When leadership fit goes wrong; avoid these four common mistakes…

By Matt Dallisson, 27/01/2018

When it all goes wrong

In today’s more competitive and complex landscape the pressure for results has narrowed the focus on how to create workplaces where talent can both thrive but also fit for the long term. With so much effort spent understanding how leadership, vision and values create success, it is a surprise that finding and keeping talent still goes wrong so often; 46% of senior hires do not work out as expected after 18 months cites Mark Murphy in his book ‘Hiring for Attitude’.  Most research reveals what we already know; that this is typically down to a mismatch on values driving behaviour at odds with how the rest of the organisation operates.

In our work as global executive search consultants we understand from our breadth and depth of experience across markets, geographies and functions where organisations typically often go wrong when looking for new talent. Here are four steps to avoid the most common mistakes.

Step 1: Work out what matters and be realistic

Obvious as it sounds, know what you are looking for is feasible. It’s surprising how often, after putting some outside perspective on what the ideal candidate looks like, we see that clients realise the combination of values and behaviours they seek don’t sit comfortably.

Be realistic and you won’t have to compromise later or be left frustrated you can’t find talent that fits. Make sure you consult through the organisation and focus on what behaviours will deliver success instead of overly focusing on technical competence, which happens too often in our experience. Leadership talent will prove successful where there is a fit with how they deliver, as much as what they deliver.

Step 2: Unpack your values

For this reason you cannot spend too much time re-examining your organisation’s values and the behaviours for success that will deliver on company objectives. These should fundamentally and honestly reflect ‘what’s it like to work around here?’  Often value sets are lifeless and don’t truly reflect the organisations heartbeat.

Without this deep appreciation of how the company ticks assessing talent that will transplant into it and thrive is extremely risky. Often less is more; too many values suggest a lack of knowledge of what really will make a difference, and certainly makes identifying which behaviours will or won’t integrate more difficult. It is critically important to have values that follow through into meaningful, recognisable, and distinct behaviours that offer a clear set of parameters to assess against.

Step 3: Be open and transparent

Take this deep understanding of who your organisation is and share the bad as much as the good when bringing new talent in. Don’t keep what you know to be true about yourself private; in the push to attract the best it is too easy to paper over ‘faults’ which later become the reason said talent then fails to fit. When we talk with active candidates where a career move hasn’t worked out this is usually down to finding behaviours that could have been perceived as negative were ‘left out’ of discussion during the selection process. We hear ‘if only I’d known I could have prevented it’; it is obvious that no-one (employer or employee) wants a marriage that quickly turns into a messy divorce so be completely open about who you are throughout the process.

Step 4: Hire for layers of FIT and assess accordingly

The selection process too often follows a standard set-of-steps that do not reflect the hiring culture and allow from the start the opportunity to start assessing multiple layers of fit. As discussed, too much focus is given to assessing technical competence at the expense of digging deep enough into other areas of fit.

At Snowdon Tate we have developed a leadership FIT methodology that should be useful with your own assessment of talent. This delivers a robust evaluation of six layers of leadership fit, which are:

Layer 1: Attitudinal Fit

Here we assess fit across a number of themes related to attitude, including their values set and leadership ethos and how this has driven their career path to create a story with drivers that is likely to fit (or not) with our clients culture. A key part of this includes building an understanding of their risk profile, and how this maps against the decision making process client side to ensure a match.

Layer 2: Expectation Fit

Critical to ensuring both parties are in the same place regarding deliverables, here we explore what expectation there is around short, medium, and long term outputs. With these matched it is important to marry what high performance can deliver in terms of career progression; lack of it is the reason talent often leaves their employer which makes checking this expectation important. As part of this check how remuneration is likely to improve in the future and what structure this could take adds an additional layer of fit usually overlooked.

Layer 3: Team / Diversity Fit

Having teams that are intellectually and demographically diverse able to identify and work with multiple points-of-view is a key metric. By questioning where and how talent has set vision and delivered change a clear picture is created of their ability to empathise, influence across diverse opinions and galvanise opinion to create positions of strength essential in today’s globalised marketplace.

Layer 4: Capability Fit

Here we assess the technical and functional skills talent has to give. It is here that most selection processes focus their attention, which is in some ways understandable but reveals only part of the picture. Within this layer we probe also across both intellect and leadership competencies to complete a thorough assessment and match for both parties. Behavioural interviewing techniques reveal deeper insights into the fundamental values that drive a candidate’s behaviour that surface to affect their leadership style and judgement.

Layer 5: Integration Fit

This layer of fit has some links with team / diversity fit but focuses on understanding how an individual can adapt to lead in a new organisation during the critical first 100 days. By probing how they have managed previous moves, the approach they have taken and why, additional and important insights into how their approach will work (or not) during the on boarding process.

Layer 6: Practical Fit

Assessing the practical hygiene factors and expectation includes checking there is a match on remuneration, mobility, formal qualifications, location and so on. Given the trend towards many international companies now putting talent locally into emerging markets mobility in particular can surface as a mismatch on practical fit so worth checking in detail.

Using these six layers of fit we score for the degree of compatibility. This creates a clear picture of where there is risk and/or further investigation needed to ensure there is real potential for a long-term match.

There will always be an element of art and science that plays its part in assessing how well new talent will fit and deliver for an organisation; by following these steps you will move closer to a process that delivers success.

Let us know your experiences / thoughts on how best to assess leadership fit. Also if you would like to discuss any of the points in this piece. We’re always pleased to hear from you.

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By Matthew Dallisson, who advises companies to find, attract and keep great leaders with insights drawn from over a decade in executive search and leadership consulting.