When the time comes to select a new leader, difficult questions arise, such as whether to choose an internal or external candidate, what skill sets to seek, how to assess for intangibles such as interpersonal skills and cultural fit or how to find the right blend of operational experience and executive leadership ability. In an industry that values instinct, it is no surprise that many executive teams rely on traditional methods of interviews and resume reviews to make hiring decisions. While instinct and “feeling” about a person can be effective, human resources and industrial psychology research shows that adding science to the art of personnel selection can significantly improve the odds of a successful hire.
Since all but the largest and most progressive design and construction firms lack an internal hiring expert, most rely on the standard approach of interviewing candidates and reviewing their resumes. Unfortunately, neither of these options are reliable nor effective on their own, especially when used without training to eliminate consistent areas of bias. Yet, the universe of assessments, structured interview questions, rater training and other best practices can quickly overwhelm. While there is no guarantee than any single selection process will be perfect, there are common guidelines to follow and tools to use to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. The key to successful leadership selection is to understand the needs of the company and use a system to evaluate candidates at multiple levels in order to make deep, accurate comparisons among them.
Knowing what to look for during the selection process is the first piece of the puzzle, and may be the most important piece. Many selection committees make the mistake of looking for a leader that resembles the current leader. A better approach is to think about the organization 10 to 20 years in the future — a process that requires a company to conduct the hard work of expressing an envisioned future of the business. Consider a contractor whose vision involves quadrupling in size, moving into international markets and rapidly expanding its ability to self-perform. With these goals for the future, the company should seek out leaders with international experience, a history of leading rapid growth and the ability to build and implement systems to manage risk and labor.
With a specific set of aspirations for the future, the process of identifying the future skills and abilities becomes much sharper. Just as the competition, markets and customers will look different, so should the leader for the future. Jim Collins introduced the idea of getting “the right people in the right seats on the bus” into common business vocabulary 12 years ago in his classic book “Good to Great.” However, most people forget that you had better have a good idea of where the bus is going in the first place.
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