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TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #154 – One Thing You Can Do to Dramatically Improve Your Executive Hiring Results

January 19, 2023

By  

Rob Andrews

By Rob Andrews

In our 26-year-old retained search practice, our stick rate at the two-year mark over the last two years is 96%. It’s easy for us to measure our performance because we have a 2-year replacement guarantee on all placements above $250,000. While not the last word on wisdom, our process, trademarked ForesightTM, includes principles that you can apply to your own human capital practices to dramatically improve your overall results.

We attribute our success to a disciplined process that includes 12 proprietary steps unique to our practice. Our reference audit is among the most important of these steps. You can perform the same kind of reference audits or have them completed by a third party. In doing so, you greatly improve your chances of a great hire.

Incidentally, the notion that all you can do is verify dates of employment and eligibility for rehire is a myth. We have been performing these kinds of reference checks for well over twenty years and very rarely faced difficulty in getting them done. Top performers are always happy to provide the names of past colleagues who are willing to speak candidly about them. Because we guarantee references’ anonymity, we receive honest feedback and meaningful suggestions. Our clients see the names of the individuals with whom we spoke and their relationships with the candidates, but they cannot tie specific comments to individuals. The list of benefits of conducting these kinds of reference audits is long and includes the following:

  1. You will screen out substandard performers who do not want to be scrutinized.
  2. You will know each of your finalist candidates significantly better and be able to make better choices.
  3. You will have a 360-degree view from superiors, subordinates, and peers.
  4. You will understand your incoming executive’s strengths and weaknesses.
  5. You will see clear patterns in the reference group’s assessment of 50 important attributes.
  6. You will have a crystal-clear understanding of the candidate’s fit for the particular job.
  7. You will have an added degree of objectivity as you rank your finalist candidates.
  8. You will see concise comments made by references regarding the candidate’s performance, demeanor, integrity, leadership, behavior under stress, and much more.

EXAMPLE REFERENCE CHECK:  Rob Durham

POSITION:  Atlas Industries Board of Directors Audit Chair

Relationship Name Current Title, Current Organization Former Title, Organization when Affiliated Approx. Dates of Association
Superior Chip Davis Board Member and Investor 2009 – 2016
Recruited Rob as CFO, then CEO
Superior Jim Browning Helped recruit Rob while on the board at Mustang 2009 – 2016
Chairman of the Board at Mustang
Peer Chip Scheinder Chip took over for Rob as CFO 2015 – 2016
Joined RN in 2015 then Rob as CEO
Peer Bill Sutton Bill joined in 2009 as VP GC first 2009 – 2016
as CFO and then as CEO
Subordinate Andrew Byers Currently NED High Tech Inspection Company, development in O&G 2010 – 2016
VP of Strategic Initiatives when Rob was CFO and subsequently as CEO as VP of Maritime Initiatives
Subordinate Bryan Moncrief Reported directly to Rob for 5 years 2011 – 2016
Head of Global Supply Chain

 

Background of their Relationship: 

Superior – Chip Davis

Chip was an investor and a board member at Mustang. Chip was instrumental in recruiting Rob and had an opportunity to observe him as CFO and interim CEO.

Superior – Jim Browning

When they went public as Rob was CEO he came on as Chairman, but on board the whole time. After Rob announced his departure, Jim convinced him to stay as interim CEO.

Peer – Chip Scheinder

Chip joined Mustang as CFO when Rob was leaving to purse CEO opportunities. Rob worked with me in was then asked to stay as interim CEO and I stayed as Rob’s CFO and worked together for 6 months, and I was disappointed to see him go. We’ve become good friends.

Peer – Bill Sutton

Bill joined Mustang in 2009 as SVP GC which is when I met Rob. Rob was CFO and had been there for 3 years or so. I immediately connected with Rob and he quickly became a confidant.

