Headhunter Confidential: Project to Perm – Executive Hiring Hindsight

Headhunter Confidential – The world of project to perm.

Talk to any CEO, business owner, headhunter or HR talent manager and this list of horror stories about hiring the wrong executive is endless.  Most executives have similar stories. Nothing is more frustrating than after going through the exhaustive search for a list of top candidates and all of the interviewing you feel sure this person is going to do great things in your organization only to have it end up in disappointment. The number one question we get is, “How can I be sure this is the right hire.” Regardless of the amount of testing, profiling and interviewing you do, there is no sure answer until you work side-by-side with the person and see what they can do.

Everyone has heard at least one of these terms: try-before-you-buy, temp-to-perm, contract-to-hire, project-to-perm and the list goes on.  This is a trend Cerius is seeing in the marketplace at all levels, including the executive suite and our own client base.  Talent is brought in for a period of time, typically focused on specific objectives or a project with the probable outcome of the right fit often resulting in a full-time offer.

The pros and cons can be heavily debated. It comes down to an individual company, position and situational decision.  Whether you have had a string of not so good hires, have some initiatives that could use some expert assistance or a unique set of circumstances (as is often the case), here’s a few things to consider.

Company and the Executive End Up with More

A top level executive is going to be just as careful to select the right organizations they will work with as much as the organization does in selecting them. At this point in their careers their brand is highly valued and their success and the organizations they are associated with contributing to that.  Stepping in on a shorter term basis initially gives the executive a better idea of the organization they are signing on with and how they can impact it.

Along those same lines, we often see organization’s end up with a higher caliber executive than their original compensation package would have permitted.  After spending some time getting to know the company, the people and what it would take to achieve successful results, an executive is more willing to work within the financial constraints of the organization. Since they now have hands-on experience with the opportunity that exists, additional compensation elements, ie. success bonuses, can also be better discussed.

Goal Setting From the Beginning

Rather than starting with a job description, the executive is starting with a Statement of Work (SOW) compiled by both the executive and the company.  This document details what the goals are, how they will be accomplished and the timelines in which they will get them done. This helps focus everyone at the beginning on accomplishments and results rather than roles and responsibilities.

Leading Without Direct Authority is Not Always Easy

I have always said, if you want to see someone’s leadership abilities, watch how they perform in a volunteer role.  A lot can be seen when someone is dedicated and at their best leading people are n’t being paid but rather share a common mission.  The similar can be said when bringing in an executive who is tasked with accomplishing a project and leading a team without having the direct authority of managing the team.  Does the team want to help achieve the common mission without the initial overarching “I have to do it because my boss is telling me to”?  As the millennial generation continues to encompass the workplace, this type of leadership will become critical in organizations.

Internal Team’s Perspective

A common trepidation is what the internal team will think.  In our experience, the team is often welcoming with open arms because of the level of leadership, direction and focus the executive is bringing to the organization, even on a project or temporary basis.

Every executive position has some type of strategic initiative or improvement that needs to be made, especially if the predecessor did not leave on good terms or it has been vacant for a while.  If you are having a difficult time thinking of one for the executive you are looking to hire, you may want to rethink hiring an executive level individual to just ‘watch the shop’ or maintain status quo.  An easy place to start is having them lead your strategic planning session, come in to assess the division and team or audit the current systems. This often has minimal disruption to the current team, shows a range of expertise and skills and provides an often needed outside perspective.

We all know the saying, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.  Next time, try out your executive candidate before making that full time offer.  They may be feeling the same way.

This is part of a series to share the knowledge of headhunters, recruiters, executive search and client perspectives. Let us know what questions you have to help make you the expert.

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