The CEO decides to hire a new C-level executive. To manage the search process, including defining the role and sourcing and screening candidates, the company maintains an executive recruiting firm. The recruiter creates a lengthy, written job specification that becomes a blueprint for the qualifications and skills the company wants in candidates and the expected job duties.
This recruitment process can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, take months to fill a single position, and require significant time commitments from the CEO and potentially the board. It is significantly more costly and resource intensive than recruiting entry or mid-level employees. Is it not reasonable to expect greater investment in the C-suite? Will the search give a significantly better chance of success?
Surprisingly, it isn’t. The average tenure of chief financial officers (4.7 years) and chief information officers (4.6 years) is slightly longer than the tenure of the average employee (4.3 years for men and 3.8 years for women) and human resource managers. from terms of office. (3.7 years) and chief marketing officers (3.5 years) are even lower.
There are complex reasons for such a short tenure, but I’ve discovered one that candidates can benefit from understanding: the lack of precision and relevance in job descriptions.
Alignment occurs when there is consistency among the three main elements of role design: expectations, assigned responsibilities, and required skills. For example, if the CMO is given responsibility for research and development, a fit will occur if the job spectrum in the skills section indicates that the ideal candidate has prior R&D experience. The imbalance would be apparent if the job description indicated that the CFO role was expected to lead M&A activity, and yet it did not require the ideal candidate to have previous M&A activity. In an aligned world, people who are hired into roles have the experience to perform the required tasks and are given the responsibility necessary to meet expectations. Although this sounds simple, evidence shows that many companies fail to achieve this.
Of the 185 job characteristics I analyzed for CFO, CIO, and CMO roles, the degree of mismatch between different aspects of the job (such as expectations, responsibilities, and skills) ranged from 33% to 41%, depending on the specific job characteristic. :
For example, one in three job characteristics (33%) had inconsistent expectations and responsibilities, often indicating that the authority given to the role was less than the impact the individual was expected to have on the company. Such a mismatch can prevent new hires from being able to translate role responsibilities into expected results. Additionally, it can create friction as the new hire tries to quickly influence peers who are responsible for the actions that the new hire is expected to influence at the C-level.
How can candidates navigate wrong or poorly defined jobs? Based on my experience working with leaders, here are eight key steps C-level candidates can take to increase the likelihood of a good fit in their role.
Throw away the work feature.
For high-level roles, recruiters develop highly detailed job descriptions that often run to a dozen or more pages.
There are two main issues that can negatively affect performance characteristics. First, companies want jobs to look as attractive as possible, especially in a tight job market, and they may embellish the description to do this. Second, writing a coherent, internally consistent performance specification is not easy.
A consequence of these job design problems is that the job specification may not accurately reflect the actual job. Unfortunately, this requires the candidate to discard the job specification and unravel the actual job on their own.
Discover the “real” job.
To understand the true nature of the job, you need to ask questions during the interview skillfully and diplomatically. While it’s helpful to triangulate and get perspectives from peers, the perspective of your potential boss (presumably the CEO) is most important.
You should study five main areas:
- Expectations (eg, what defines success at different time intervals)?
- Responsibilities (eg, what are the specific, tangible responsibilities and tasks?)
- Allocated resources (eg, which departments and positions are assigned the role? What is the budget?)
- Primary contingent peers (eg, who are the primary peers that will influence success in the role, and how are goals/incentives aligned to ensure cooperation?)
- Desired candidate experience (eg, what are the key skills and experience required for the ideal candidate?)
This process looks simpler than it is. In some cases, interviewers can get defensive when they don’t know the answers. In other cases, three different people will give different answers, signaling a lack of clarity and/or communication about the role. All of this gives you important information about culture, alignment and C-suite communication.
Create your own job feature.
Based on your research, write a short version of your understanding of the job. Using the five categories above, summarize your understanding, being as specific as possible. The goal is to crystallize the key features of the work into a simple document that can then become a basis for discussion and negotiation.
Using your draft job summary, review your understanding of the job with your prospective supervisor via email. Verbal discussions can be misinterpreted and recalled incorrectly. Having a written and consistent basis of understanding is important before and especially after accepting a job, as issues of expectations or responsibilities may arise.
For example, one of the C-level executives I spoke with expressed surprise when a critical function that normally reported that role was transferred to another C-level executive after interviewing but before starting at the company. The written summary will provide a basis for the candidate to discuss revised expectations based on the changed organizational structure.
Assess how “feasible” the job is.
Once you understand the actual role, the next step is the most important: determining whether or not you are built to succeed. At this point, you should assess the degree to which aspects of the job (eg, responsibilities, authority, expectations) are consistent or overlapping.
If the CMO is expected to lead growth, but they are only responsible for advertising, media and communications (ie, other C-suite executives have innovation, data and analytics, corporate strategy, strategic partnerships, pricing , sales, distribution, etc. fourth), and the CEO is not aware of the accidents of these important partners, then there is a misalignment that can make the job difficult at best. If the CIO is responsible for digital transformation but has neither the budget nor the staff, there is a gap that can lead to challenges on day one. In my research, this step is a significant “aha” because C-level executives typically fail to assess whether a role is designed for success.
Assess your eligibility.
The final assessment is complex and requires honesty. How well do your skills and experience prepare you for the job? What makes this decision difficult is that candidates rarely have all the required skills. However, the poorer the compliance, the greater the risk. And while it can be tempting to reach for a stretch role, it can give you (and the company) heartache if left unchecked.
Negotiate job parameters.
The best time to fix any design issues is before accepting a new job. Your written summary can become a basis for negotiation because it should help highlight key gaps in expectations, responsibilities, resources, contingencies, and experiences.
Your discussions with the CEO should begin by addressing the mismatch in role design. Before starting work, you want to make sure that any major contingencies with partners are identified, addressed, and reconciled.
You should also honestly discuss your skills gap and potential development opportunities. While it’s rare for a candidate to have all the desired skills, your risk increases if, for example, your primary responsibility is to lead digital transformation and you’ve never been through a digital transformation. Before taking the job, you can offer critical resources that can address the skills gap and reduce risk, such as a direct report who will own the digital transformation and be responsible for identifying best practices and getting you and the organization up to speed.
Document and distribute the final job description.
When the work is reviewed (if necessary), update and finalize your work summary. This written document can then be used as a basis for future renegotiations if elements of the work change. It can also be used in discussions with key peers to understand before accepting a role or in orientation meetings once they are accepted. A significant source of conflict in the C-suite can be jobs that are poorly designed and create conflicts within the enterprise. Using the brief for alignment and understanding can help ensure that key peers are in sync.
. . .
Job descriptions should be an accurate reflection of the positions. They are the basis on which C-level candidates determine interest in a potential role and agree to an interview, and are therefore an important factor in whether a candidate accepts and accepts the job offer.
However, today, something is wrong because the investment in time and money does not produce more successful recruitment results for C-level executives (as opposed to more junior employees). The greater the degree of inconsistency and internal conflict in the job design, the greater the risk to the candidate as they struggle to navigate a poorly designed role.
By mastering this process through understanding, evaluation, and negotiation, C-level executives are empowered to exercise greater control over their careers in ways that can reduce risk and influence success.