Subordinate – Andrew Byers

Worked close to Rob when Rob was in his CFO role, and then when I was VP Strategic Initiatives, he reported to Rob as CEO. Rob was diversifying business from direct oil and gas.

Subordinate – Brian Moncrief

Rob was CFO at Mustang and was Brian’s (Global Supply Chain) direct boss, and then worked closely with him when he was interim CEO. Has also become a good friend over time.

Strengths, assets, and things you like and respect?

  1. First thing is he’s very real, no big ego, hype, position power. Rob is about the business and about the team.
  2. Very strong and effective communicator. Rob started the CEO brief state of the business. He’s a strong decision maker, does not equivocate. Has a deep understanding of the issues and gained the trust of everyone on the team, while also trusting his team himself – not a micromanager.
  3. Grew a lot under Rob’s leadership, Rob was a good leader, tough but fair.
  4. Unique ability to build relationships and loyalty with people – with his peers, his reporting team, and C-suite colleagues.
  5. Rob’s technical acumen with finance and accounting is top notch, none better.
  6. Not afraid to get in the weeds but knows to play C-suite role and only dive down if he needs to roll his sleeves up and go to work.
  7. Empathetic, crisp, brief and kind, people don’t quit Rob. Constantly reinventing himself. Down to earth, easy to get along with, yet with a firm management style.
  8. Rob is disciplined, focused and detail oriented around financial matters, governance, processes, decision making and execution.
  9. He’s a great hands-on communicator, has a good way of relating to people, not as much demanding as it is collaborative. Willing to be very firm but very pleasant to work with.
  10. As evidenced by Rob being asked to come back as CEO after leaving as CEO, Rob has a real strength for working with boards.
  11. He is extremely bright, analytical, and one of the best I’ve known in crystalizing a clear vision out of a tremendous amount of broad, complicated data.

Weaker points and areas for improvement?

  1. Rob let his team run on their own and let others come to him if they need help. He thought it made a great working relationship, but some people would have loved to work more with Rob in their own areas of specialty
  2. I never got into the technical with him, talked in more strategic terms. My sense is that Rob sometimes moved faster than the facts warranted. I think he’s improved since then. I think his attention to detail, he could pay more attention to changes in technology, systems, people, millennials, etc. Just staying engaged at all levels.
  3. Would’ve been nice to bounce ideas off him, and he wasn’t unwilling, he was just very consumed in other work. Would be good at times to slow down and understand more.
  4. Rob puts people into 2 buckets – good guys and bad guys, people that were for the business vs those that were against it. He’s quick to separate with wheat from the chaff.
  5. As a direct support to Rob, there doesn’t seem to be any glaring weaker points
  6. Not one for small talk, not really that relevant or much of a weak point.
  7. His strategic horizon was not as long as I would have liked, although I think this is just the evolution of Rob. I did have the conversation with him to think further ahead.
  8. Rob did a lot of important things for Mustang, such as the ERP system. He knew everyone really well. Perhaps staying up on, or ahead of current trends. Thing are changing: workforce, customers, attitudes, changes that need to occur earlier.
  9. Has a little bit of a short fuse and is not afraid to use force of personality to get things done. He has such a bias for action, he might have a tendency to jump before he has all the facts.
  10. While he has most definitely improved over time, I think Rob still has a tendency toward sharp elbows when he’s under stress. Of course, this can be a strength as well as a weakness.

Leadership/Management Style?

  1. He builds loyalty amongst his team and gives you room to run – not a micro-manager
  2. But if you bring something to him and you don’t have your numbers together, you’re going to get raked over the coals.
  3. He was good about setting expectations, always come prepared, etc.
  4. Rob is approachable, accommodating, people had direct contact with him if they needed him, took the time to understand the situation. Very helpful.
  5. Not one for small talk, likes to get straight to the point.
  6. People like to work for Rob. Long on accountability for him and his team. He is able to recruit people from one employer to another. This is the acid test.
  7. Relates very well with people, calls people by their first name, down to earth, when it comes to execution and getting things done, he’s not afraid to hold people accountable.
  8. There was a big separation between rank in file employees and Rob helped to change that. He broke down barriers between management and employees. Leads by example.
  9. Used to be a dictator and ultimately mellowed, worked on himself, and developed in to a very smooth leader. I really think a lot of him and the work he has done on itself.

