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Over the years, search committees have asked us to share our knowledge about what makes for a successful search. Here is what we know, why we know it and why it is going to save you time during your search.
How long does a search for a CEO generally take?
The search process is a balance between the elements of efficiency and effectiveness; neither can be compromised. That said, the typical search process takes 4-5 months, from the time you launch a search until you have an acceptance of your offer from your final candidate. It is likely that the final candidate will want to give at least 30-60 days prior notice to their current employer. In some cases, this notice period might even be longer. So you will need to factor that into your timeline.
Who should be represented on the Search Committee?
The selection of a chief executive officer is one of the most important decisions the Board will ever make. Thus, it makes sense to populate the Committee with current board members who are the most attentive to and knowledgeable of the work of the organization. Some search committees have included a former board member, like the immediate past president of the Board, or a key stakeholder, like a major donor or a close advisor. It is also crucial for the committee composition to reflect the diversity of your organization. Remember, while you are trying to evaluate a new leader, you are also trying to attract new a leader.
What’s the right size for a Search Committee?
The ideal Search Committee is comprised of either 5 or 7 members. The larger the Committee, the more difficult it will be to organize meetings, conduct candidate interviews and hold discussions with everyone around the table. With larger Committees, there is also a tendency to drift from the original timeframe as you try to accommodate the schedules of busy people. Efforts to be inclusive and not leave anyone out of the process inevitably protracts the search and can often lead to the frustration of other Committee members.
Should staff be represented on the Search Committee?
Staff typically does not have a formal seat at the Committee table. However, it is common practice to engage staff in a number of ways before, during and after the search process. Staff can and should participate at critical points. Input from staff should be received at the beginning of the search so that the Committee can consider viewpoints in shaping the candidate requirements and qualifications for the position. Often the Committee will offer an opportunity for senior staff to meet the finalist(s) toward the end of the search. Quite simply, the integration of staff into the Board’s CEO selection process must be done carefully and remain in line with the overall culture and needs of the organization. A conversation with search counsel early in the process is highly recommended.
How much time will be expected of Committee members?
A reasonable and conservative estimate would be approximately 25-30 hours spread out over 4-5 months. Like other ad hoc committees, the Search Committee is organized and charged with one major purpose or goal, around which certain activities are planned in advance and implemented over a relatively short period of time. When the purpose or goal has been met, the committee dissolves. With that in mind, a Search Committee member should be prepared to clear his or her calendar at attend to Committee work as scheduled. It is important that Committee members are available to personally participate in every key milestone of the search process, particularly the major milestones of the search.
How would you describe the responsibilities of the Search Committee Chair?
The Chair of the Committee is the key to a successful process and their responsibilities can be summed up in three phrases: Devotion of Time, Commitment to Process and Exertion of Leadership. It is the Chair who is responsible for calling meetings, making sure each member of the Committee is engaged, and facilitating dialogue and consensus among all members when needed. The Chair should obviously have a thorough understanding of the organization and be a person who can keep things moving, even if it means facilitating Committee decisions in the absence of unanimity. This person should enjoy the respect and trust of the Committee members because there may be times when the best interests of the organization are subject to various interpretations. An effective Chair will have the ability to inspire preparation, diligence and involvement among all Committee members in pursuing the ultimate purpose of its work: to recommend an outstanding leader to the Board.
Should the Board Chair also serve as the Search Committee Chair?
No. However, it is important that the Board Chair serve as a member of the Committee. Like any other ad hoc committee, subcommittee, or task force that the Chair establishes, seldom do they appoint themselves as the Chair.
How should we investigate a search firms experience engaging diverse candidates?
The desire to engage BIPOC and gender diverse candidates in chief executive opportunities across the non-profit sector is a major element of CEO search today. Search Committees should seek to understand a firm’s overall approach to diversity, equity and inclusion including their values commitment as well as how those values shape their practices and approach. Often, there is a desire to simply understand how many placements of BIPOC or gender diverse professionals a firm has made recently. This is one important measure of success, but a deeper understanding of the firms authentic DEI approach in search is also needed to ensure success. For organizations that have not engaged in formal, focused DEI work internally, this will be important to discuss as the search begins.
Would it make sense to appoint an interim leader until we find the permanent one?
If your leadership transition is an unplanned and sudden event, the appointment of an interim may be advisable since it may be 6 months or longer until your new leader is on board. This is particularly helpful when a long term, legacy leader or founder is leaving the organization. An interim leader will be able to provide the Board real-time feedback during the search about areas in the organization where there may be need for assessment or change prior to a new leader’s arrival. Additionally, a leadership transition is always an anxious time the Board and staff, even when it is a planned event, so an effective interim leader can reduce some of that tension. Kittleman has relationships with several Interim Executives through our Alliance Partners. Some boards identify a current senior staff member to fill this role. It is important to note that if you plan to conduct a national search and choose to appoint an internal interim, the Board should be careful not to place a potential candidate in the interim role. While it may seem intuitive to provide a “trial run” for the executive, this can create challenges if the interim leader is not selected as the permanent CEO.
If we hire a firm but we find a candidate on our own, do we still owe a fee?
Yes, assuming you engage a qualified retained search firm as opposed to a contingency firm. Kittleman is a retained search firm. It is a fairly standard practice that any candidate presented, regardless of the source of referral or identification, becomes part of the search process. This applies to candidates identified before and after the search firm is engaged. This ensures that each candidate is treated in an objective manner by the committee. And it does not have any effect on the fee.
What if the candidate selected doesn’t turn out to be the right fit and we part ways?
Most search firms provide a guarantee of placement which means that if the candidate you selected is no longer employed by the organization at a certain point in time, the firm will conduct a replacement search and not charge a full fee. The guarantee period varies throughout the industry.
What if we don’t like any of the candidates you find for us?
We go back to the market and identify additional candidates for your review and evaluation. Given the considerable organizational alignment work Kittleman completes before the search is launched, it is rare that candidates are not aligned with the committee’s expectations. Kittleman’s goal is to find the right candidates for the organization and that drives everything we do. We don’t stop until you have hired your next leader!
Is it typical to reimburse the travel expenses of candidates whom we select for an interview?
Yes. Thus, the cost of search services should include a budget for such expenses. We can advise you on this.
What happens after the search is completed?
Firms that are focused on CEO search know that the work to ensure a successful leadership transition does not end when the hire is finalized. The Search Committee should expect a level of support from their search firm during the onboarding and orientation and perhaps longer. Continued engagement with the search consultant can be valuable to both the CEO and the Board as they navigate their initial interactions and develop the roots of their long-term relationship.