Finding Leadership Fit - an art or science?: excerpts from a 'Signium Speaks' podcast on executive leadership skills

In the second report drawn from Signium’s exclusive podcast, we feature a group of senior leadership specialists from China, the US, Mexico, Germany, and South Africa who discussed the vital subject of achieving the right fit in senior leadership appointments. The online panel was comprised of managing partners from our international network, coming together in an initiative that is a digital first for the industry, to debate the sector’s most pressing topics.

The area of leadership fit in recruitment is a challenge which requires balancing the requirements of the company, the role, the individual – it demands a combination of hard and soft assessment, and the application of judgement and experience. 

To illuminate the art of successful recruitment at the highest level, Signium representatives tuned in from offices around the world to share some of their key insights.

The starting point of any recruitment is ensuring core competencies including intellect, skill, knowledge, and experience are met. Once these have been satisfied, it is then a question of digging deeper to check for compatibility at other levels. Is this person the right fit for the type of organization in question and in their current market? Are they the right fit for the existing team or is greater diversity the goal? Deeper still, is there an alignment of core values? 

We always need to consider the fit for the organization because it's a different story depending on if it’s a start-up or a stable, established environment,” explained Carolin Fourie from Signium Germany. “And we also take into account the fit for the specific situation the organization faces: is it facing a turn-around, a period of growth, or internationalization? Is it entering new markets? Another aspect is the fit with the rest of the leadership. Who is needed to lead this business unit, this department, and what personality is the best fit considering the other leaders. Last but not least, I would also take into account the fit for the rest of their team. What kind of team will this leader be in charge of and what challenges will she or he face?

Kin Chong U from Signium Greater China spoke of the need to “go beyond the observable traits to ensure there's a good fit between the candidate’s personal values and beliefs and the company's culture. We must also assess the underlying motivational drive and what job they can offer. Because if there isn’t a fit between all these underlying traits with the company or with the job, then there'll be a fundamental clash at the psychological level which will definitely impact on the performance of the leader.”

Our specialists also agreed that achieving a genuine fit requires careful consultation with stakeholders. “It starts with getting buy in and gaining a clear understanding of stakeholders and what their goal is, especially when seeking to increase the diversity of teams within the organization,” explained Glenn Anderson from Signium USA. “All stakeholders in the interview process need to be clear on the plan before the interview process happens and then be able to regroup after, as a team, and go through the agreed goals and objectives. There needs to be agreement in advance of not just the core competencies, but the cultural fit that clients are looking for in expanding the diversity of their leadership team.”

The subsequent question is then whether a new hire should be exposed to many more stakeholders within the organization before an offer is made. Our representatives felt that there must be a balance here between process and speed. “There’s always a deadline,” said Felipe Rivelles from Signium Mexico. “In an ideal world it should be mandatory to expose a potential new hire to as many stakeholders as possible but that's very often impossible or impractical. I also think that companies should be very careful about who they select for the interview process - how many people will there be? What are their backgrounds? So the candidate is exposed to as much diversity as possible.” 

“Another method is to work with a candidate throughout the process in a due diligence exercise, ensuring he or she is finding out as much about the company as possible throughout the process - not necessarily leaving the entire responsibility of providing information in the hands of the company.”

It is also common for clients to have high expectations of the various psychometric assessment methods and want to know what the perfect tool for finding the right fit is. “Of course we would like a magic crystal ball that can allow us to see through the person all the way down to the subconscious level, so we could know how they feel and their beliefs and their personal values, so that we can accurately assess their fit with the job and with the company,” said Kin Chong U. “But unfortunately there isn’t a crystal ball yet, but there are a number of good, well-established and robust psychometric tools that can help us to assess these fit factors.” 

“Personally when I am assessing an executive for a senior job, I usually use a suite of psychometric tools to profile his or her personality, values, motivational drive, and managerial judgment. But the psychometric tools will only give us a skeleton, the quantitative analysis, if you like. Then I will conduct a deep structured behavioural interview based on those psychometric profiles to add some flesh to the bone structure, so I can picture this person in real life and in the job. From there it is a question of predicting this person's fitness for the job.” 

This is where finding the right fit becomes as much an art as it is an exact science. It requires looking beyond the qualifications and background of an individual candidate to consider culture fit and client values which is the application of Signium’s key values of intelligence and intuition and our unique FIT methodology. 

To listen to the full discussion, download the podcast