Q: Our executive team wants to start the recruiting process for a chief operating officer. The current leader is within two years of retirement. We prefer to be ahead of the game and have the current COO groom his successor. How do we develop a search? When should we begin recruiting candidates? – Melissa in Virginia.
A: Recruiting to fill senior positions due to retirement is a little bit like deciding to start a family. You think you have a lot of lead time, but surprises always pop up along the way. That happened to me. I bought a great, sporty new car six months before I learned I was pregnant with twins. You can imagine how well two car seats fit in the backseat. Had I known how quickly a minivan would be in my future, I never would have bought that car!
An Outline for Planning a Leadership Search
Timing (12-24 months before date of hire)
- Dialogue with the pre-retiree.
- Do they want to slow down or shred current responsibilities?
- Will they quit cold turkey or want a post-retirement consulting contract?
- Do they want to participate in the search process?
- Is their retirement date fixed or could it change?
- How many hats do they wear? Create an exhaustive list of duties and responsibilities.
Is internal promotion a viable option? It’s a waste of time to build a search only to eventually promote from within.
Profile (9-12 months before date of hire)
Close your eyes and imagine the perfect resume.
- Do you require insurance industry experience?
- How many job changes are too many?
- At heart, is this person rooted in sales, service or pure management?
While the answers seem obvious, the trap for many companies is simplicity. You will be tempted to negotiate away the profile when you struggle to source candidates. This stage keeps your commitment firm.
Experience (6-9 months before date of hire)
Do you want an equal to the current leader or someone with raw potential?
- A mirror image: A younger baby boomer who matches 99 percent of all job responsibilities.
- An upstart: The gen X or older millennial with executive maturity who fits 50 percent of the role. Where they lack skills, you are willing to train.
Beyond generational qualities, this is your opportunity to recruit for the future. Does the search address issues like diversity and pay equity?
Compensation (the last piece to launch the search)
Salary is one piece of a bigger puzzle. What substance will you offer?
- Relocation: How much, applicability and payment method? Payback protection clause?
- Signing Bonus: Yes or no? For what purpose? To what max?
- Equity, Ownership Stake: Immediately or after X years of tenure?
- Performance Variables: Percent of the first year total compensation package? Long term, weighted on individual performance or company profitability?
Food for Thought: Executive Recruiting
Don’t start by saying, “We Need to Find Candidates.” That’s a reactionary mindset. That mentality works when you’re scrambling to backfill a $60,000 account manager job. It lets applicant quality and availability determine your hiring profile.
Do say. “This Is A Huge Opportunity for Our Company.” Your firm’s brand, story, mission, history, vision and culture are impactful in a search. Be strategic. Plan and execute. Figure out how to put your best attributes on display. Your firm’s DNA will attract passive job seekers.
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