The Cushman Report 2016, Volume 1

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1 Added Value Recruiting and Consulting Search Services in Corporate Communications The Cushman Report 2016, Volume 1 In this newsletter: Taking a Fresh Look at the hiring process for Communications VPs, agency EVPs and GMs. What Impact has our digital culture had on decision-making? What are the new rules of the road when you are in the running during a 6-month hiring cycle? Why does it now routinely take 6-months to hire a VP to lead a corporate communications department? Why should that be the new normal and almost double the timeframe of a decade ago? The 6-Month job interview A key reason, and it is good news, is that communication VPs are seen as significant contributors supporting corporate business objectives. They are expected to participate as members of the management team, adding value to the conversation not simply observers. That means they must fit the culture, whatever that means, and earn a role as trusted advisors. How do we put a finger on that magic? And now that is more important than ever. We all try to explain and talk about fit but I have yet to find any test that comes close to giving an accurate, foolproof assessment. Relying too heavily on testing can create its own set of challenges. Frankly, I ll trust my judgment more than any exercise I ve seen. That brings us into what I describe as team approval for a hire. To hedge that bet and reduce the risk of missing something, layers of interviews are arranged. Finally, usually two candidates are invited to meet the President and CEO of the organization. During the process to assess all the skills needed, the meetings can be one to one, group discussions, presentations, social interactions over lunch or dinner and personality profile assessments. On the average, 5 candidates are selected to begin the process of personal interviews after initial phone screens by outside and inside recruiters. It may take an organization 2 months of internal discussions and preliminary evaluations before beginning in-person interviews. There may be 10 interviews or more that must be scheduled for each candidate (not all of them will meet the most senior executives) with busy executives who are frequently traveling. It is easy to understand why the process can take months. If an organization is taking that much care to select the head of communications, how does this change the way a potential finalist views the search process? Saying no and not pursuing a situation becomes the right decision much earlier in the process than at the offer stage. There is no reason to continue a discussion if all the pieces don t fit. Don t feel pressure to continue because the hiring team is interested in you. Ultimately that becomes a total waste of everyone s time. Gone are the days when striving to be offered the position was the game to win never mind if s/he ultimately decided to turn down the offer. Judith Cushman & Associates, Retained Search NE 8th St, Ste B1, PMB 128, Bellevue, WA Phone: (425) , fax: provided upon request

2 I think a candidate needs to understand that making a move at this level requires serious thought about his/her future. The decision is not only about this move, but also the several steps after that. While there are many unknowns, personal goals remain stable and can help establish the framework for longer term career choices. Ask, Where can this opportunity lead to within the organization? Decide if that answer is realistic or if you see that you will need to move on to a new organization. Or, perhaps there are growth opportunities and ongoing internal challenges so that role itself expands. Rarely when I ask, do I hear a finalist say, taking this position fits my long term career strategy and then s/he outlines what that is. Knowing how much time is involved in interviewing for the role, raises a basic question, does a candidate have the time needed to check out the situation and schedule the many meetings involved? Also, knowing how important a move is, can s/he adequately prepare and research the company, the department and the leadership team as the interviews continue? This is essential so the candidate is fully prepared to ask questions that indicate s/he is thoughtful, engaging and motivated. This level of commitment is expected of every potential finalist so to be less than fully prepared will be noticed and may remove a candidate from consideration. There is always a risk in making a move. However, with the efforts being made on both sides, the risk is diminishing. The gray space, where the new hire makes a leap of faith between what is known and not known about the organization and the position, is shrinking. For an initial exploratory interview, I think casual background information is sufficient. By the second round, the candidate needs to know if this opportunity could potentially be a fit. As a result of social media and the networks one can tap to learn about a company and the people leading it, candidates have leveled the field and decisions to consider joining an organization are mutual and far more factually-based. Cultural fit and the risk involved, a real world story Despite knowing as much as can be known, there is the challenge of stepping into a role that has not existed before or a role that represents a radical departure from what the communications function has accomplished in the past. We are dealing with what an organization doesn t know what it doesn t know. I often say, the odds of success in this situation are 50/50. The key for a finalist is, Can I afford this risk given my career track if a year or two from now, I need to move on? In some cases, a job that is not a fit will be the turning point off an A track path. It is extremely high risk if the candidate wants to compete with others who are at a high point in their careers and who have not made a speculative move. For others, the move could pose a relatively minor risk as long as there has been a long-term stable work history. 2

3 A little over 2-years ago I sat down to discuss the career track of a top flight marketing and communications VP in the Midwest who had relocated for a major opportunity. Several months before that he had been hired to manage the entire team of marketing and communications staff. This was a blue-chip organization with a world class reputation. Historically, it had taken a conservative stance toward visibility in the media, although the opportunities to favorably describe the organization and its work were found throughout the institution. He was brought on board by the leaders of the organization who had authorized a search specifically seeking professionals from outside of the industry. He was ambitious and this role was an important step in building A track credentials. He was told the leaders wanted to raise the institution s profile as competition in the industry was driving them to be more aggressive. The goal was to hold onto their market share. We discussed the risk, particularly as he was the single newcomer to the department and there were many long term professionals who were perfectly happy with the status quo. He was able to add some staff and hire outside agencies. I wished him much success but also said how hard it is to succeed as a change agent without allies in the organization. He had plunged into action. He had already started the pro-forma meet and greet with the leadership team. He then dove into a flurry of activity with the help of a small group of communications professionals. If one thought his mandate was to open the doors wide and develop impressive media opportunities in top tier media, then he was hugely successful. However, it turns out he did not take the time or really want to take the time to build internal support for this rush of activity. Instead, he took marching orders from the leader of the organization who did not know what he was asking for. This aggressive focus on major media and visibility caused serious disruption within the organization as executives were surprised and unprepared for the attention. It became clear that he was not a cultural fit which is a catch-all phrase for essentially a mismatch. Most organizations will not dig deeper to evaluate what created the cultural mismatch and certainly do not feel responsible for the outcome. What they do know is that the new hire just does not belong and the least painful solution is to work out a satisfactory financial agreement and move forward. This new executive was not tuned in to the signals of his peers nor did he spend time winning folks to his side. He was focused on racing ahead to the next media opportunity. He did not understand that it was his job as the first priority to carefully build his reputation within the organization and recognize that a great deal of media activity (as the CEO described it) was a relative term, considering how conservative they had been. Had he truly understood what success would look like in this organization, I suspect he would not have accepted the offer. He was too externally focused and high energy to tackle convincing his conservative peers about the need for change before he could execute an external strategy. In my experience, no matter what a senior officer says is needed, the first 3

