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How to Stack the Deck for Success

I recently read a very interesting piece by Jean Martin, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review: For Senior Leaders, Fit Matters More than Skill.  Jean writes about the need to evaluate an executive’s “network fit” when considering him or her for hire.  By “network fit,” she means “how well the potential hire will fit with the way his or her new colleagues work.”  This is distinctly different from “cultural fit,” which predicts how well the executive will align with the corporate culture more broadly.

Jean points out that executives who fail often do so because of a problem with “network fit.”  She goes on to examine whether internal recruiters are better able to sense network fit when compared to external search partners.  I think it’s fair to say that she doesn’t think either party does a particularly good job on this critical aspect of evaluating external executives for key leadership positions.

The article got me thinking – always dangerous – so I thought I would share a couple of reactions.

  • First – the obvious.  You can’t evaluate network fit if you haven’t met the network!  For all of our searches, we try to meet as many stakeholders as possible when we begin the search.  It takes time to do this, and sometimes clients push back, wondering why it matters.  We generally are pretty insistent about this step in the process.  We have always known how important chemistry is with the team; if you are not paying attention to it, you can expect problems.
  • Second, selection process is not the only tool available to address network fit.  In fact, the best selection process can be upended if there is not a thoughtful, detailed plan for assimilating the new executive into the company and team.  In our practice, we rarely find a client who pays enough attention to this dynamic.  They are happy the search is completed and are ready to move on to the next priority.  We insert ourselves to spend some time tracking the new executive to be sure all is going well.  This is a minimum requirement to control for this variable, and on occasion we have used external assimilation consultants to design and lead a process that will align the team to the new executive and smooth the transition.

If you get to know the executive’s team at the front end of the search, you can help the team align with the executive when the search is done – two ideas that will help stack the deck for success.

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