Executive Search

Knowing what sort of CEO is required

Whether you have the luxury of a considerable amount of time or need to move quickly on the appointment of a new CEO, the Board should decide first what sort of CEO is required. This is as true for Boards who decide to handle the recruitment process themselves as for those Boards who engage an executive search consultant to assist them. If you don’t take time to consider what sort of CEO you are seeking, don’t be surprised when the Board is split as to who to appoint as CEO.

What are your personal expectations of the new CEO? Are they the same as of the previous person? Is the organisation about to commence a process of change? When choosing a CEO, the organisation should have a clear picture of what is most important to be achieved within the next 12 months, within the next several years and for the long-term. Your goals will be different if the organisation is a ‘starting up’, compared with an organisation that is well established and has a reputation to maintain, (or change)!  Nonetheless, it may be a change agent who is required in both situations if the Board of an organisation that is doing well, expects the new CEO to take the organisation ‘up a notch.’

When appointed, CEOs face different situations depending on the organisation, for which they must be equipped to lead.  They may be need to take charge of an organisational turnaround, restructure or transformation to ensure organisational viability. On the other hand, if taking over from a very successful CEO, the new CEO as a minimum, must ensure the different facets of the organisation are managed at least as well as his or her predecessor, while establishing his or own leadership credentials, as well as having the capacity to do something differently as needs demand, or take advantage of some new strategic opportunity, for example, an initiative by government, so that the organisation is lifted to new levels, or equally, doesn’t suffer because the CEO wasn’t sufficiently alert.

Board members may not have been through the process of selecting and appointing a CEO before and, even if they have, no two situations are the same. There needs to be a very transparent process established by the Board Chair. Otherwise, how will the Board arrive at a consensus of what sort of organisation theirs is at this point; different members may reach very different conclusions. Yet many CEO appointment processes start from the premise, clearly false, that the members of a nominated selection committee will themselves have a common and a clear understanding of the requirements of the role, and that this view will be shared by the Board as a whole. Unless there is a candid and in-depth discussion involving all Board members as to the “state of health’ of the organisation at this point, taking into consideration delivery of strategy, operations (including existing staff capabilities and application), then the characteristics of the ideal candidate can be very different from the person who is really needed.

Nor will an existing Position Description be entirely satisfactory for a new appointment.  There’s no debate that the CEO is the most senior person of the organisation, and must be able to lead everyone in the organisation so that the Board’s strategy is achieved. Yet, it is highly likely that the document will neither reflect accurately the work of the CEO who is departing the organisation, nor reflect exactly the balance to be given to various strategic priorities by the new CEO. Although there are some common traits that all CEOs are said to possess and those are important when choosing a Chief Executive Officer, if you don’t know how to start identifying your ideal CEO, then the Board should compile a list of all the goals (sometimes described as Key Performance Indicators) that must be met by the appointee . What sorts of experiences are likely to have been necessary for someone to achieve each goal eg international aid co-ordination, or senior warehouse distribution channels and so on? In addition, the Board members should write down those personality traits that best describe the type of person they seek. Eg team player or strong leader or… The Board can then review their lists and categorise further the items as ‘essential’ or ‘desirable characteristics’, including minimum educational qualifications, professional memberships or certifications.

Don’t forget the message of the previous article, the Board must also agree on a suitable salary package that will be sufficient to attract a range of suitable candidates.  Once the Board is agreed as to the type of person they want to appoint, the nature of the likely salary package,  the Board can determine then how the executive search will be conducted and by whom.

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