Hiring by Committee
Today, a very talented senior manager who has run global sales teams in the technology sector for over 10 years called me to “check in,” say hello and keep me posted on his current job search. Over the course of the 20 minute discussion, he shared a recent experience. He told me that he had just gone through a series of 9 interviews at a company. During this process, he met a virtual conga line of executives at various levels and expertise, invested over 30 total hours, traveled 2700 miles, and prepared innumerable case studies as requested.
Here is the kicker; after three full weeks of silence, he gets a voice mail from a low level staffer in HR who called to tell him that he wasn’t exactly what they were looking for!
What’s that all about! … I thought he was kidding, but he was dead serious.
How truly absurd I thought … the US Senate doesn’t invest that many interview hours in approving a Supreme Court Justice or a Cabinet member! I couldn’t have written a worse prescription for how NOT to deal with a senior executive hire if I tried.
In a heartfelt way, I told him that he should be thankful that he didn’t get the position, because the company had two serious problems as far as I can tell:  The management team as a group is VERY indecisive and,  Due to lack of training, (or perhaps even the leadership culture of the firm) the management team is alarmingly insecure about their candidate evaluation skills.
I defy anyone to get consensus on any subject, any candidate or frankly anything amongst a large and diverse group of people! It simply won’t happen. There will always be at least a few people in this group who are skilled in the art of “hedging their bet.” In a group this large it is almost guaranteed that there will be a person or two who doesn’t have the confidence to stick his or her neck out. People who are risk-averse always want to play it safe so that if the hire “fails” they can say that they did not give the person the thumbs up. The fact is that these kinds of managers also don’t tend to give a candidate the thumbs down either! Reason: In the event that this person indeed gets hired, they want to be able to claim that they did not vote against them.
What a mess !!
In our experience …strong management teams limit the interview group to three to four executives at maximum. They strategically limit the interview team to those executives who have the experience and self-confidence to make a critical decision on behalf of the firm. In our experience committees don’t work when it comes to making an important leadership hire. Why? When was the last time you saw a committee make a good decision about anything?
The fact is … this is happening more and in corporations both large and small today. And, the reason is simple; most managers have never had even one day of formal training in interviewing, candidate evaluation and selection in their entire career. This is rooted in the fact that even today, in the so-called “knowledge-worker” era, many organizations suffer from an industrial era mentality when it comes to hiring.
What do I mean by this? Many companies and managers still see people as a “commodity”… a cog in the wheel of their “factory.” Yet these same organizations claim that “talent” and “team building” is the most important thing that they do!
Does this make sense? No wonder these managers are frozen in place when it comes to making bold hiring decisions. The sad truth is that they have no real skills in this area, and they are afraid to admit it, or at the very least ask for help in the form training when it comes to making key hires.
In the past, people got interviewing and team building skills over a period of time by training under a senior manager. We used to call these people godfathers/godmothers, sponsors, or mentors. Today people don’t work at a company long enough to have a real a mentor. So it’s a fire drill every time a senior level candidate needs to be vetted and hired because there is no strategy, direction or confidence in what the firm is looking for in the first place, and the manager has no clear way of assessing a candidate even if they do have decent interview skills (which most do not).
Typically, when our firm gets retained to conduct a senior level executive search project, the first thing we do is schedule a senior management “stakeholder audit.” We call this our “Illumination Process.” As it turns out, this is not a bad name, since most managers are in the dark when it comes to the skill sets of the future that are required to fill a critical/game-changing position.
Frankly, if these “stakeholder audits” are not revealing, nothing is. Two-thirds of the time we can’t get consensus about the mission of the job from even two managers. I can’t imagine how a sizable “interview committee” would have a clear, concise and common vision for the position.
Today, nearly every company mission statement reads; “People are our MOST IMPORTANT asset.” This is no longer true in most organizations. The more accurate statement would be; “People are our ONLY asset.”
I would argue that you can’t get “A” players when you attempt to hire by committee.
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