C-Suite Recruitment – Challenges & Opportunities

Case Study #1 Company A is desperately searching for a suitable candidate to head their operations in South East Asia. After performing consistently well in North American and Central European markets for more than three decades, this company is trying to make inroads in the emerging markets of Asia. But its efforts have somewhat been thwarted due to regular changes at the helm. Indeed, there have been four changes at the top most level in past six years.

Company A used time-tested methods and trustworthy sources to find suitable candidates and utilized its substantial experience in making the selections. Yet, it seemed both the company and its head of operations had to part ways after mutual disillusionment, sometimes only after a tenure of six months.

Case Study #2 Company B, one of US Midwest’s most prominent names, is facing a different kind of concern. It is having two of its top level management positions (one of which is at C-level) vacant for more than six months. The talent acquisition team has interviewed a number of candidates meanwhile, but to no avail. The team is receiving regular heads up from its recruitment partners. The compensation on offer is competitive. But it seems all of a sudden, “the talent pool has completely dried up.”

The two above mentioned examples amply showcase the challenges involved in finding and then recruiting talent at senior level positions. Before we delve deeper into this discussion, let me share with you a striking bit of information (keep in mind our case study #1 while going through this). A report published by Strategy& earlier this year measured the cost of poor succession planning in C-suite appointments in financial terms. This turned out to be in excess of USD 100 billion! (1)

“Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Why Failure Seems to be a Norm rather than an Exception?

Today, every company, directly or indirectly, operates at a global scale. Even more locally concentrated smaller enterprises are not immune to global impacts on their businesses. Accordingly, the roles of the senior managers – the decision makers for any business – are experiencing a rapid change.

(I) More often than not the recruitment team, including the agencies handling the job, find themselves unaware of these changes. They neither keep themselves updated about the changing needs of the market nor are this information conveyed by their corporate counterparts. The latter often mistakenly assumes a premium fee (USD 80,000 upward) to be a guarantee for reliable services.

(II) In this process of recruiting senior executives, many recruitment partners fail to act as consultants. This results in lack of clear understanding among the parties about what exactly is wanted from a candidate. The foggy job descriptions that are published to attract suitable candidates exhibit this lack of clarity in glaring terms.

Brad Remillard, co-author of You’re NOT the Person I Hired, narrates his experience (2) about how a flawed job description resulted in hiring a candidate not fit for the job at all.

“The job description didn’t really define the real job. It defined a person everyone expected or thought could do the job, because they had done it before.”

In fact, job descriptions such as these put off potentially qualified candidates from applying for the position at all.

(III) It is a common knowledge that some premium recruitment agencies provide little better than a glorified resume service. If it is a contingency recruitment then the situation becomes worse. Besides, multinational companies are known to involve more than one agency to assist them in spotting the perfect candidate for their job. Many unscrupulous agencies are known to push their candidates through without due consideration about their fitness for the job. In the end, the entire process turns out to be a disappointing exercise for everybody involved wasting precious time and money on the way.

Companies find themselves left with the bottom quartile of the talent pool consisting of a few very aggressive candidates and hardly ever manage to get in touch with the relatively passive ones who may have had better qualifications and compatibility for the job.

(IV) Recruitment consultants sometimes fail in possessing a thorough knowledge of the brand they are representing. Without a good understanding of a company’s culture, work environment, stage of development and other crucial aspects it is unlikely that a consultant will be able to spot someone eligible for a senior level management role and then coach that person accordingly before sending him or her off for the interview.

Remember what Nick Corcodilos, an experienced headhunter and author of Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing The Interview to Win The Job (1997), has to say in this regard, “When you hire, you don’t hire a person. You hire the person’s work.”

(V) It is also true that recruitment partners, both agencies and recruiting managers are responsible in this case, often get too bogged down into the specifics of the job requirements. Details like educational and technical skills and experience take precedence, much like “ticking the boxes” for a list of wanted items, over the broader picture, i.e., how good a person is in performing the tasks at hand and solving the issues that are being faced by the company. Too much emphasis is also given on the so called first impressions.

Many companies tend to delay proper succession planning for senior positions until it is too late. What A G Lafley, P&G’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, found out in 2011 has hardly changed over time, “Two-thirds of all corporate directors admit they don’t give succession planning sufficient energy and time.(3) An age old wisdom – “there is nothing in the world that remains unchanged. All things are in perpetual flux and every shadow is seen to move (4) – is often conveniently forgotten. It proves perilous for the organizations and there remains hardly anything to do when a contingency arises.

How can these Situations be Avoided?

