How can I hire trustworthy directors?

Q: My business operations are such that I don't get much one-to-one time with my staff and instead rely on senior directors to provide leadership and make key decisions. However I recently had a bad experience with a new director who appeared to work in direct opposition to the majority of my personnel, significantly damaging their self-esteem and team spirit – not to mention my company's profits. I have now resolved the problem and need to re-open recruitment for the role but I am apprehensive. How can I ensure that new directors are trustworthy and a good fit for my team?
Stephen Archer answers:

Your question focuses on trustworthiness and ‘fit'. Both are very important questions – but not the only ones you should ask. Go further into what you mean by trustworthiness. And what does ‘a good fit' mean? A social and personality fit or a skills and knowledge fit?

Hiring the right people is immensely complex – it is no surprise that so many mistakes are made. But getting it right will pay huge dividends. Though luck will play its part, you do need the right people to be available and attracted to your organisation. There are two things to keep at the forefront of your mind when recruiting a director: values and leadership.

Values must come first. Underlying your previous director's failure will be inappropriate values. These are the things that define the culture of your organisation and the things that define the fit of the person. They may have a different personality to that which you imagine and even a slight mismatch of background and experience; but the values must come first. Always.

Remember, ‘hire the smile, and train the skill' – the same simple rule applies to values. ‘Hire the values, train the expertise'. Values are the inner beliefs, the things that define behaviour in individuals. They define how people approach work and how they relate to colleagues – and in a director they define how they behave as leaders. They can and should be defined, but rarely can this be achieved with a five point list that is hung in reception; these speak to an aspiration, designed by committee. So how do you define the values that you seek in a new recruit? It is not as hard as it may sound.

The start point is analysis of what constitutes the existing culture – the blend of beliefs and behaviours that makes the people effective and the company successful. Do not treat this lightly – in competitive markets the most important differentiator that you have will be your culture and how employees behave. Those involved in the recruitment process must use this defined value set as a basis for candidate assessment and the interview process. Ensure that candidates are assessed in a balanced and objective manner. It sounds obvious, but candidates can all too easily be seized on with too much enthusiasm by senior colleagues when they see the experience on paper. HR and other directors should be looking beyond experience to ensure that the personal fit is matched.

In addition to the formal processes, there are two other ways to assess candidates. Firstly, telephone them at home, out of hours. Catching people off guard and away from the mentality of the interview ‘performance' can be very revealing. Heed the findings. Secondly, ensure that other people in the organisation meet the candidate before they are appointed – especially those that will come into direct contact. Ask these people for their views. They will be most revealing and if this process is used frequently the employees own empowerment will increase. They will also help the new director more when they do arrive and increase the chance of the fit working and lasting.

Stephen Archer is a UK-based business analyst and in 2003 founded Spring Partnerships LLP, an award-winning communications company. He is a consultant to FTSE 100 and various multi-national companies at CEO level, and has been called the ‘Jeremy Clarkson' of business speakers, for his amusing and insightful perspectives on the changing business environment.


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