Pressure to Appoint

Pressure to Appoint

By Laura Phelps-Naqvi

Over the last couple of days I’ve sat in different boardrooms with two separate clients: the first, a national retailer and the second, an internationally focused University. Both organisations face significant challenges in an increasingly competitive market where the customer is cost savvy and expects more for their buck. Both organisations are delivering significant transformational change agendas in public view. Any senior appointments they make are liable to media scrutiny.

Our role is to support these clients in assessing for business critical appointments, including external hires, promotions and succession planning. With such appointments, clients usually want the right candidate, right now, who can hit the ground running. So almost always there is a pressure to appoint.

When the perfect candidate is available and raring to go, it is a great day. But this is unusual. More often, the client is faced with a range of candidates who each have strengths and development areas in relation to the role specification. We have observed common problems that can surface at this stage:

    • A drift from criterion-based assessment (fit vs the specification) towards norm-based assessment (‘the best of the bunch’).
    • Potential dissonance arising between those who favour the long-term view (‘let’s wait until we find the perfect candidate’) and those looking for immediate resolution (‘we’ve been out to the market – this is what’s available’). In our experience, those colleagues who are covering for the vacancy/feeling the pain are almost always in this latter camp.

In these situations we have found it helpful to ask a series of questions:

      1. Although not currently a perfect role-fit, do we believe that the favoured candidates will fit effectively into the team (and the culture of the organisation if coming from outside)?
      2. Can we think creatively to mitigate the gaps that these candidates currently have? For example, which skills are most developable and how/when could this development take place?
      3. How aware are the favoured candidates of the gaps between their profile and the role specification? If they did recognise these gaps, how committed would they be to closing them?
      4. What else do the favoured candidates bring, over and above the specification that might also be valuable to the organisation?
      5. Is there a way to re-organise the team to accommodate a favoured candidate with a few skills gaps?

Ultimately, talent can be scarce, and the recruiting organisation has a tough decision to make. Wickland Westcott, when assessing candidates, is well aware of this and it can therefore be tempting for the Consultant to soften the assessment report. But we will never do this.

However, we are always open to conversations that look beyond the exact here-and-now fit, and seek to determine ‘how’ a candidate could be supported to be successful in a role. In our experience, signs of such flexibility include values-alignment and cultural fit (hence Question 1 above), as well as the candidate’s ability to learn and an openness to change (Question 3). Courage is also a good indicator.

Increasingly then, we ask clients to be more flexible and accommodating when bringing in senior hires. If none of the jigsaw-pieces on the shortlist fit the current picture perfectly, how can the picture itself be changed to accommodate one or more of the pieces? This is talent management in its broadest sense, and the organisations that do this are likely to secure the best people in the market.

For a conversation regarding the above please call Laura Phelps-Naqvi (Head of Practice, Leadership Development), on 01625 508100 or email

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