Consistent leadership that inspires followers to trust him or her?

  1. Rob held his team to task to do their job, a tough, fair and respected leader
  2. He told people the objective and what he wants to do, and then would have open discussions with his team to hear how they should get there
  3. He lets the management team go out and do their job
  4. Rob is exceptional at breaking down silos, breaking down fiefdoms
  5. Put the Chatter system in place and set the right example and it was awesome as a communication tool. This made the sales team much more collaborative than ever before.
  6. 70/30 split between show me/tell me leadership style. Also, very apt to ask questions and learn from subordinates and Peers.
  7. Rob does the work and leads by example. He can get down in the trenches and get to work. He’s not going to bitch about it either
  8. Rob has a really good management style, engenders trust and respect. True to his word and does what he says when he says he’s going to do it
  9. From a technical background, he’s the real deal. He’s doesn’t pull punches, speaks the truth, cuts through the chase
  10. He’s seen firsthand what it looks like to short cut the proper systems and how painful it is to have to go back and add infrastructure after. His communications style is open and honest and that engenders trust and respect.
  11. He also is very collegial while dealing with the hardball issues. Emotional maturity

Consistent pattern of sharing information, resources, praise and credit?

  1. Rob instituted a system where you could recognize your peers, “attaboy awards”. Quick to pick up the phone and tell you did a good job.
  2. He leads from the front lines
  3. Had a different style as CFO than he did as CEO, he’s quick to adapt
  4. There was an issue between Rob and Mark, but nobody knows why or anything about that, Rob didn’t air dirty laundry. He was quick to give praise and quick to absorb blame
  5. Rob reported in to the board and participated in board meetings. He was always quick to share credit, praise others and assume responsibility when something went wrong
  6. Rob is very quick to share credit and praise not only with his subordinates but with other members of the leadership team. Does not hog the spotlight or need to be the center of attention
  7. Rob does like the spotlight and to be the show pony but has matured significantly in that its more about the team 

Additional Comments…

How do you think Rob will transition into being board for public company?

  1. Thinks Rob will be extremely capable, no better person to do this.
  2. Mustang would’ve gone bankrupt without Rob, the way he navigated was very impressive.
  3. Rob is a great guy, an incredible leader, and I learned a lot from him in my 6 years of working with him and reporting into him.
  4. Thinks this role would be a great fit for Rob. Rob is a good team member and when he left there was an outpouring of sentiment and well wishes, it was genuine. Very well liked and respected. Thinks this audit committee role is the sweet spot for Rob.
  5. If I could put money behind Rob right now, I would do it.
  6. Here’s the thing. I wouldn’t bring Rob on to a board to rubber stamp. Rob is going to speak up, try to contribute and a difference.
  7. He’s a great networker which is unusual in a financial executive. He makes a practice of having lunch, coffee and meetings with lawyers, consultants and advisors.
  8. I ran audit committee for Mustang up until the IPO. Rob can run the audit committee. implemented Business One, the cloud version of SAP R30, knows where all the traps are, knows how to navigate the land minds, did a really great job.
  9. Rob is a great problem solver. He doesn’t run from problems he runs to them. If there was a board level issue that needs attention, he has the sense to know when he needs to lead and when he needs to follow. That’s a pretty rare quality.
  10. I really like Rob. He’s a very genuine leader, builds great relationships and leaves a place better than he found it.
  11. Analysts love Rob. They absolutely know when people are BSing them. Rob has the ability to create a compelling narrative and back it up with facts and figures. Rob has a unique talent to get analysts eating of his hands.

