There is no single decision-making process and structure that will work for every organization in every search. The purpose of this article is to outline some important considerations about search decision-making. Making choices in advance will help hiring managers — and the search firm partners who assist them — achieve the best possible search outcomes. Here we focus on searches in the field of development/advancement, though many of the considerations will apply to searches in other areas.
Delay is one of the most common obstacles to a successful search. As you will read below, a variety of factors can introduce delay. When it comes to talented advancement professionals, demand still greatly outpaces supply, so delay can easily result — and too often does result — in the loss of excellent candidates.
Search Committee vs. Search Advisory Committee
- Builds consensus
- Increases number of people who have a stake in the selected candidate’s success
- Gives participants a stronger sense of having had their say, particularly if a decision becomes difficult or politically charged
- Finding times when all committee members are available, for search meetings and for interviews, often causes delays
- Moving quickly when a strong candidate has a competing offer may be impossible
Search Advisory Committee
- Decision maker can gain perspective and consensus without committing to every committee member having a vote
- When quick movement is required, decision maker(s) are more empowered to proceed
- Those who gave input may feel ignored and feel less committed to the selected candidate’s success, especially if they favored another candidate and did not have the chance to vote
Recommendation: Where possible, form a search advisory committee rather than a search committee, reserving decision-making authority for a single decision maker or a small group that can move quickly and nimbly when needed.
Involving Others Beyond the Search Committee
- Provides decision maker(s) with additional perspective
- Increases likelihood of finding a good overall fit with the broader team
- Increases number of those who feel some stake in the outcome
- Gives candidates additional information as they reach their own conclusions about potential for success
- Reduces confidentiality/increases risk of breakdown in confidentiality of the process
- Sends a signal to candidates that decision makers are reluctant to make decisions without extensive input; could send signal that decisions are difficult for the organization to reach
- Could send signal that leaders don’t trust themselves and/or aren’t trusted by others to make decisions for the broader team
- Lengthens the time required for scheduling interviews and for interviewing and could delay a decision
Recommendation: Form a search advisory committee at the outset that represents all key stakeholders adequately and appropriately.
Involving Staff Members Who Will Report to the Selected Candidate
- Increases buy-in of direct reports and other staff members reporting to the selected candidate
- Provides candidate with better information on the team they will inherit
- High likelihood of signaling to candidates that they will not be empowered to make changes in the team, especially if staff members are asked or expect to participate in the hiring decision (as opposed to meeting with candidates for informational purposes only)
- Creates discomfort for most people involved if an internal candidate is being considered, especially if that person is already on the team that will report to the selected candidate, and even if that person is not involved in interviewing other candidates
- People who will report to the selected candidate have interests in the outcome that may not be fully aligned with what is best for the organization
Recommendation: In most cases, if staff members meet candidates before the hiring decision is made, make clear to them and to candidates that the purpose of the meeting is informational, and that direct reports will not be participating in the hiring decision. I have more than once seen a client, seeking significant change and growth in results, reject a candidate after staff members who would have reported to the candidate expressed discomfort with the choice, even after that candidate had been overwhelmingly the top choice of senior staff and board members. Chances are that staff members will circle the wagons when they perceive a potential threat to their employment or their colleagues’ employment, even in circumstances where they themselves have expressed the need for change.
Building a Pool
- Pool allows hiring managers to compare and contrast
- Seeing several candidates often sharpens understanding of what is most needed
- Building a pool requires time. Candidates identified early in the process are sometimes found quickly precisely because they offer an excellent fit; these candidates may have taken other positions by the time a pool is built. Or, they may feel that the organization is not as excited about them as they are about the organization, losing interest as a result.
Recommendation: Ultimately, one person is required to fill one position. A pool of candidates is almost always desirable, but sometimes it is not necessary, and this can be true whether a search committee and/or search firm is involved or not. When a search committee is assembled, or when a search firm is hired, hiring managers sometimes needlessly default to the position that a pool is required. Without a search committee or search firm, hiring managers will often hire opportunistically — they become aware of a strong potential team member through a friend, colleague, board member, or through a talent manager/human resources officer, and they jump at the possibility of bringing a highly qualified person on board. Think carefully about whether the use of a search committee and/or firm is sufficient reason to require, rather than simply desire, a pool.
Multiple Rounds of Interviewing
- The more exposure a candidate has to an organization and vice versa, the better understanding both candidate and hiring manager have as to the strength of the fit
- Multiple rounds of interviewing prolong the search process and risk loss of top candidates to other offers
- Multiple rounds can indicate cumbersome decision-making processes and/or lack of trust among decision makers
Recommendations: Determine at the outset the number of rounds that will be required for key stakeholders to gain the knowledge they require and for candidates to learn what they need to learn. Educate search firm partners so that they can screen properly and minimize the number of interviewing rounds that will be required. Schedule interview dates as far in advance as possible. If multiple rounds are required, ask all candidates being interviewed to hold dates for both rounds so that the second round can immediately follow the first. Explain to them that those who are selected to move to the final round will need to be prepared to do so quickly, so all candidates are being asked to hold both sets of dates.
In-person vs. Video Conference Interviewing
- In-person interviewing provides information that cannot be gleaned in any other way
- In-person interviews introduce great potential for delay, especially when schedules of multiple interviewers and multiple candidates are involved
- They increase the expense of a search
Recommendation: All hiring decisions should involve at least one in-person interview, but in many cases this can be reserved for the final round. Using video conference interviewing for the first round or rounds is often sufficient and the most effective way to narrow the pool while avoiding delays.