When Executive Hiring Goes Right

by | Aug 24, 2023

Senior leaders and executives have far-reaching influence over your organization, and finding the right executive for the role can drive innovation, improve business outcomes, enhance company culture, and effectively guide your team through periods of change and uncertainty. To secure the best-fit candidates for these critical positions, you’ll need to carefully plan out the executive search process. 

What’s at stake when hiring an executive? 

When hiring an executive, the stakes are high and the talent pool gets limited when you take the industry, expertise, leadership style, and expectations of the role into account. This makes attracting and engaging the right talent hard, giving all the more reason to think through the executive search process long before you engage potential talent. 

There are many factors that come along with an executive hiring decision, like:

    • Vision: The ability to think ahead, plan for the future, and mobilize teams to achieve common goals will make or break your teams. The clarity and confidence in the executive’s approach, and their belief in your company’s vision, is a far-reaching and critical component. 
    • Demonstrated Success: Shareholders, employees, customers and partners will expect an executive to bring a successful track-record and proven capacity to navigate the pitfalls ahead and reach goals. 
    • Values: Executives who align with your company culture and leadership ethos will make critical decisions easlier, elevate client value, and workforce empowerment. 
    • Open-mindedness: When a new executive enters an organization, it’s rare that the ask is to copy/paste a historical leadership approach. They are there to bring the foresight and fortitude necessary for the future of the business. They are also there to operate in your company’s native environment with an open mind to spark fresh ideas.
    • Drive: When direction and diligence is ever-present, teams move initiatives forward and work with more rigor. When drive is a top-down behavior, employees are more likely to be high-performers. 
    • Chemistry: The dynamics between executive team members influence decision-making and collaboration. Diversity of thought is critical; but there must be chemistry or some common grounds for collaboration in your c-suite to drive true change forward. 
    • Culture: Executives are instrumental in shaping company culture. Their behavior, attitudes, and management practices set the tone for everyone, and the wrong fit can lead to a disconnect, bringing down morale and productivity.
  • Reputation: Executives often represent the public face of an organization. Their actions and behavior (past, present and future) will impact your reputation and brand perception at large.

The critical pillars above lend to a clearer pathway to attract, engage, evaluate and hire the best-fit executive. However, once the groundwork is done, it’s time to find the executives that best align for your priorities. The source of your candidate pipeline should be multi-faceted and the challenges of executive hiring are unique. For instance, the search may be confidential.

Your talent pool needs to be highly targeted and, ideally, talent should come from a myriad of sources, including internal candidates, network reach, and outbound recruitment. One way to ensure your company secures the best executives possible is to engage an executive search firm with industry and functional expertise.

What goes into executive search? 

An executive hiring strategy is crafted by several key players. It starts with your existing leadership team, encompassing key functional leads and, critically, the Head of People or HR. 

When possible, assess your hiring needs with top-performing directors, mid-level managers and executors (they can acutely identify functional gaps with first-hand working knowledge). This will ensure a holistic view and increase their support for whomever you bring onboard.

Another best practice would be to engage a third-party or more objective contributor such as a Board Member, Advisor, or Executive Search Firm. Be selective as hearing every opinion can equate to noise and leave you with no clear direction. However, when you intentionally build a dynamic team to diligently and efficiently scope out hiring needs, the upfront work lends to more velocity in the hiring process. 

Once key stakeholders are clear on who they need to hire and why (including future goals and current leadership gaps); it’s time to confidently go to market and hire a high-performing executive best suited for your goals at large.

Next, it’s time to finalize your job description with compelling messaging and competitive compensation. Consider writing the job description like a success description — it’s not what they will do; it’s what they will achieve.

Lastly, finalize your interview process: Who is interviewing, and in what order? Who has full veto power on the hiring decision, and who is participating for guiding perspective? What are the focus areas per interviewer (this should include what they are evaluating and what they are sharing about the company)? An executive search firm or in-house team can guide these elements with rigor and focus. 

Crafting a Go-To-Market Recruiting Strategy
Engaging your Talent Acquisition Leaders or an external executive search firm to craft and launch a go-to-market strategy ensures your team gains velocity in the right direction and puts executive bandwidth back where it’s needed: Focused on the business at-hand.

Your go-to-market strategy will answer for your competitive landscape (who else wants your talent), your target recriuiting grounds (where does this talent work), and your positioning  (where do we sit within our industry and competitive landscape, and what is our value proposition for target talent?).

By engaging an executive search firm, you’ll have a white glove candidate experience and a quality talent pipeline. When you have an executive recruiting team owning research, candidate experience, interviews, insights, and continuous feedback loops, you’ll see quicker calibration and greater alignment in the process overall.

In short, by both managing candidate expectations and upholding consistent, fair, and thorough screening processes, an executive search firm can streamline the hiring process and help you secure the best-fit candidate for the role. 

What’s the right way to hire an executive? 

There is no one-size-fits-all process when it comes to filling an executive role, but the “right way” to hire does require a comprehensive and strategic approach that takes into account the unique responsibilities, impact, and influence of the executive position you’re filling. 

When starting the executive search process, begin clearly defining what Digital Knack calls the TCP (Target Candidate Persona). This profile should serve as a blueprint for evaluating potential candidates. Calibrate it as necessary, but starting with this means you’ve done the introspective work and true evaluation of why you are hiring. With this intact, you have a basis for deviation. 

Soon after beginning the executive search process, assemble your cross-functional team of executives, relevant department heads, and HR professionals for a dynamic interview panel — this should result in a diverse and relevant set of interviewers to weigh in on the hiring decision.

When evaluating candidates, go beyond technical skills and make sure you implement processes to assess your critical leadership pillars, ie: creativity, strategic thinking, cultural alignment, and ability to effectively manage change. Focus on in-depth interviews that pose real-world questions and actual scenarios your business faces today. This can better gauge candidates’ mindset and their ability to steer your company toward success. 

During the process, seek to maintain the utmost transparency with candidates. It’s critical to showcase your organization’s commitment to hiring the best candidate possible. Open communication will ensure they walk away from the experience feeling positive about your company, even if they aren’t selected. Keep feedback loops under 42 hours – a 24 hour turnaround will result in higher engagement and candidate satisfaction.

Finally, to make your hiring decision, hold credible debriefs that capture team evaluations in a consistent and credible manner. In doing so, you can ensure that your executive hires are strategically aligned, culturally compatible, and equipped to lead the company toward its long-term goals. 

Do you need help designing a better hiring process? Reach out to Digital Knack for assistance implementing an executive search strategy that enables exceptional hiring decisions.


Written by Marcia Needels