When founding a new venture, it is not unusual for a founder to wear too many hats. It’s actually the most sensible, cost-effective, and efficient way to get things done during those early days. However, as your business grows, “founder-sweat” quickly spread thin.
Eventually, even the most efficient startup grows to a level when it becomes essential to hire business executives who can help propel the corporation to the next level.
Nowadays, employers have the advantage of having a vast collection of candidates to choose from and interview for comparatively few vacant positions.
But, the executive hiring process is quite different from the standard recruiting processes. For one thing, the conventional interview process for staff roles isn’t a dependable method for judging executive candidates.
To hire the most qualified executives for top-level positions, a company needs to graduate from simple hiring and leverage more advanced recruiting techniques.
This article will give a slightly broader overview of what executive hiring entails end-to-end, as well as some tips for building an executive recruitment program that delivers results.
In a world where the average CEO’s tenure is increasingly shortening, companies with strong executive hiring programs can scale notably more effortlessly than their counterparts.
What Is Executive Hiring?
Executive hiring refers to the process of discovering and employing candidates to occupy leading roles at the company. The nuance of executive hiring is that different roles, despite being under the C suite, vary dramatically – not only from each other, but also company by company.
CEO (CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER)
CEO tenures continue to fall across the board. In 2017, the average CEO tenure was an all-time low of only 5 years. Most companies eventually need to hire a new CEO to guide the company through a new phase – and it’s without a doubt the hardest of the C suite to hire for.
The CEO decides the company’s policy. They employ and assemble the senior team. A CEO’s docket also involves making the final decision on how company resources are managed, and it is usually their face that appears on the media and business magazine covers.
A good CEO’s core competencies should include strategic judgment—the ability to see beyond the daily activities and decide on the best route for navigating future industry conditions.
The CEO’s primary function, however, is hiring and firing.
At the end of the day, a good management team can make up for the CEO’s shortcomings. A CEO can set strategies, set long-term bets, and manage the finances, but if they fail to recruit a capable team, the company will inevitably fall short.
A good CEO must be able to recognize and recruit the best and fire those who don’t function while running the show. At a certain scale, the best CEOs are world-class recruiters.
COO (CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER)
A COO is an extremely ephemeral role that can encompass a lot of different responsibilities. While traditionally tasked to managing the operations of large scale supply-oriented businesses, the dawn of the internet era has seen the role shift – see Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, for example.
To simplify it, however, a COO must ensure that the business delivers day after day. The COO essentially sits on the pulse of the company, and acts as an extension of the CEO’s vision, guiding implementation and beating roadblocks.
The COO’s team also creates systems designed to monitor measurements and be decisive whenever the business aren’t delivering.
When hiring for COOs, the core competency is – and this might sound trite – management. A good COO is a systems thinker – someone who understands the big picture, and knows how to scale the day-to-day operations to reach it.
There is no clear-cut role for the company president. Some say the president supervises human resources, staff functions, strategy, and finance while the COO administers daily operations.
Nevertheless, sometimes, the company president fills any operational cracks left by the CEO and COO.
Regardless, you should think carefully about whether you require someone to occupy this role, or if your business can get by with just the CEO and COO.
CFO (CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER)
Naturally, the company’s CFO manages the money. They make budgets and generate financing strategies.
The CFO figures out if it’s profitable for the business to buy or lease. They also set up control systems that scrutinize the financial health of the company.
(And yes, the CFO is usually the “killjoy” who won’t approve your request for funds to purchase that ultra-cool videoconferencing gear.)
A good CFO should always be busy working out which clients, products, and business lines are most profitable, so that next year you might be able to afford that sweet video conferencing equipment.
If numbers don’t keep you awake at night, you have to recruit someone who does.
Money is the lifeblood of any business, and cash flow is essential in entrepreneurship. Cash flow management is a very underrated part of enterprise – a good CFO can synchronize a cash flow dance that maximizes growth and minimizes risk.
CMO (CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER)
The CMO develops the company’s marketing strategy and also supervises its implementation. In more tech-driven organizations the CMO is slowly starting to blur with other roles, like CGO (Chief Growth Officer) and CPO (Chief Product Officer)
A good CMO should have in-depth industry knowledge which helps to position the brand, distinguish it from the competition, enlist distributors, and ensure that customers crave for your product.
If the success of your business depends heavily on demand generation, then you need to hire a CMO.
CTO (CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER)
The Company’s CTO has to stay abreast of the latest technology trends, incorporate such trends into the business strategy, and ensure that the company remains up to date when necessary.
While the CTO used to be a niche hire, modern companies almost inevitably need a CTO; as they say, every business is a software business nowadays.
Importance of Executive Hiring
Identifying and employing the most suitable candidates for your company’s executive level is critical to the long-term success of the business.
Since the decisions of the next department heads will shape the existing workplace culture as well as the future of the business, the process of executive hiring needs to be handled with maximum awareness and priority.
