Why does executive search have such a high failure rate and what can you do about it?

Why does executive search have such a high failure rate and what can you do about it?

As the leaders, doers and decision makers at the heart of your business, you know as well as us that overall performance is heavily influenced by your executive team. So, when it’s time to fill executive roles, you are going to pull out all the stops to make sure you hire the best people.

Many companies are still trying to find the perfect candidates through executive search alone. Yet, this is often a huge gamble — it’s estimated that 40% of executive searches fail. Furthermore, 50% of leadership transitions fail within the first 18 months. Pretty poor odds for such an important process. So what exactly is it that makes executive search and leadership selection so risky?

Why does executive search miss the mark?

Executive searches can have a tendency to focus on misleading factors and make costly hiring decisions as a result. Most of the time, they don’t realise that they are looking at ‘talent’ in the wrong way. Here at Chemistry, we strongly believe that talent is abundant but only thrives in the right context. Each individual simply needs to be placed in a role they truly flourish in, and this conviction is at the heart of our own leadership selection methodology. Simply put, we help you to define what is required for successful performance in your unique context, and support your Executive Search by accurately profiling the potential leaders for your business.

What are the main drawbacks of executive search?

Executive search may sound like a foolproof way to fill key positions. But once you take a look at its many flaws, it’s hardly surprising that the right people for these jobs are so often missed.

1. Early miscommunication

The initial conversations between an executive search firm and its client are crucial, but the company’s critical performance criteria may not be immediately obvious meaning the wrong people will be shortlisted. Then throw in the fact there could also be internal miscommunications, potentially leading to vague or inaccurate job descriptions. In fact, a 2016 survey revealed that over a quarter of businesses struggle to write effective job descriptions. If the requirements can’t be put into words, how will an executive search firm ever find the right person?

That’s why, here at Chemistry, we do this heavy lifting for you. Our one-of-a-kind process called What Great Looks Like (WGLL™) uses objective performance and psychometric data to define the traits associated with high performance in a specific role, in a specific workplace. And since these insights are all grounded in science, there’s no risk of misinterpretation or miscommunication when we define your organisation’s requirements.

2. Over-reliance on surface details

Research is one of the most important parts of executive search, but sometimes recruiters don’t look beneath the surface. Now we aren’t saying that recruiters for senior executive positions are going to just look at someone’s LinkedIn profile (we hope rookies aren’t doing this either given that 34% of LinkedIn users lie about their work experience – eek!), but they may not have the context of someone’s previous successes (and failures at the front of their mind).

Think about it, how useful is a CV really? Sure, you get a flavour of a candidate’s background and experience, but here at Chemistry we don’t care so much about what they’ve done in the past — we want to know what they’ll go on to do for your business. Just because you’ve created massive growth at a challenger business doesn’t mean you are right to lead a FTSE100 after all. So, once we’ve used WGLL™ to pinpoint the desired skills and traits, we use our Five Box Model to map these characteristics against Intellect, Personality, Motivation, Behaviour and Experience. Then we can profile the ideal executive candidate. This person has everything they need to thrive in your organisation (even if their CV is a little unconventional).

3. Data overload

High profile people tend to be the ones filling high profile positions, which means there will be lots of information about them for executive search firms to sift through. This data overload could do more harm than good if recruiters aren’t sure exactly how to manage, process, and handle it all. And the last thing you want is an executive candidate who has been shortlisted based on details that ultimately don’t amount to much. This is often why the very best candidates slip away.

Following the Chemistry approach eliminates this risk because we only focus on the most likely indicators of excellent future performance. We only select candidates based on the combination of skills and traits your business needs to succeed, and if our methodology shows they aren’t a good fit, the noise surrounding them isn’t going to change that.

4. Limiting policies

No-one really talks about this but every executive search firm has its own policies, and occasionally these restrict who they can approach for executive roles. For example, maybe they won’t recruit candidates who work for previous clients for a statutory period of time. This seriously reduces the scope of a search, making it harder to find the perfect people.

There’s no need to worry about this when you work with Chemistry. We have no policies like this in place and are able work in tandem with your in house team or Executive Search agency. All we care about it is finding the best leader for you no matter what.

5. Lack of objective framework

Most of us are completely unaware of the unconscious biases that impact our everyday decisions, and these can lead to big mistakes in an executive search. For example, a perfect candidate might not look so appealing if they’ve worked for a company with a bad reputation (and vice versa). Personal biases can be just as problematic (according to Business Insider, employers can be influenced by everything from a candidate’s posture and handshake, to their clothes and accent). This lack of objectivity means someone destined for success could easily be turned down for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance. Scary, right? Especially when most Executive screening for Leadership positions is conducted by a limited number of people often in informal settings.

That’s why the Chemistry approach is completely unbiased. As we’ve already mentioned, our core belief is that talent is abundant but only thrives in the right context. What if the best candidate just hasn’t found the right context until now? We take candidate names, job titles and CVs out of the process and focus exclusively on behavioural assessments and interviews, mapping these findings against WGLL™ and our Five Box Model to identify those matching our profile of success. This can have surprising results — our insights often find that the best person for the job isn’t the obvious choice. And thanks to our unbiased approach, the chosen candidate is given the context they need to thrive, and your business gets to reap all the benefits.

How to succeed? Incorporate leadership selection methodology

We aren’t saying ditch your Executive search agency, far from it. Their focus is on pulling together a shortlist of potential candidates and they are great at it. However, bolstering your Executive Search process with Chemistry’s unique leadership selection methodology means that you’re covered against all the areas where executive search often fails. After all, what good is it having an impressive shortlist if the best of the bunch isn’t selected at the end?

We can help you identify the individuals who won’t just do the job well, but also excel in your unique workplace context. Almost 50% of senior hires fail in the first 18 months, and 68% of those are unsuccessful due to a poor cultural fit. It doesn’t take a genius to tell you how important it is to make sure a potential candidate matches the company as well as the role.

Like we said, our focus isn’t what candidates have achieved in the past — it’s what they’ll go on to achieve for your business. Our leadership selection methodology combines scientific data with human insights, pinpointing the people with the traits and behaviours needed for success in line with your organisation’s unique systems, processes and strategies.

If your business has an executive position that needs filling, get in touch with Chemistry and find out What Great Looks Like for you.

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