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There’s no shortcut to a great executive team

| | Richard Appleby
There's no shortcut to a great executive team

Building a strong executive team is no easy feat. The dynamic within the team will set the tone for the organisation as a whole and is ultimately responsible for driving a company’s growth. Likewise, CEOs have to be sure they are developing strong working relationships with every one of their executive team.

On the face of it, you would think that businesses are investing heavily to make sure they are getting the right people in their C-Suite. Unfortunately, what I see all too often is CEOs looking to take shortcuts in this process, without thinking about who they really need to hire, what their role will look like or how a new hire is going to fit into the bigger strategic picture of where an organisation is heading.

Let’s stop trying to take the easy road

Part of the problem with building an executive team is that decision-makers – primarily the CEO – will attempt to take shortcuts in the very earliest stages of the executive recruitment process. They will approach expanding their executive team as a problem that needs to be solved quickly, without considering the broader implications of this decision. Often, this is simply because a CEO has too much on their plate already, so they will know what they need, but they haven’t turned that into a coherent role.

Job descriptions are a great starting point – they are essential for describing the core responsibilities that an executive will have and they make it much easier to then select a candidate and expand the team. This isn’t about what ends up on paper; it’s about the thought process a CEO has to go through in order to get there.

A job description is also your first chance to think about the qualities that a new member of the C-Suite will need, based on the culture of the organisation and the dynamics with other executives. This gives you a chance to go beyond simply the skills and qualifications they have and think about the attitude you are looking for in an ideal candidate.

Of course, a role description is just the start, but it sets you up for then thinking about how the position will impact the rest of the company. It also gives you a chance to think about what the effect of a new hire will be on those already working in the area you are hiring for.

More often than not though, the humble job description is finding its way into the too-hard basket for time-poor CEOs looking to hire a new member of their executive team. The problem of course is that, once you start down the avenue of taking shortcuts, it is much harder to undo the potentially damaging consequences.

Shortcuts, long-term headaches

The risks here for a CEO aren’t just that they might not have a member of their team they can work with closely; they have a deeper impact that can affect every aspect of an organisation.

At the C-Suite level, there will be strategic issues that arise from a poorly thought-out executive role. Many of the companies I work with will be facing specific challenges; they might be entering a period of high growth, looking to rapidly restructure or reinvigorate the company in difficult market conditions.

Take as an example a company that is looking for a CFO with a specific set of skills and experience in that area. Taking shortcuts in the process of choosing a CFO may ultimately leave a business unable to go public or create delays in that process that could have been avoided.

This backdrop often frames the executive recruitment process and taking the easy route can ultimately compromise a company’s chances of achieving these goals.

So what does a great executive-level hiring process look like?

Committing to not taking shortcuts is the first step in ensuring you’ve got the right people in your executive team. It’s really your first step in taking the high road over the easy fix.

At the same time though, you can’t be too narrowly focused on this early prep work. Filling a gap in the executive team isn’t just about ticking boxes, especially if a candidate comes through who has a lot of potential but doesn’t quite fit that mould you had in mind. Again, this is about not bypassing the implementation stage but constantly challenging yourself to find the best person for the role.

The good news is that many of the CEOs I work with already have a good idea of what they need and where there are gaps in their executive team. The challenge is really one of execution – it’s about developing a coherent approach to finding a new team member in a way that isn’t about cutting corners but is aimed at delivering value to the organisation.

Richard ApplebyBy Richard Appleby, TEC Chair 

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