Are you being tasked with finding your company’s next leader?

May 2011: Three tips to consider when conducting a search for a new CEO

Question: Help! I have been asked to head a team conducting a search for CEO of our organization, but I haven’t done a job search before. I am really nervous about how to lead this team so we don’t waste a lot of time. Do you have any advice for me?

Dr. Alice Waagen says: I feel your pain. Last year, I was on the executive committee of a Board of Directors of a large nonprofit organization, tasked to find a replacement for the president / CEO. Since I was the only board member with HR experience, it fell on me to head up the search.

The first thing I did was place a call to my recruiter friends, who confirmed the fact that I was in for a challenge. The biggest impediment, they told me, was that there too many decision-makers involved in the hiring process. Heeding their advice, I followed a few simple processes that made the search run smoothly, and resulted in a highly qualified candidate pool.

Here’s how I did it, and how you can, too:

1. Plan, plan, plan. Lay out a process flow for the search detailing who will do what and when. Pay careful attention to documenting who will be responsible for any critical step like writing advertisements, receiving resumes, sorting resumes, and so on. Review the plan with all stakeholders and get consensus early on.

2. Create a clear, well-written position description. Ask the question: what do we want the person in this position to accomplish in 3 months, 6 months and one year. Write these requirements in observable, measurable language as desired performance outcomes. We based a lot of our thought in this step on the organization’s strategic plan.

3. Get a consensus on the position description from all of the stakeholders. Then use that description to craft all postings and advertisements, a phone screen interview log, a face-to-face interview sheet, and a candidate ranking form.

Do you see the pattern? One simple document, thoughtfully crafted and unanimously supported structures and documents the entire process, ensuring each applicant is assessed through the same lens.

This is critical when your search decisions involve multiple players. If everyone approaches the process with their own set of criteria and assumptions, you will have an extremely difficult time reaching agreement on a final candidate. Time spend up front thinking through the organization’s critical and immediate needs, then using these needs to drive the search resulted in a reasonable fast and painless process.

I am happy to report that the new president starts in a few weeks, and I am certain that he will have great success.

By the way, guess what we’ll use to create his performance plan for this year? Yes, that same position description.