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Wanted: new management team member

“One of the most important tasks directors have, is to ensure that their management team performs well, that it is built in a balanced way and that its members complement each other well”, is what I wrote on our website some time ago.

Sooner or later, there is a vacancy within the management team. This is a great opportunity to strengthen the team and to emphasize other items. It is seldom wise to fill up this vacancy 1-on-1 by recruiting the same type of person (same background, character, age). The first step consists in having a clear idea of the job description and the desired profile. Do we have to shift responsibilities within the team? And of course: what kind of person could fit into the team? It should be someone who can offer the company extra value.

The other team members’ opinion is crucial in order to answer all of these questions. According to my experience however, opinions are often much divided and not so concrete. Especially in this kind of situations, the members show conservative behavior. Often, their basic principle is not to take risks. Therefore, it is essential that the chairman of the management team takes the initiative. However, filling up a vacancy is the director’s responsibility par excellence, whereas lots of other issues could and should be delegated. In general, all management team members have their specific partial interests. In this context, an exception might be the human resources manager, who is very well positioned to assist the director in this process.

The first question arising is whether there is a suitable internal candidate or not. It seems easy to answer this question, but mind you: it is not! According to my experience, internal candidates are often disadvantaged compared to external candidates. This seems illogical, but it is (unfortunately) real. Why?
  • We know the internal candidates too well, including their weaknesses
  • Good internal candidates are doing their current job well. Consequently, they are often considered to be indispensable for that job.
  • Suddenly, a direct report of one of the management team members becomes a peer. The ‘boss’ could be threatened by the fact that this direct report perfectly knows him or her.
  • “If internal candidate A suits, why wouldn’t internal candidate B suit? The latter should also get this opportunity…” In order to avoid this difficult choice, it is easier to opt for an external candidate.
  • Arguments such as “This candidate could be competent in the future, but (s)he isn’t competent yet” are also often heard.

I have always given lots of opportunities to internal candidates and I have seldom been disappointed. Internal promotions within the company boosts morale (not only to the person concerned, but also to the entire organization) and leads to more loyalty. Moreover, it allows the company to save time and money.

Another important question is whether you need an external assessment as part of the screening. I have always been a great advocate of external assessments, even for internal candidates. External assessments provide additional information, but be aware of the fact that they should never be ultimately decisive within the screening. They have an advisory role; no more, no less! The director should take his/her responsibility and dare to put the assessment results into perspective.

Usually, checking the candidate’s references is part of the screening. I have mixed experiences about this way of proceeding. It doesn’t really provide new information but usually, it reinforces the existing opinion and inspires confidence.

Last but not least: the employment conditions. This is always a hot issue. Actually, there are two options. Your starting point can be the candidate’s employment conditions in his/her previous job or the existing remuneration system within your company. I definitely prefer this last option because the current management never likes to deviate from the existing system. You shouldn’t engage (external) candidates who don’t want to understand this principle.

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