization that attracts the top leaders of today and tomorrow.

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