A great hire has a genuine capacity of transforming your company. But how do you go about it and avoid the common pitfalls on the way?

(I) Understand the fact that a high paying contract with a reputed recruitment agency is not a guarantee for finding qualified top level candidates. Try to partner with consultants who have excellent domain knowledge and experience about the business you are dealing with. For example, all these years you have partnered with XYZ Agency to assist you to locate excellent talent for senior positions. But now you are foraying into a new business or perhaps exploring a new geographical location. Does XYZ Agency has an adequate knowledge about the challenges a potential candidate may face while leading the company into this new business area or location? If not, then consider opting out of the existing relationship, at least in this instance.

(II) Maintain a database of precious contacts as well as people who have sent unsolicited resumes in past and seemed to be fit for positions of authority and responsibility. Ensure your recruitment partners are indulging in the same practices.

(III) Rely on those consultants who perform the right amount of background check on candidates before or during the process of selection. Do not shy away from speaking with the references yourself.

(IV) Share a clear image of your company and its workings with a recruitment consultant. Better still, rely on someone who is already in possession of such information.

(V) Recruitment too is a PR operation. Nurture your brand image carefully. Foster your existing talents, irrespective of their positions in the company. In a different way, they too are your brand ambassadors. The positive vibes of your employees would help attract newer talents to your company at every level including the senior executive positions.

(VI) Do not eliminate the other sources of information beyond recruitment agencies, traditional ads or social media contacts. A word of mouth is still a great way to find the right person for the right position. Trust those who are known to have extensive insider knowledge of the industry.

(VII) Do not make the mistake of hiring someone on face value or solely on the basis of his or her impressive resume. Make sure a potential senior manager exactly understands the demands of the job, the company’s ideals and working methodology. It is better to acquaint him or her with people he or she is going to closely coordinate with beforehand.

What Peter F Drucker realized through his experience (5) is worth remembering here,

“Effective executives differ widely in their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, values and beliefs. All they have in common is that they get the right things done. Some are born effective. But the demand is much too great to be satisfied by extraordinary talent. Effectiveness is a discipline. And, like every discipline, effectiveness can be learned and must be earned.”

What others define as a harrowing experience could as well turn out to be the most rewarding experience for you, not to mention your organization and the other important stakeholders, if you care to profit from the frequently committed mistakes by others.

Author: Kristian Cvetkovic

(1) The cost of failed CEO succession planning by Ken Favaro, Per-Ola Karlsson, Gary Neilson (http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/global/home/what-we-think/reports-white-papers/article-display/cost-failed-ceo-succession-planning)
(2) “She Seemed Perfect … Wrong?” (http://www.impacthiringsolutions.com/blog/she-seemed-perfect-for-the-position-what-went-wrong/)
(3) The Art and Science of Finding the Right CEO by A G Lafley, Harvard Business Review, October, 2011
(4) Ovid (43 BC – circa 18 AD)
(5) What Makes an Effective Executive, Harvard Business Review, June, 2004

Train Your Mental Muscles – Be a Success!

Auguste Rodin showed an early panache for art, but his father could only afford little training for him. For years Rodin did menial jobs, trying to save enough to gift himself an artistic pilgrimage to Italy. Up until 37 years of age, penury and personal setbacks were a dominant theme in his life. But through it all he never, even for a moment, failed to see himself as anything else but an artist.

Michael Faraday had little formal education, but for seven years he served as an apprentice to a book binder. During this time he read as much as he could in preparation for a future that he envisioned for himself. Later on, this cemented his beliefs “… in the one man who works mentally and bodily at a matter than in the six who merely talk about it.”

Annie Malone developed her beauty and cosmetic enterprise following the same principle. Since 13 years of age all she knew and cared for was to do hair styling. She had little or no training in the field then and no financial means to support her dream. But with the help of one of her close relatives, she continued to polish her knowledge in Chemistry and herbal medicine. By her early twenties she was already thinking of creating a hair straightening product that would work without damaging the hair which became a reality some time later.

What did these men and women do differently to deserve the success they had in their lives? They never failed to envision a future for themselves, clung to their visions and worked for it. In their mind’s eyes, they were already an artist, scientist or business owner irrespective of the status early in their lives. Call it visualization, mental imagery or projecting ourselves to the future, this one mental workout can help us fulfill our honest ambitions.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau

Visualization & Its Use

At one or another, all of us use this technique without knowing it in form and substance. For example, before a public presentation almost all of us see ourselves putting across our views in clear terms or successfully delivering our speeches and earning kudos for that. This is mental imagery in its simplest form. Organizational theorist Karl E Weick calls this “future perfect thinking” (1). He says,

“If an event is projected and thought of as already accomplished, it can be more easily analyzed … Managers’ success or failure invoking this complicated linguistic form will have much to do with the success of their planning.”

