When Hiring is a Team Sport

people gathered around a table

Acumen often works with hiring teams to bring in new executive leadership. Whether a Board, Commission, or Hiring Committee this process provides unique challenges and opportunities. Here are a few tips and tricks to navigate hiring when it is a team sport:

  • Get aligned on the game plan up-front! Know the skills, experiences, values, and leadership styles for the ideal candidate. Do not wait until you are interviewing to decide what are the most important aspects for the new leader. Some conversation starters to build consensus include:  
    • What worked/didn’t work with the last person in this or a similar role?
    • What are the top three problems this new leader needs to solve?
    • How will you measure success at 6 months, 1 year, and beyond?
    • What values align with your organizational culture and mission?  
  • Get input from the team. Input from multiple stakeholders (supervisors, peers, business/community partners, and direct reports) can be especially valuable if all the members of the hiring team interact with the role you are filling from the same viewpoint – such as a Board.  Ask questions that are relevant and in the purview of each stakeholder group. Leadership changes are a top reason people leave an organization, getting input from team members across the organization can also help ease worry about this transition.
  • Engage all the players before you need to hire. Allow time and resources for staff at all levels to build a diverse network and amplify your organization as a great place to work.
  • Prepare for today’s field conditions. Candidates are most often currently employed and have several opportunities that they are considering. A slow or unorganized process can let good candidates slip through your fingers.   
    • Engage top candidates quickly and often. Even a 30-minute call with the hiring manager or Board Chair can keep your top candidates interested until you are able to schedule a panel interview.  
    • Develop a unique selling proposition for this role and make sure each team member can clearly articulate why someone should leave their current job or choose this role over another opportunity.
    • Be prepared to be interviewed, as much as interview and leave dedicated time for candidate questions in interview panels.
  • A panel interview requires a game plan. Panel interviews are vital in getting input and buy-in from multiple stakeholders, yet you need to carefully consider both the panelists and candidates in this process. Consider the panel format. Put the candidate in a situation that will assess the skills needed for the role. Rapid-fire
    • “surprise” questions might be good if you are hiring a public-facing CEO, yet a manager in a technical field might be better assessed by having questions in advance. What is the purpose of each question?
    • Choose questions that will address the skills, experiences, values, and leadership style that you all agreed to at the beginning of the process.
    • Plan how you are gathering feedback and making the decision. Is the panel making the decision or just providing input? Will you use a rating scale or discuss feedback?
  • Even with the best intentions, the hiring panels’ unconscious biases can impact the interview process. Here are a few resources that we recommend all panels review before beginning interviews. Review this basic overview article, by Lou Adler, CEO, Performance-based Hiring Learning Systems,  and this 2019 King County Washington training video offers a good explanation of bias and how to reduce its impacts with panel interviews
    • Leave time for the candidates’ questions. Make sure all panelists understand the value of candidates’ questions and respect the time set aside for this. These questions help assess thought processes and leadership style, this also allows the candidate time to see if this role is a good fit for them.
    • Remember panel interviews are stressful. If the candidate might have misunderstood the intention of the question or did not fully answer all parts of a question, encourage the panel to ask follow-up questions to give the candidate time to address what they missed.  
  • Arrange a walk-through.  If possible, don’t make the panel interview the only interaction between the candidate and your organization.
    • One-on-one time with the hiring manager or some peers goes a long way to let the candidate ask questions and get to know the organization.
    • Give time for less formal conversations; lunch or dinner provides a casual setting to talk and engage top candidates. It is never too early to start integration into the organization and build team dynamics.    

Bringing in new leadership can be time-consuming, stressful… and very important. We encourage you to engage teams in this process.  Not only does this ensure a decision that considers the perspective of many stakeholders, but it also helps with the eventual integration of this new leader into the team.