The Best Surprise in Hiring

...Is No Surprise

Mark Lonergan, February 15th, 2022

Accord­ing to Har­vard’s Pro­fes­sor Michael Watkins, can­di­dates recruit­ed to exec­u­tive posi­tions last on aver­age less than four years. Forbes recent­ly report­ed that com­pa­nies are bleed­ing cor­po­rate lead­er­ship tal­ent at an unprece­dent­ed rate. And when lead­ers leave, it is rare to find they had the wrong skills or qual­i­fi­ca­tions; usu­al­ly they are described as not a fit” with the new com­pa­ny and its culture.

This fail­ure rate should not be tol­er­at­ed, by either the hir­ing com­pa­nies or the hired exec­u­tives. That’s why I employ a rig­or­ous search and eval­u­a­tion process, end­ing with what we call F18. This process is the Sur­prise Killer.

Sur­pris­es are the real cul­prit in exec­u­tive depar­tures. Com­pa­nies com­plain that once in the role, can­di­dates don’t match their expec­ta­tions. And can­di­dates com­plain that they were mis­in­formed” with respect to the true nature of their new role: job scope is not what was promised, prod­ucts are far­ther from mar­ket-ready than described, team­mates are not who they seemed dur­ing the hir­ing process. Dis­ap­point­ment leads to ter­mi­na­tion or res­ig­na­tion. Com­pa­nies have been destroyed over much less than this!

I adopt three oper­at­ing prin­ci­pals to elim­i­nate surprises:

  1. Good news AND bad news, dis­cussed right upfront All jobs have some com­bi­na­tion of assets and lia­bil­i­ties. As search pro­fes­sion­als, we explore both sides of that bal­ance sheet with each can­di­date right from the start. The flip­side is the same for com­pa­nies eval­u­at­ing the exec­u­tives we recruit; all will have some com­bi­na­tion of strengths and chal­lenges that must be under­stood. There is no pur­pose in hold­ing back for either party.
  2. No is always a good answer Some deals should not get done. Some folks just aren’t right for some oppor­tu­ni­ties. We should encour­age both par­ties to be open and trans­par­ent, walk­ing away if it’s the right thing to do — with­out ran­cor or judgment.
  3. Enhanced mutu­al eval­u­a­tion through F18 In addi­tion to exten­sive can­di­date ref­er­enc­ing, we enhance our final process with what we call F18F18 is a chance for a full board and/​or man­age­ment team to meet with final­ist can­di­dates in a sleeves-rolled-up/nowhere-to-hide work­ing ses­sion, to hash out strate­gic direc­tion and define mutu­al expec­ta­tions. Every­one who par­tic­i­pates comes away with a much bet­ter sense of how they will work togeth­er — for bet­ter or for worse. 

We’ve been using F18 for over a decade now. Our track record has been encour­ag­ing. We always hear from our clients and place­ments that this step is the most effec­tive process for elim­i­nat­ing sur­pris­es they have seen. Our CEO reten­tion rate is way over 7 years! If we can make that claim in the fierce­ly com­pet­i­tive Sil­i­con Val­ley, then our approach is a real Sur­prise Killer.