Turning those needles in haystacks into broom handles

Recently I was approached by Alice, the Chair of mid-sized Not-for-Profit (NFP) who asked for advice on how to make mythical needles in a haystack into the size of broom handles.

Turns out Alice’s organisation had just conducted their own lengthy search for a new CEO using the major Job Board sites. This elicited a blizzard of applications from candidates only one of whom was considered a good fit. This preferred candidate was offered the position but, after some deliberation, decided to accept an offer from another NFP on the same package.

Understandably, she was extremely disappointed and frustrated with this outcome. Sensibly, however, Alice and her board realised that a repeat of the process was unlikely to yield a better result and was seeking advice on how to improve the odds of success next time.

As Alice further described her organisation’s recruitment strategy, it was clear that a great deal of time and internal resources had been devoted to finding their new CEO. Effort wasn’t an issue here, so what went wrong?

Well, basically their two actions Alice and her board could take to get more needles into the haystack and make those needles standout like broom handles.

The first requires an understanding that the reliance on Job Boards is only going to get the attention of possibly 30%, at best, of the possible talent pool. These are the people who are actively looking for a new assignment. The remaining 70% or “passive candidates” are reasonably happy with their current role and are focused on the task at hand. As the Chair found out, the cream of the 30% active executive job seekers are in high demand making access to the passive candidate pool an imperative. I provided some suggestions as to how her organisation may do this but realistically the best option is to engage an executive search specialist. I would like to think Cause and Effective is better than most at this, but that is Alice and her board’s call.

While the first action usually requires the assistance of a third-party, the second action is squarely in the board’s court.

Let’s assume Alice’s organisation can get in front of exceptional active and passive executive candidates, how do they ignite their interest?

Fundamentally, provided the salary package is reasonably competitive, it comes down to ensuring that the board has compelling answers to these questions both active and passive candidates invariably ask:

  1. Where does the board see the organisation in 3 years?

Generally, NFP’s, and Alice’s is no exception, are great at describing their Mission and stop there. To turn heads, it needs to clearly articulate how their community and the world will look when it achieves its mission. This vision should be bold, aspirational, forward-looking and engaging.

  1. Does the board have a genuine commitment and capacity to realise this vision?

Hopefully, the organisation will have a robust Strategic Plan, with an approved budget, which details the resources and actions needed to deliver it and bring the vision to a reality. Alice admitted this was area her organisation needed to tighten before going back to market. not, develop and implement one before going to market.

  1. What do you think are the biggest challenges for someone taking this position?

I pointed out to Alice that her organisation needed to demonstrate its openness and transparency by detailing the major challenges confronting the new person coming into this role. Don’t be evasive or guild the lily. Effective leaders will appreciate candour and, in all probability, will find the challenges aren’t new to them and, in many cases, play to their strengths.

  1. How will I get on with the Board?

This is a major concern for potential candidate’s, but Alice nailed it when she said that her board acknowledges that good relationships lie at the heart of every successful organisation and all board members are committed and skilled in entering into an impactful, mutually enriching partnership with the incoming executive. They believe that with this pivotal relationship in place, both the individual and the organisation they serve can truly flourish.

  1. How will this role impact on tomorrow’s opportunities?

Alice was a little taken aback with this question. While it may seem mercenary, I pointed her in the direction of Mark Miller’s excellent book, “How to Attract and Keep the Best People” which identifies that high performers are continually pursuing a brighter future. They see each role they accept as an opportunity to prepare for the future and want to know how the organisation will help them grow and provide a stepping stone to the beyond. This and Question 1 should flag to boards that the era of the 20 year + serving CEO is disappearing with the baby boomers and 3 – 5-year tenures are going to be the norm. Savvy NFP’s who can position themselves as career enhancers should be able to look forward to a steady stream of high performers well into the future.

Alice conceded that her organisation’s previous executive search didn’t really address these questions and could now see why they were left searching for a needle. However, she and her board but now had a strategy to get more of them into the haystack but this time they would be the size of broom handles. Easier to see and grab hold of.

When your cause-driven organisation is looking to recruit a new senior executive, why not give us a call? You will find our approach innovative and very cost-effective.

By Chris Gandy – Principal of Cause & Effective, a firm dedicated to connecting good causes with effective leaders.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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