 

Attribute Grid Matrix Please rank the following attributes 1 through 5 in terms of importance in this role. (5 = Extremely Important, 4 = Very Important, 3 = Important, 2 = Not important, 1 = Not Relevant). Correspondingly, we ask candidates and their references to provide a ranking, relative to themselves or candidate in consideration.

ATTRIBUTES Ref 1 Ref 2 Ref 3 Ref 4 Ref 5 Ref 6 Total Ref Average Candidate Self Rating
Resourcefulness/Initiative 4 4 4 5 4 3 6 4.0 5
Audit Oversight 4 5 5 4 4 5 6 4.5 5
Board Involvement 4 4 5 5 5 5 6 4.7 4
Meeting Preparedness 5 5 5 5 4 4 6 4.7 5
Intelligence 4 4 5 4 5 5 6 4.5 4
Judgement/decision-making 5 4 5 4 5 5 6 4.7 5
Integrity 4 5 5 5 5 5 6 4.8 5
Adaptability 4 4 4 4 4 3 6 3.8 3
CEO Selection 4 4 4 4 4 3 6 3.8 4
Listening 3 4 4 5 5 3 6 4.0 3
Committee Leadership 4 4 5 4 5 4 6 4.3 4
Political savvy 5 4 5 5 5 5 6 4.8 3
Risk Assessment 3 4 4 4 4 4 6 3.8 4
Attention to Detail 4 4 5 4 4 4 6 4.2 4
Energy/drive 5 4 5 4 5 5 6 4.7 4
Emotional Intelligence 4 4 4 4 5 4 6 4.2 4
Analytical Skills 5 4 5 4 4 5 6 4.5 5
Mergers & Acquisitions 4 4 4 4 4 3 6 3.8 4
Creativity 4 3 4 4 4 3 6 3.7 4
Strategic skills 4 4 4 3 4 4 6 3.8 4
Pragmatism 4 5 5 4 5 5 6 4.7 4
Risk-taking 3 4 3 4 4 4 6 3.7 2
Leading edge perspective 4 4 4 3 4 5 6 4.0 2
Organization/planning 4 5 5 4 4 4 6 4.3 5
Independence 3 5 5 4 5 5 6 4.5 5
Stress management 5 4 5 5 5 2 6 4.3 3
Self-awareness/feedback 3 4 4 4 5 4 6 4.0 3
Restructuring 4 3 5 4 4 4 6 4.0 4
Customer focus 4 4 4 4 5 4 6 4.2 5
Assertiveness 4 4 5 4 5 4 6 4.3 5
Communications – oral 5 4 5 5 4 5 6 4.7 5
Communications – written 5 4 5 4 4 4 6 4.3 4
Negotiation skills 4 4 4 5 4 5 6 4.3 4
Persuasion 5 4 4 4 5 4 6 4.3 3
Goal setting 4 4 4 4 4 4 6 4.0 5
Empowerment 5 5 5 4 4 3 6 4.3 4
Performance Management 3 4 4 4 5 4 6 4.0 3
Promotes diversity 3 4 4 4 5 4 6 4.0 3
Running Meetings 4 4 5 4 5 5 6 4.5 5
Change management 4 4 3 4 4 4 6 3.8 4
Leadership / Inspiring followership 5 5 5 5 5 5 6 5.0 4
Conflict management 3 4 4 4 4 4 6 3.8 3
Enthusiasm/Passion 5 4 5 5 5 5 6 4.8 5
Tenacity 4 4 5 5 5 5 6 4.7 4
Vision 3 4 4 3 4 5 6 3.8 3

 

The global stick rate among executive placements is ghastly at about 55%. Conducting great reference audits is one of the most important things you can do to stack the deck in your favor when it comes to hiring a new executive. Let’s chat about your executive hiring process and see where we can help.

Warmest Regards,

Rob

Rob Andrews
Allen Austin
Consultants in Retained Search & Leadership Advisory

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