There's no silver bullet when it comes to hiring senior executives—but it's not all about the places they've worked or the people they know.
In his 20 years as president and CEO of Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, FL, Frank V. Sacco says he's only made two bad hires to the six-hospital system's senior leadership team.
The first had positive word-of-mouth and solid references, but the individual proved to be a bad fit for the system. Despite executive coaching, that person left after a few years. The second hire was made after a lengthy search for the position, including reference checks, says Sacco—but that individual left after less than two years.
Both hires provided the CEO with learning experiences on which to build. "You can't choose the right person every single time," he says. But Sacco adds that organizations can make better, more informed choices by looking beyond the résumé and references.
Investigate with rigor. At Memorial, candidates are put through extensive rounds of behavioral interviews that not only delve into work experiences, but also personal histories, says Sacco. "I go all the way back to high school with people on interviews. I want to know how they were brought up. I want to know what motivated them as a youth, as a teenager, in early adulthood, and later in life," says Sacco. Such information helps determine whether the candidate will be a good fit for the position and the organization (see "Candidate Criteria").
Smash the mirror. Another key to finding the best candidate is to hire outside an executive's own image, says Sacco. Don't hire another version of yourself or the person who was just in the position. "Bring a counterbalance to your team."
Bring in backup. Including direct reports and other senior executives in the interview process is crucial, says C.J. Bolster, vice president and general manager of the Hay Group's Southeast region and managing director of the global management consultancy's U.S. healthcare practice. "You may not need all these people to weigh in on whether to hire this person, but you do need these people to get invested in the candidate," says Bolster. With a variety of questions and feedback, you can begin to differentiate the candidates and predict their likely potential for success, says Bolster. "Positively or negatively, you reduce the risk of a major hire. That's what you're really after; it's risk management."
Memorial Healthcare System's Frank Sacco recommends looking at potential job candidates beyond résumé rhetoric, instead focusing on the following characteristics that build upon one another:
1. Integrity. "I look to hire first on the basis of integrity," says Sacco, who asks candidates to describe themselves as far back as childhood.
2. Motivation. Motivation without integrity can be destructive and lead to selfish decision-making. Sacco recommends looking at "integrity, then motivation, in that order."
3. Capacity. This is the ability and willingness to do the job, but not necessarily the experience in having done the job, says Sacco. "Without motivation, capacity is irrelevant."
4. Knowledge. Knowledge implies a familiarity with healthcare. But if candidates don't have the capacity to fill the role, their knowledge is meaningless, says Sacco.
5. Experience. Although this might be where a leader normally begins a candidate search, it's actually the last element, says Sacco. "Without knowledge and the other characteristics, experience is useless. Anyone can hold a job for a little bit—people get lucky and get jobs."