Organizational mentors, behavioral scientists and psychologists vouch for its effectiveness over and over again. So much so, that the application of this technique is not only limited to the business world, but expands into other arenas like education and sports. In actuality, this is applicable for anyone who wants to achieve some kind of distinction in any sphere of one’s life. As Muhammad Ali’s said, “Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”

Creative visualization has great therapeutic values too. In augmenting self-esteem and confidence, getting over grief, coping with stress and minimizing physical pain creative visualization proves to be especially useful.


Executive coaches and mentors propose various techniques for making visualization or guided imagery a regular habit. Various complex mechanisms from meditations to brain workouts are suggested in the process. But the actual process of creative imagery need not be so burdensome. So, how do you go about it?

Ensue the process by defining your goal. State your purpose clearly to yourself. In the beginning, when you are starting to learn the nuances of creative visualization consciously, do not state too broad a purpose to yourself. Try to accomplish something that lies in near future, perhaps by the end of a 30 day period or so. Doing so will ensure that your focus does not waver from the object and as you achieve success you will also gain in confidence. Research about extensively. Every day add more and more detail to the picture you already have in your mind.

Start upskilling, particularly learn those that are pertinent to what you wish for. Use all the resources available to you. Zuzana Licko, founder of Émigre Fonts foundry, used only a basic Macintosh in 1984 to kick start her passion for learning type designing. Today, her name is one of the most highly regarded in the field. Find and nurture key contacts who can help you with the way ahead.

Dreaming vs Visualizing

It is easy to be confused between dreaming and visualizing because the two terms are often used interchangeably. Dreaming is a more passive process. Day dreaming also implies fantasizing, but visualizing our future for ourselves can hardly be a passive activity. It is training our mind to create a proposition for us before starting to prepare for it and living for it. Like all trainings, this too has to be practiced every day of life without fail.

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success…”
Swami Vivekananda

In the name of creative visualization many people make outrageous wishes and expect those to be fulfilled in their lifetime. That is not how an effective mental projection works. In the next 10 years’ time, you may love to retire from work, own a private jet, travel throughout the year for leisure or so on. But do you deserve to have those privileges? What have you done so far to fulfill these extravagant expectations of yours?

Planning and Action

All processes of mental imagery will have to be backed up with solid planning and actions barring which visualizations would be nothing but idle dreams. Thomas, now in his early teens, is a great admirer of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s works. After reading his novel The Alchemist, he set his mind on becoming a famous author like Coelho. Thomas bought a few books to improve his creative writing skills. His parents’ enrolled him in a literary club for the young adults and also gifted him a membership of the local library. But Thomas does not feel too keen to nurture his skills by working at it every day. Hardly ever does he turn up for the book reading sessions in the club and never so far has he visited the library. We all know, if this continues, what is going to happen to Thomas’ ambition of becoming an author.

A senior sales manager who wishes to achieve a certain aggressive target by the end of the third quarter, but does not have a plan for doing so, did not inform his team the actionable for achieving such a steep target is nothing but a Thomas in the business scenario. True it is going to be enormously exhausting process to work day in and day out for a dream, but then remember what Michael Jordan has to say on the matter,

“Every time I feel tired while I am exercising and training, I close my eyes to see that picture, to see that list with my name. This usually motivates me to work again.”

Realistic Target

To make this process more successful make sure you segregate your broader intent into smaller targets that will ultimately lead you to achieve your original design. Too lofty an ambition may not be attainable at one shot. Failure may lead to disillusionment and eventual abandoning of the scheme itself.

In case of Setbacks

Sometimes it so happens that one particular approach of achieving something does not yield desired results. We all have experienced this at different points in our lives. This does not mean that the original idea will have to be scrapped completely or the process itself is unproductive. It just so means that, we need to adjust our courses and try once again. It may also take longer time to realize something than we at first anticipated. But don’t let this dishearten you.

From being a son of debt – ridden immigrant parents, Andrew Carnegie built an entire business empire.

Your aspirations too, should not be and are not beyond you!

“A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given the chance.”
Stanisław Jerzy Lec



Author: Kristian Cvetkovic


(1) The Social Psychology of Organizing, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1979
(2) Power of Mental Imagery, Warren Hilton [Founder of The Society Of Applied Psychology], New York and London, 1920