How to Navigate Critical Hires When the Future is Uncertain

29 April 2020
How to Navigate Critical Hires When the Future is Uncertain

Organizations that are missing critical skills on their executive teams are at a major loss in the current environment. But how do you bring on new leaders when the horizon is unclear? The right type of agile and courageous leader may be vital to the long-term success of the organization, but there are benefits to considering a shorter term hire to fill these type of roles. Interim executives are experts at onboarding quickly and can offer a pair of experienced hands for a specific length of time or project duration and can also provide ongoing fractional support and consulting to complement the existing leadership team.

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Leadership Interrupted

Just days before this pandemic hit North America, Odgers Berndtson released a global study revealing that, while 95% of senior executives believe that managing disruption well is vital to the success of their organizations, only 15% have confidence in their own leadership team’s ability to successfully do this. The Leadership Confidence Index, in association with Harvard Business Review Analytics, revealed an uncomfortable truth: most executives do not believe they have the right leadership in place to manage through a crisis.

Within the leadership team, CEOs, CFOs, CHROs, CIOs, and COOs are now being tested like never before as challenges around people, finance, and technology become increasingly overwhelming. If the required bench strength is missing internally, what can organizations do during a time when many companies are cutting back? We asked executive recruiters Emily Bell, Elaine Grotefeld, and Ross Woledge to share their insights.

Focus on the Key Roles

Organizations are working hard to be innovative and pivot right now, but that often means accessing a different type of talent or experience. “Some organizations are redeploying team members from other parts of the organization or leveraging mentorship from a Board Director or advisor, and this may provide the stopgap needed right now,” says Elaine Grotefeld, a Vancouver-based Partner with Odgers Berndtson. “If these are not viable options, organizations need to identify and prioritize areas where new leadership will deliver the most impact and explore hiring options.”

“Some of the organizations that we’re helping right now have gaps in their org charts, while others are thinking about bringing on functional experts in new areas to help them modify their operations or supply chains – there are definitely functions that are emerging as being most critical right now,” says Emily Bell, a Principal at Odgers Interim, a division of Odgers Berndtson that focuses on helping organizations access interim executives. “Aside from obvious areas like healthcare and food distribution, we’re seeing a surge in demand for executives with experience in technology and operations, and a growing need for HR and finance executives with experience leading through crisis and change.”

“In some cases, organizations cannot make do without certain roles in place” says Ross Woledge, leader of our CFO Practice. “We recently worked with the board of a financial institution to place a CEO and a CFO in a four-week timeframe – all completed through Zoom. It is remarkable, but at the same time businesses have to move forward and can’t wait this out until things improve”.

Finding the Right Type of Leaders

Executive teams and boards need to have honest conversations about the expertise they need right now. Who on the leadership team has experience managing a crisis or implementing a disaster recovery plan? Who can model out the different scenarios and make decisions without having 100% of the information? How do we develop succession plans to ensure that the right talent is in place to help us recover from this in the coming months?

In the Leadership Confidence Index, we found that certain qualities are more essential for effectively managing amid rapidly changing times. Traits like adaptability, courage, drive, and curiosity are critical leadership skills at this time. They must also be coupled with high emotional intelligence and strong communication skills to engage and inspire people to innovate, pivot, and stay motivated, especially while teams are working virtually.

“If your organization needs to fill a critical role right now, it’s important to find the type of people that do well and can lead through a crisis or major transformation,” says Ross. “How will they rally a team through some very long days and sudden pivots?”

“Structured, competency-based interviews (currently via video conferencing) and reference checks can help us determine who brings the skills and experience needed right now,” says Elaine. “Psychometric assessment is another way that we can help gauge a leader’s appetite for risk and learn more about relevant leadership traits and strengths.”

Consider an Interim Executive

For organizations facing layoffs, hiring freezes, or major re-organizations, this may not feel like the right time to bring in a new senior leader. But bringing in an interim executive who offers a much-needed skillset for a temporary period can offer several advantages for many companies right now.

“Most interim executives have experience entering new organizations under imperfect conditions,” say Emily. “They know how to onboard themselves quickly, and they also know how to stay focused and add value. Interim executives provide a steady pair of experienced hands for a specific length of time or project duration and can also provide ongoing fractional support and consulting to complement the existing leadership team.”

For organizations looking to position themselves for short- and long-term success, having the right skill sets to deal with this level of disruption is critical. Organizations tend to pivot to seasoned executives during a crisis – ideally people who have seen a lot and can apply lessons learned.

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