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Guest: Craig Coleman, a highly-experienced entrepreneur and CEO, and now a coach at CEO Coaching International. Craig co-founded ForwardLine Financial, a nationwide small business lender, and FowardLine Payment Services, a nationwide full-service payment processor. In Craig’s 15 years as CEO, ForwardLine achieved 15 years of consecutive growth, and in 2015, Craig led a successful sale. Craig was also a Vistage member from 2006-2017 and a CEO Coaching International client from 2011-2017.
Episode in a Tweet: Five proven tips for acing senior hires.
Quick Background: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is absolutely critical to have the absolute top people working on your leadership team. But how do you land those superstars that separate the good companies from the great companies? How do you get a senior hire right so you don’t waste time and money cleaning up the wrong hire’s mess?
On today’s show, Craig discusses the proven best practices that he uses throughout the interview process to narrow the field, ensure culture fit and skill alignment, spark productive background checks, and put together a team that will make BIG happen.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
Key Insights on Acing Senior Hires
1. Gauge the candidate’s response to your vision.
“First and foremost an entrepreneur must have a powerful vision and a commitment,” advises Craig. “There’s a point in the interview where you really want to share that vision with the candidate. And when I do, I look for the response in the candidate. Does it look like it’s getting them excited? I look at not just their physical cues, but what are they saying verbally. Does it really sound like something they want to be on board with? You can see by their reaction if you’re enthralling the candidate and if they’re getting excited. That’s always been to me the real test of whether the vision resonates with the potential candidate.”
Ultimately, if a potential senior hire isn’t as excited about your vision as you are, then ask yourself, “Why does this person really want to work here?” Your business is not a stepping-stone, and it’s not a paycheck. Move on from any candidate you suspect may view it as such.
2. Culture fit trumps skill set.
“Cultural fit is really non-negotiable,” Craig says, and I couldn’t agree strongly enough. No one person, no matter how talented, is worth disrupting the very heart and soul of your company – especially a senior hire who is going to wield so much day-to-day responsibility while you’re focusing on top-level CEO tasks.
Craig has a unique recommendation for testing how a candidate will gel with your company’s culture: get finalists in a room with the other members of your leadership team. “Have them talk to the candidate about the job that you need the candidate to do and how he or she is planning to get that job done,” advises Craig. “This is a way to get your team’s assessment of whether they feel like this candidate is the right fit for your culture and your company, whether they think the candidate can succeed there. You’re ultimately getting the team’s buy-in in your hiring decision.”
3. Use the Talent Insights Profile.
At CEO Coaching International, we’re big believers in using the Talent Insights Profile to drill down into what makes a potential hire tick. Identifying those key personality traits and motivators is even more important when considering a senior hire.
And Craig agrees. “The Talent Insights Profile tells you how the candidate approaches challenges,” he says. “It tells you the style that they use to influence people. It tells you the pace at which they’re comfortable working and also how they handle rules and procedures. It shows how the candidate operates in a normal context and also when they’re under pressure. It also tells you what motivates the candidate. This is a statistically validated assessment tool. It’s really valuable to have that information on the candidate as you continue through the hiring process.”
4. Establish context and ask the right questions.
“You start out by defining success,” Craig says. “What this candidate needs to achieve and the time in which they need to achieve it. You define the context in which they’ll work, the resources that they’ll have available to them, the budget, people and infrastructure. Then you want to hear the candidate talk about how they’re going to accomplish that objective.”
In other words, never forget that you’re making this senior hire for a reason. You’re not chasing a shiny new object to show off, you’re hiring someone to get results.
But at the early stages of the process, you want to steer the conversation back to the candidate’s personality and potential culture fit. “I’m always asking them why they do what they do, why they are in that particular field and getting a sense of their passion for that field,” Craig says. “I’m always asking what they’re looking for in their next opportunity and really want to get a sense of that before we get into too many specifics about the job at hand.”
Another smart tip from Craig: even if you think you’ve identified an ideal candidate, it’s best to interview multiple candidates. “It’s like you’re getting four or five different opinions from someone with expertise on how they would essentially achieve what you want to achieve in your business,” he says. Total cost to you for this valuable information: zero dollars.
5. Upgrade your standard background checks.
Obviously, your team needs to do its homework and look for any red flags in the candidate’s background. But Craig tries to go beyond standard criminal history searches and nice phone chats with references.
“One of the things I’m always trying to do in that reference call is frame the discussion in a way that really encourages the reference to be candid,” he says. “For instance, I may say, ‘Candidate X is super talented, but I really want to make sure he or she is the right fit for our organization, or it’s going to be really disruptive for him or her, and for us as a company.’” By framing it this way, the person making the reference will be at ease and more likely to shoot straight with you instead of giving you some unhelpful nonsense.
If you’re as plugged into what’s happening in your business space as you should be, then you should also have a network of backchannel resources at your disposal. Ask around. You know someone who knows someone who worked directly with this potential senior hire, maybe even as a supervisor. Gather as much information as you possibly can to inform this critical decision, get it right the first time, and then get your new team member to work and generating results.
1. A senior hire has to buy in to your vision and get excited about achieving it.
2. A senior hire has to mesh with your corporate culture, not the other way around.
3. A senior hire has to define success in a way that will achieve your goals for the position and the company.