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How Companies Can Get the Best Senior Hire

Suppose you are a CEO of a mid-sized manufacturing company and you’re looking for a new CFO. You would probably look for somebody with excellent financial skills and training—preferably in the same, or a similar, industry. But picking senior staff depends on more than vetting skills and track record.

The right candidate must be able to meet today’s business challenges—and also mesh with the company’s vision for its future strategy, culture and leadership structure. The savviest CEOs remember that “Fit Is It” when it comes to senior hires.

“If you’re a €5 billion company and you want to be a €10 billion company, you need to hire €10 billion people,” says Pierre Laubies, CEO of Jacobs Douwe Egberts, a global coffee and tea company based in Amsterdam. “CEOs need to constantly challenge their teams to recruit for the future of the business—not just the one they already have.”

“If you’re a €5 billion company and you want to be a €10 billion company, you need to hire €10 billion people.”

We know many CEOs who grapple with hiring direct reports. Some situations go very smoothly; others don’t. At one large distribution company, the CEO envisioned a new direction for the business and had someone in mind who she thought would help move the company in that direction. However, some of the incumbent top executives were not on board, infighting resulted and the transition backfired.

The CEO of another company—a consumer goods firm whose core business was threatened—took a different tack. He made a powerful effort to seek the input and engagement of his senior team on the future of the company. When the CEO brought on a new executive, that person joined a united team instead of a group of warring factions.

These examples highlight a couple of big questions that CEOs should ask before making a senior hire. The first: Is the candidate ready to meet tomorrow’s strategic challenges? Companies
run into trouble when CEOs choose someone who’s right for today’s business but not tomorrow’s. The second question: Will the new hire fit and evolve with the culture of the company?
When a company moves in a new strategic direction, the leadership model and culture of the firm evolve too. That means a new algebra for who makes a “good fit”—a changing equation that CEOs must always keep in mind.

For most CEOs, these lessons make all the sense in the world. Nevertheless, leaders often slip up in a few places. Many fail to take the forward-looking, strategic conversation to the next level and define what tomorrow’s business needs really mean for the company’s leadership model and culture. When this is the case, new hires don’t truly represent tomorrow’s organizational model.
Another mistake is failing to engage the senior team on what tomorrow’s strategy means for tomorrow’s leadership structure. The CEO must force a certain level of dialogue and debate.

Failure to engage the senior team may lead to unproductive infighting—and even “organ rejection.” If the senior team is not on board, they may reject the new hire, even if he or she is a candidate for the future. It’s essential for CEOs to actively urge incumbents in their companies to understand and accept the new strategy and leadership model they are working to develop.
When that happens, it’s much easier to successfully implement a “Fit Is It” hiring approach.


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