The right procedures for selecting a CEO and other Executive Director level staff

The right procedures for selecting a CEO and other Executive Director level staff

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]The impact of wrong hires at executives levels are huge and takes time to correct once such a mistake has been made.[/inlinetweet] Looking at our situation in Zimbabwe we have seen of late most senior executives being dismissed for various reasons. Some of the reasons are genuinely related to poor performance but a large number of these are on the basis of personality clashes between the Board and the concerned executives. In this article, I want to dwell on how to get the best executives into your organisation.

The first step before you hire an executive is to make sure you have developed the correct and ideal job profile for the person you are looking for. This cannot be done through your ordinary job description, which in most cases is copied from the internet or from another organisation.  Good job profiles, besides itemising the tasks and outputs expected in the job, digs deeper into what ability/cognitive, and personality profiles are required for someone to perform successfully in a role. To get this job profile, you need to you use validated job analysis methods, not generic profiles that I normally see being used locally. If you make mistakes on the job profile it means you will attract the wrong people for that job. It also means when shortlisting the candidates you will make mistakes as you may end up shortlisting the wrong people and omitting qualified and deserving candidates.

In the second step, you must think about how to source for the right candidates through advertising or headhunting. Each of these two methods has advantages and disadvantages.  Given the high stake involved in executive recruitment, it is important that the shortlisting of candidates be done independently by consultants regardless of which sourcing method you choose.

The third step of actually shortlisting the candidates once applications of CVs have been received needs to be done meticulously. On qualifications, do not overemphasize higher qualifications as these do not add significantly to better performance. Once a person meets the minimum requirement for the role there is not much-added advantage in taking those with higher qualifications. More years of education for people in the same role adds very little change to the performance variation of these people. Extra years of education above what is required as a minimum for a job adds only 1% variation in performance. Also, note that extra years of experience over and above the minimum required for a role only adds 2.6% variation in performance for the people in the same role. Another useless criteria employer’s use is age. Age adds 0% variation to performance, so why use it? Do not put too much weight on those who hold higher qualifications or experience above what is considered the minimum for the role as there is no guarantee that they will outperform those who are close to the minimum requirements. Against well-documented research evidence as outlined above, organisations still insist on higher qualifications and more experience as an added advantage when recruiting. If this is how you do it, you are probably missing talented people through your useless criterion.

The fourth step, once the Consultant has shortlisted the candidates you need to call people for interviews. Instead of going for a rational interview that we know is not reliable, I have a few suggestions which I will outline below. Research by Schmidt and Hunter has consistently shown that the interview method on average explains an average of 8% variation in employee performance. This means its predictive power is limited when it comes to predicting which employee will perform when put on the job.  There are number of reasons why the interview shows such low level of predictive power. Most interviews are unstructured and unstandardized. This means that candidates who have applied for the same job are asked sometimes questions that have nothing to do with the job hence making it difficult to assess their suitability for the job. Even in cases where there are asked questions related to the job, such questions are not consistently asked; they are not asked in the same way to all candidates making it difficult to assess and compare candidates vying for the same role. The other reason why interviews show low predictive power is interviewers are poorly trained and rarely come for the interviews prepared.

Once the Consultant has finished the initial shortlisting on the basis of minimum qualification required (for domain knowledge) and experience (for evidence of practice) the profiles of the shortlisted candidates must be submitted to the interviewing panel without names of candidates, companies they have worked for, age, or any other demographic data that may prejudice the candidate. The profiles will show their major achievements, industries or sectors they have worked for and years of experience at each level. Once the Board or panel is satisfied with the panel, the same candidates must go for psychometric profiling. This is meant to ensure the candidates have the cognitive capacity and personality profiles that fit the job at hand. Once the profiles have been done, they are presented to the Board with no information that will identify the candidates. The candidates that the Board will have approved at this stage will then go for interviews in the format outlined below.

Because of the high predictive power of psychometric assessments, there is a higher chance that anyone selected after psychometric assessments has a higher chance of succeeding in the target role. The next step is for the Consultant to call in candidates to come and work on a presentation for half or full day, to be delivered to the panel anonymously on another day. First, a written “bid” or presentation bearing no identification particulars except candidate number will be delivered to the panel for review. In the sealed bids, they outline what they are going to do when given the job and how they are going to deliver on their mandate.  Panellist will review the bids together following strict criteria and score each bid based on the written submissions. Once this process is done candidates are called again to present their bids/presentations in a room where panellist cannot see the candidates but they will be able to listen in to the audio from another room. After the presentation again, following strict criteria, candidates are rated by the panellists. Finally, candidates will be given an in-tray exercise to respond to typical scenarios they are likely to encounter on the job. Specialist and trained assessors will assess the candidates on their performance versus objective criteria.

The last part is the interview, which is going to be done without an interview panel seeing the candidate face to face. The interview panel will be in another room and candidates in another room under very tightly controlled conditions. All interviewers will need to be trained before embarking on the interview so that they understand how to ask and score candidates performance. Using Meehl’s rule that says “Never meet a job candidate until you want to make them an offer,” at the offer stage the top 2 or 3 candidates can meet the Board to see whom they can afford.

I strongly believe the well-structured recruitment and selection process incorporating the above steps and others steps which I could not go into, will give an organisation the best candidates for each role. When you select people on merit without the usual biases your organisation will succeed. So why are organisations not following good practices? The answer is only a good Board will listen to good advice. Some of the Boards have individuals who are too self-centred and driven by political agenda and this does not augur well for good governance required in the selection of executives.

Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. He is the president of the Zimbabwe Psychology Association. He hosts a radio program HR Perspective every Thursday at 1900hrs on Capitalk 100.4FM Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966  or email:  or visit our website at

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