(Reposted from Daniel Goleman, author of The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education; February 14, 2013)

Any organization can greatly benefit from hiring the right people in the top positions. But how do you do it right?

Desperate or haphazard hiring of executives can risk sinking even the sturdiest of companies. I recently spoke with Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a top global expert on hiring and promotion decisions, for my Leadership: A Master Class series. Here are some of his recommendations for hiring the right person for the C-Suite.

“While making great people decisions is brutally hard, the good news is that this is not an art, or the result of intuition. This is a craft and a discipline that can be learned, and should be learned.

When do I make a change?

We tend to make a people change when someone is having poor performance. And it seems obvious, but that’s not the right answer. Plenty of research shows that people procrastinate. There’s research by McKinsey and others that show approximately 90% of executives consider their organizations lousy at removing poor performers. Can you imagine a soccer team where you don’t remove 90% of the poor players?

So when should you make a people change? Not by looking at the past performance, but by looking at the future. Here’s why. Someone can have an outstanding performance today, at a lower level, less demanding job. You promote that person to a much more complex job at a much higher level and the person can fail miserably.

What do I look for in a candidate?

If there is one generalization you can make about what to look for in a candidate, it’s to watch for the soft. We tend to promote people or to hire people based on how clever they are; not measuring IQ but looking at their hard experience. All of that counts. But all the research that I’ve done in different parts of the world shows that while you need relevant experience for a senior position, the executives that make it or break it have well-developed emotional intelligence-based competencies.

When I first did the analysis of the first 250 people I had personally hired in Latin America, I classified them as successes and failures. When I looked at the correlation between those decisions where I was just looking at the hard factors, IQ and experience, I would fail 25% of the time. One out of four searches. In the cases that I checked for emotional intelligence-based competencies, I would only fail 3% to 4% of the time.

Where do I find candidates?

People often have their own preferences based on company traditions or personal preferences. The rule of thumb is that if you want to promote big change you bring in an outsider. Otherwise you promote from within. But I’ve learned that you should look both inside and outside the organization. Consider a wide pool of candidates, check for the relevant competencies for the job, and promote or appoint the best person.

How do I assess candidates?

Our brain is programmed to make unconscious snap judgments, which are very long on snap but very short on judgment. They are based on the similarity, familiarity, comfort and so on. Try to avoid that temptation. Next you should make sure that you do two these things for great assessment. One is, of course, to use a proven competency model to identify the relevant competencies for each job, and at which level you need the candidates to demonstrate competence. Then you check that with a combination of well-structured interviews and reference checks. Those are the tools.

The second important recommendation for assessment is involving the right people to interview the candidates. These are people who are familiar with the job. They’ve been trained in assessment techniques and have the right motivation for a valid assessment.”

Read Claudio’s latest HBR article “How to Pick the Next Pope” for additional executive search recommendations.

13f6621Daniel Goleman’s latest management training series Leadership: A Master Class is available from More Than Sound.

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