Finding the Right Team Members
Sadly, good executive employees are scarce and highly sought after. Because their decisions will either make or break the business, you’ll want to hire the best.
Recruiting executives is no easy task. Classified ads, online bulletin boards, and newspapers are not the ideal route to take. And making mass-market advertisements will only attract people who haven’t got any other job prospects.
If you have a sufficient budget available, executive search agencies are a good option for finding promising talent and adding input for hire.
Even though their fees are quite expensive, they conduct their due diligence and provide you with already screened candidates, which can be a significant time-saver.
These agencies usually have a reservoir of executive talent and can likely connect with candidates you wouldn’t be able to approach by yourself.
Search firms may even specialize by industry, location, function, and level of qualification, so if you choose to engage one, ensure that you know what you are getting.
Networking is another proven method of finding potential hires (and this is where that CEO guy/gal comes in handy).
A company needs to build its own professional network that it can inform about the kind of executive you are searching for. Then arrange one-on-one introductory sessions to assess the chemistry.
While networking, stay away from general networking forums. Be direct about what you would like.
If you’re looking to recruit a CMO for your law firm, attend more Legal Service conferences, which attract top marketing executives from various law firms. Networking can work well, but make sure that it’s targeted.
Related: How to Be an Effective Group Member
The interview is one of the most important parts of the hiring process, since it allows you to get to know the candidate on a personal level. When the time comes to have a sit down with the potential employee, there are some few things worth knowing that can make the process a little easier:
Ensure That The Candidate Knows The Job
Executive hires have a much higher bar for “context” than regular employees. A staff employee not knowing all the nuances of the job requirements is fine. An executive should know everything about the job, company & industry – if not, pass.
Can this candidate be trusted? Will other people like to spend time around them? Culture fit is far more important for executive hires because they set the tone for the entire organization.
Do the brilliant claims of the candidate reflect in the comments of their past colleagues and subordinates? Find concrete details of their deliverables.
And remember, in small businesses, cultural issues are sometimes just as important as the job itself.
Are they smarter than you?
This is a good principle to follow: Each new executive should boost the average IQ of your company; hire executives who are smarter than you.
Observe Learning Ability
Is the candidate prone to repeating previous mistakes? Or do they learn quickly from their errors and adjust that knowledge to suit your company?
Utilize Behavior Description Techniques
During the executive hiring process, don’t ask questions about principles, knowledge, and idealistic stories. Instead, ask the potential executive employee to share details of specific past events. Such accounts will expose their values, capabilities, and skills.
For instance, a future CFO may be asked to describe how they set up and managed the previous budgets they handled.
Closing the Deal
After you have found the executive you would like to employ, you’ll probably need to pitch them before you find yourself handing out those employment forms.
There aren’t any standard regulations for the best contract to offer successful candidates. Hourly workers might be delighted to receive cash, but executives are not so easily pleased.
Company executives often want assets, stock options, inflated pay, as well as annual bonuses.
Given that the job of the executive is to make sure that the whole company succeeds, you can use bonus plans and stock options to link their earnings to the overall performance of the company.
Stock options can be connected with consistent performance, while profit sharing and bonuses should be founded on the previous year’s results.
Naturally, not all executives yearn for stock. Preferably, you would like to employ a capable person who is content with a demanding job and modest income. And they are out there!
Well trained individuals who value family time, a challenging job, and fun culture.
You can gain a good understanding of a person’s core values from the new hire paperwork, which will help to craft better deals that will please them in a manner that goes beyond mere dollars.
Handing Over To Your Executives
After new employee forms have been properly documented and all the members of your executive team are committed, next comes the hardest part: trust.
Doubts will plague you at every turn. A new executive is like introducing a new parent to your child – it’s not going to be easy.
Still, trust is essential because once the executive team members have joined the fray, you have to allow them to take charge by accepting full responsibility for their decisions or indecisions.
Remember that you have hired an executive team, and they must be accountable for the wellbeing of the company; this means defining their roles, the deliverables each one is responsible for and within what timeframe.
It is also worth discussing in advance how you will handle disagreements. Set processes in place right away and be stringent at enforcing them.
These people were hired on the premise that their decision making should be better than yours. Therefore when there is conflict, if you did a good job, chances are that they are right and you are wrong.
Agree early about how you will make the call, ensuring that the company benefits most from constructive disagreements. Just bear in mind that if you agree on everything, some of you are redundant.
Entrepreneurship is all about going for those things that are beyond what you alone could achieve. Your job is not to struggle alone to attain the goal; it’s to assemble a team that can.
While it’s hard for a founder to loosen the reigns, it’s essential for a business to scale that it starts hiring talented executives. There’s a learning curve for the executive hiring process – and an incredibly long recruitment process, usually – but the payout is well worth it. A company’s success relies on its people, and there are no people more essential to a company’s future than its executives.
If you’ve done your job and assembled a dream team, their success will be your success.