How to streamline thoughts, ideas and opinions in a hugely diversified executive level hiring committee when recruiting CEOs

By Steen Gravers

Over the years, I have several times had the opportunity to assist companies and organisations in finding their new CEO. Often the counterpart and final decision maker is the Chairman of the Board but now and again the cooperation partner and deciding part is the entire board or even a selected hiring committee. In the latter situation, the hiring committee is often composed by a broad variety of people – in experience, background and demography -  with very different thoughts, ideas and opinions on what should be the focus areas of the new CEO and accordingly on the profile of  the new top executive.

How do you skilfully approach the situation so the result will be a feeling that everybody has been heard and involved, and that there is wide agreement and consensus on the profile?

In my experience, most people in hiring committees initially have quite set opinions on how their new CEO should be or sometimes maybe even on who it should be. This means that if you, as the chairman of the hiring committee or as the Executive Search Consultant, allows it, the discussions can go on for hours without any real outcome and maybe even cause a certain level of frustration. Items like professional background, companies or organisations that they "must" come from or have been in, years of experience versus talented up-comer, commercial or operations – the topics and opinions are numeral.

Having often been in these situations, trying to manage the process balancing everybody's opinions and input, I have implemented a method that works for me – and happily also for the hiring committees – talk results ... not profile.

In Mercuri Urval, we have developed and refined our C-B-R-model (Capability – Behaviour – Results) for use in a number of client dialogue situations. And for this particular situation, I have found it very useful.

In our definition

  • "Capability" is the sum of everything a working person is (personality), can do (skills and experience) and likes to do (motivation)
  • "Behaviour" is obviously how you apply your capabilities in a working situation, and
  • "Result" is the outcome

Attack the situation from the other end – talk RESULTS

As previously mentioned, most people not engaged in hiring on a professional basis often initially focuses on the "skills and experience" part, and you will either see this explicitly in the one-pager demand-profile they half-heartedly prepared or in how they attack the problem verbally. If you let yourself be forced down that alley you will eventually find yourself in the situation of the frustrated restaurant waiter who tries to get a grasp on 6 – 8 people all wanting different starters, main courses and desserts but expects the same excellent experience in the end. Not a recommendable path.

What actually works is attacking the situation form the other end. Ask the hiring committee:

  • "What kind of results do you expect from your new CEO"?
  • How is the business situation positively different one year or 3 years from now, due to the efforts of this person?

When you talk business and results, you focus the discussion in areas where everybody can agree more easily and then you are off to a good start.

Discuss and clarify the result demands/expectations and get a broad and common accept of these. When this is obtained, you can move on to how this affects the behaviour of the person. "When you look at the future CEO in his/her daily work what do you expect to see?" The behaviour discussion often also gives you a good impression of cultural fit and important values of the company as well as the individuals of the committee.

Now you know and have a common agreement on the expected results and behaviour and can more easily go into the discussion about what this means when setting the demand profile. "What professional background, what personality and what motivation is needed in order to apply the right behaviour creating the expected results?"

Bottom-line and important learning: Talking result demands makes the discussion concrete and rational – talking profile makes the discussion fragmented and to some degree emotional.

Applying this method helps you control the process, align expectations more easily, get everybody on the same page quickly and secure the best foundation for a successful recruitment.


Want to learn more about this subject? Feel free to contact Steen Gravers, Partner & Director at Mercuri Urval's office in Copenhagen