Blowing the whistle on poor leaders

MANY HR professionals underestimate the importance of a rigorous executive recruitment process, and as a result, retention levels and organisational culture can suffer dramatically, according to an international leadership expert

MANY HR professionals underestimate the importance of a rigorous executive recruitment process, and as a result, retention levels and organisational culture can suffer dramatically, an international leadership expert has claimed.

Speaking ahead of his Australian tour, Manfred Kets de Vries, Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Chair of Leadership Development at France’s INSEAD business school, said the best companies to work for are those that are extremely selective with entry requirements, such as McKinsey & Company or Goldman Sachs.

“Some employers of choice spend an enormous amount of time interviewing. The benefits are that if you get the right people on board, you are already a big step ahead of other companies because this spares you misery later on,” he said.

About 40 per cent of senior executives don’t last longer then 18 months, according to Kets de Vries –often the result of poor recruitment processes.

Major pitfalls in those processes include a tendency for interviewers to talk too much, rather than facilitating a systematic interview and getting a sense of the candidate, Kets de Vries said.

Furthermore, interviewers often dance around issues with previous track records and prefer to stick with more comfortable subjects.

“You have to get the references right in the first place, and then you have to be an extremely good listener to get something useful out of those references,”he said.

He gave the example of Jack Welch, who hired people with the four E’s: energy, energised, have edge and a good execution. However, such people were not necessarily responsible or accountable, he said. “You also want good corporate citizens and you want to try to avoid the narcissistic people.”

The trick for good recruiters and headhunters was to think about organisations as sets of executive teams. “I have discovered in my work with senior executives there are something like eight configurations you can find in organisations,” he said.

For example, brewing company SAB Miller’s CEO, Graham McKay, is strong on strategy. “He is a chess player who looks at the business world like a game – what plans he can use, what can he do, how to conquer markets and where he should move next to.”

But Kets de Vries said he also needs people who can run the operation (the operators) who are not necessarily interested in shaking up what’s happening.

“These people are very good at maintaining the stable state. They are the people who are, for example, good people developers and coaches,”he said.

Where HR professionals came up against stubborn or recalcitrant executives, Kets de Vries said there was one solution: “Fire the bastards! … It’s really management in the short-term where you leave them there because they get such a fantastic result, but it’ll really kill your company. I’m becoming less and less empathetic with those kinds of people.”

Kets de Vries’ Australian seminars, organised by the Global Leaders Network, will address ‘The Leadership Mystique’ and will be held in Perth on 2 May, in Melbourne on 5 May, in Brisbane on 8 May and in Sydney on 9 May.

Key points

• Bad executive hires can hurt retention levels and organisational culture

• Great companies are extremely selective with entry requirements

• High executive turnover often comes down to poor recruitment processes

• HR professionals should think about the cost-benefit methodology of headhunters

• A key HR executive task is to train others in good selection processes

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