4 two priorities are understanding the culture and building internal respect and support for yourself at the highest levels of the organization. In these situations, it takes about 2-years for an organization to realize a key officer is not fitting and creating a disruption. There is usually a gracious discussion about what the organization s objectives are and how the particular individual is not fitting the direction the organization is moving in. A mutually agreed upon termination agreement is arranged with a substantial payment so that the reputation of both the organization and the individual is protected. After he left, the role was downgraded and an internal candidate was named to the role. That was the end of the experiment in proactive communication. This fellow has since taken a job that is much smaller and less challenging in a location that is more desirable for his family. I doubt he will be recruited for another opportunity as significant as the one he held before. The 6-month job search process: the new rules of the road and how to manage the process In January this year, The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, The Six-Month Job Interview, the Hiring Game: Surviving the job interview. I was disappointed with the article for thinking about the process as a game and that 6-months was so long it was a question of surviving in order to be rewarded with an offer. I think this sort of thinking is all about tactics and not about the underlying importance of a strategic (and somewhat longer) vetting process. Hiring the head of communications or an agency EVP/General Manager is a long-term role that should be filled for at least 5-years. The influence that an individual can have on the organization and its reputation is significant. Getting it right is worth the time and effort. The candidate who begins that process and invests a great deal of time in exploring the position should expect to be treated professionally and provided with information about how the search is proceeding. I have found old habits by conservative HR managers do not work well. Their attitude is the less information shared the better. I believe an atmosphere of mutual respect and honesty should be established and there should be ongoing information shared throughout the recruiting period. Over 6-months both the candidate and the client learn a great deal about each other for better or for worse. There is time to make an excellent impression followed up by thoughtful on-going communication and responsiveness on both sides. That is ideal. Unfortunately, organizations sometimes go dark and there is a lack of communication and a lack of responsiveness. That is revealing and indicative of what to expect if you join the company (or not.) There is much to learn about candidates as well. Resumes can be carefully edited and polished. exchanges can demonstrate either sloppy thinking and editing or well-constructed notes. Over a period of months one can develop confidence in the communication skills of a candidate and his/her reliability or not. 4

5 Here is how I believe a search should proceed. Mutual respect is critical. A company and a candidate should be on their best behavior (that will not get any better once you have joined an organization.) A candidate should always be professional and upbeat and maintain regular contact with the hiring organization. The company should do the same. If their representatives are too busy to remain in contact, I would hesitate to pursue a job with the organization. If during the process a candidate decides to withdraw, a polite note will do. The key is to remain professional at all times. What does a candidate have the right to know about the hiring process? My guideline is the candidate has the right to ask questions about the details of the process but not about other candidates or information that could be considered confidential. A question, When do you expect to be finished with interviewing the first round of candidates? is legitimate. Another is, When should I expect an update or would you like me to follow up with you? At the beginning of the process I might ask, How many candidates are you hoping to identify for initial interviews? (That is borderline confidential but also helps give an idea of how long the process could take, which can be helpful. If that would not be helpful, I would not ask) If the process continues, a candidate can ask What are the next steps? It is important to ask for specifics so you can estimate a realistic timetable for these steps multiplied by several candidates on the schedule. Oftentimes the hiring manager is unrealistic about how long all this will take. By asking about the steps involved, it becomes pretty clear what amount of time is realistic. And add, I would like to hold time on my calendar if that would help with the scheduling. It is always important to ask, How much time will I need for the interview? What time has been blocked on his/her calendar If there is limited time, a candidate will need to have key points at the ready in the first few minutes of the meeting. Some executives only allow 30-minutes to decide if a candidate is a finalist. Over the course of 6-months there are many elements that can arise to affect your schedule and timetable. Hiring organizations tend to be myopic and do not factor in that you may be under consideration elsewhere. They do not ask if you are interviewing for another opportunity or if there are any time-constraints to consider due to your job hunting activities or major vacation (prepaid) plans. I recommend that a candidate who is actively job hunting volunteer that information early in the interviewing cycle while saying that this particular situation is very appealing. Provide a timetable, such as, There is nothing I am considering that is critical and I will certainly alert you if that changes. That puts the hiring organization on notice that they may have to move quickly if need be. If this information is provided at the end of the process, it may be too late to speed up meetings particularly if a President or CEO is involved. Just as the interviewing process is becoming more complex, discussions about compensation are also more challenging. That is the topic for the next Report. Please direct questions to: Judy Cushman, Subject line: Job Search Strategy and Good Luck. To subscribe to "The Cushman Report" newsletter, please send a note to with your preferred and "SUBSCRIBE" in the Subject line. 5

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