Q # 1 Accelent: What did you learn in your last executive hiring process?
A# 1 Dan Neely: The biggest thing I learned was that patience is key. As we went through our process, we had two junctures where we came to an end point. In the first juncture, we got to a point that we had three candidates, we thought were solid candidates. They all met some criteria, but didn’t meet all of our criteria. There was a feeling that maybe we didn’t have the right candidate, so we decided to keep searching. That can be an uncomfortable place because there’s obviously pressure in the market and you want to get it done fast, so you can get to market faster. However, I think that being willing to stop and take on that short delay now, was definitely worth it in the long run. I think that patience with the process was key to getting the right person in the right seat.
Q#2 Accelent: What’s the key to successful onboarding, and why?
A#2 Dan Neely: There are many things you can do to onboard a new hire and make sure that they have what they need to get through that process. There’s obviously learning the business, etc., but success, for me, is figuring out the blind spots of your new executive, allowing them space to get up to speed with your business, and, at the same time, give them an environment that is full of trust where they can start exercising some of their input in a way that is safe for them and also safe for your company.
During the interview process, I typically ask the final two-three candidates to develop a 90-day plan and a year-end retrospective… if they fast forwarded twelve months from now, what has happened during that year. That is a generally a positive process to use for many things, but I think for me it’s one that gives you insight into what the blind spots are of that candidate. You may also hear feedback on blind spots through reference checking. Those are then the areas that we focus on when we’re onboarding that person.
The second thing is to give them space so they can learn the business and get work done. Any great executive hire is going want to jump into making an impact right away, but we want them to understand that we want him/her to learn the business first.
If we do that, we have to also give them a “safe” environment where they can exercise their input. Safe being that it’s not going to impact colleagues negatively or leave them thinking, “who is this person that just came on and is trying to make a bunch of changes?”. Instead, we want all feeling that it is a safe environment where everyone can collaborate really well, it sets a strong foundation for the company and executive much faster than 90 to 180 days many have come to expect as the norm.
Q#3 Accelent: “Why are the first ninety days important?”
A#3 Dan Neely: The goals of the first ninety days are important, but that time frame also allows you to put a box around “a thing.” I go back to my answer on question two, that a 90-day plan and an annual plan are important.
The reason the two are important is, one, they are going to give you an idea of what the candidate expects to accomplish so you can both agree to an explicit or implicit contract: “here’s what I am going to do” and “here’s what you’re going to do.”
Two, it also allows the candidates to have some frame of reference on their expectations for the business, their direct reports, and also the person they report to. It puts a box around many aspects that force you to have a very candid conversation. It’s then less about ninety days, and more about the process that you put a box around what we’re all going to accomplish.
Three, it also allows, as I said, a tracking at the end of that ninety days, to identify if we did or did we not accomplish those goals.
Four, I also think it gives both the candidate and the company a point of reference. After the first ninety days, they’re going to know a whole bunch more about each other then they did during a three-month recruiting process, when they spent only snippets of time together. I think it also allows a candidate to be introspective.
Q#4 Accelent: What do you think you can do to be more successful working with executive search firms?
A#3 Dan Neely: I don’t necessarily think this has to do just with executive search firms, but has to do with anyone that is outside of your business- whether it’s new partners that come in, new vendors, a new benefits firm that you decided to select, etc. I think what’s important is a state of curiosity. If I were to look at myself two years ago, working with search firms, I wasn’t that curious about what they did and how they did it. Since we worked with accelent, I have that sense of curiosity to understand why things happen and what I could have done differently.
It’s about being more and more curious about what’s going on versus, “Hey how many did we get? Who did we speak to? What’s the next thing, etc.” When you start to get a sense of curiosity, you question things like, “Why did we pick that person? Why did that person get through the interview process, why did we allow them through and should we or would we have allowed them through again?”
As you get to the end of the process where you ultimately pick your final candidate, if you’ve been curious about the whole thing, you’re learning along the way. I think that is how we’ve become more successful at working with executive search firms, in general. It’s having a sense of curiosity versus being the state that “we’ve just got to get this done.”
Q#5 Accelent: What advice would you give another executive that’s considering working with an executive search firm?
A#5 Dan Neely: Right, so I go back to the answer I just gave which is to have a sense of curiosity. I also think that patience is a key thing, and the two are part and parcel. I think that in being more patient, you get more curious.
When you are not in a state of curiosity, you all of a sudden take on the natural human tendency to fight, flee or freeze. When any of that happens to your business, it generally causes chaos. When you’re in a state of curiosity and ask questions like, “Why are we having such a struggle getting people so engaged? Is it because of how we described the role? Is it because of how our first meeting goes? Is it because I’m not spending enough time with the CEO on this specific recruit, because I should be spending more time on it?” When you get that sense of curiosity you start thinking about how you can do something about it versus things happening to you. If I can do something about it, then you’re going to end up generally in a better place.