Taking executive recruiting beyond cultural fit

Although it’s important to take culture into consideration when attempting to determine whether a prospective executive candidate will assimilate well into a company, some firms still find that they run into trouble even after factoring cultural fit into their searches.

“We’ve seen this problem before – a new executive arrives at the organization, and a mismatch between his work style and priorities and those of his new colleagues, together with his inability to tap into informal and formal sources of organizational power, prevents him from being as effective in his new role as he was in the last,” wrote Jean Martin, executive director of CEB’s Human Resource practice, in a recent piece for the Harvard Business Review’s Blog Network. “Within months, he is excluded from key networks and loses valuable information and leverage, quickly reducing his chances of succeeding. Isolation starts the downward spiral of underperformance.”

In a bid to head off this phenomenon at the pass, some companies are taking their efforts to the next level by focusing on a largely untapped element of executive recruiting.

“The best organizations are shifting their executive hiring efforts from finding the best culture fit to finding the best network fit,” observed The Corporate Executive Board (CEB).

What is network fit?

CEB defined network fit as “a more colleague-centric, work-centric type of fit” that offers an idea of how well a potential hire is likely to fare in the corporate environment of a particular firm. Being able to gauge this is critical, as a CEB study revealed that poor team collaboration is a common reason for external leaders’ failures at the corporate level.

According to Martin, expanding hiring criteria to be more colleague-centric could be a powerful antidote to this state of affairs. The approach certainly worked for global industrial manufacturer Ingersoll Rand, which was able to gain a more complete view of potential candidates’ styles of working after it incorporated the following four “fit categories” into its executive search and recruitment process:

  • career experience
  • knowledge
  • leader behaviors
  • values

Cohesion vs. disruption

Of course, not all executive search initiatives are launched in the hope of finding a leader who fits seamlessly into a company’s existing framework. In some instances, organizations are looking for quite the opposite, and disruption is the name of the game. The status quo is not always the best and most efficient approach out there, and how better to shake things up within the workplace than by bringing in an external leader?

Companies that bring professionals on board for this purpose must make sure to fully brief candidates on their intentions. Disruptors should be extremely aware that their presence will likely be met with resistance, as members of the workforce are often reluctant to embrace change. This is especially the case when employees don’t see any significant shortcomings associated with the current ways of doing things, as they will likely subscribe to a mentality of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In-house management recruiters vs. external executive recruiting firms

According to Martin, a study conducted by CEB found that outside recruitment firms were better at pinpointing a successful executive match than in-house professionals – a finding that may come as a surprise considering that in-house recruiters are presumably more familiar with their own companies’ requirements than outsiders.

“We’d expect to see in-house recruiters having a clear advantage in selecting for network fit since they live in those networks in their own work lives,” she wrote. “Yet, according to our study, less than one-third of in-house recruiting teams did better than outside firms at predicting a successful fit. In the rush to fill open positions, many in-house recruiting departments are not incorporating their knowledge of how existing teams work in making final selection decisions.”

In contrast, external search and recruitment firms draw upon their wealth of expertise and connections to zero in on candidates with optimal backgrounds and skill sets while assessing culture and network fit.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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