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Ten tips on your next chief exec hire.

Written by: Martin Tucker is Managing Director and Founder of Faerfield
Published on: 21 Oct 2021

Hiring a chief executive is arguably one of the biggest decisions elected members take. Not only will they help shape the future of the organisation, they are also significant financial investments. So what do you need to consider when choosing your chief executive? Here are ten things you may want to think about.

1. Context is everything

The type of chief executive you need to hire for the next five years, may well be different to the one you hired five years ago. Think deeply about your specific current context, your likely future requirements and design a process that reflects those.

2. Honesty is fundamental

Marriages based on false promises and expectations are doomed to failure. So too are the relationships between chief executives and leading members if either party is not honest about what each want, expect and can realistically deliver. 

3. Relationships are critical

Successful organisational leadership is built on relationships of trust and confidence. A sound recruitment process seeks ways to test that, and members should insist on spending good quality time with candidates. 

4. Appointing is not always the right answer

The pressure to appoint can be considerable once a process is underway, but the consequences of appointing the wrong person can be significant.  Although it requires honesty and a degree of bravery, pausing or stopping a process should always remain an option, even at the very end.  

5. Invest time 

Good hiring decisions require an investment of considerable time, attention and thought.  There is a balance to strike though; a process that is excessively time consuming or onerous for candidates risks putting off the best talent.

6. Ensuring the right cultural approach

The experience, skills and knowledge of your next chief executive are clearly important, but there is an increasing body of research that shows it is the values and behaviours of leaders that are the key factors that define success. Determining how these attributes align with those of your organisation – or indeed offer the potential for a change that you might want to see – is a critical part of the recruitment process. 

7. Knowing when to sell and when to buy

More than ever, recruitment is a two-way process and both organisations and candidates have choices. Although the balance changes through the process, you are selling your organisation and the opportunity right until your chosen candidate signs on the dotted line.

8. The role of the current chief executive

Your existing chief executive can be a valuable source of information and advice, but too much involvement (especially involving them in formal interviews) could be counterproductive. This is about the future and not the past, however good that has been.

9. Keep it confidential

For valid reasons, candidates may not want to publicly declare their interest in your organisation. All those involved in the recruitment process should do their best to ensure that it remains confidential.  Not doing so risks deterring the best candidates from applying or withdrawing. It is one of the first tests of trust between a council and its prospective future chief executive.

10. It’s not all about the final interview

The final panel interview should be the culmination of a process; the opportunity to draw all the evidence together and consider it in the round. You need to think carefully about who you ask to be involved in the wider process (such as external partners), how you involve them, what you expect of them and how you communicate your choice. 

All hiring decisions carry an element of risk and the consequences of getting them wrong vary. For obvious reasons, this is one where the repercussions of a poor decision can be far reaching and long lasting. Following these steps won’t guarantee success, but they will help to mitigate against failure.

Martin Tucker is managing director and founder of Faerfield