More than almost any other factor in a chief information officer's armoury, having good people is a mainstay for sustained success. Frequently, as CIOs move from one corporate opportunity to another, it is common for trusted, high-performers to follow them. Building a good team begins with careful staff selection.
While some use search firms for senior roles, most CIOs use traditional recruitment methods: profile the role, advertise it, shortlist candidates, interview them, check references, then appoint.
With skills shortages, it can be tempting to make staff selection compromises purely for the sake of filling a vacant role and relieving a stress point. However, this can have many repercussions above and beyond the obvious ones of agency placement fees and the opportunity costs of having to repeat the recruitment cycle. Non-traditional recruiting methods, relying on group dynamics methods pioneered by Mars Corp and others, may achieve better first-time success.
I have recently been involved in recruiting senior IT staff using this approach. While there is little doubt that higher levels of commitment and effort are required for recruiters and candidates, the results warrant the effort. Insights, good and bad, are gained about candidates that may not be apparent until many weeks into a job. These can include critical factors such as leadership, teamwork and presentation skills, analytical abilities and resilience under stress.
Group dynamics-based recruiting begins by following the path of the traditional staff recruitment lifecycle up to and including the time when three or four short-listed candidates have been selected, interviewed and asked if they are willing to take part in the next steps in the process. At this point, candidates are given the option of dropping out.
Short-listed candidates are asked to be available for both group and individual exercises that may last up to four hours or more of their working day. On that day, the candidates will meet four executives from the prospective employer.
Typical agenda for these exercises:
Briefing (20 minutes). Run by the most senior member of the recruiting organisation and involving all candidates, each of whom will briefly present themselves both professionally and personally;
Individual presentations (1 hour, 40 minutes). Several days before the event, the candidates would be given a brief on a topic they will have to present. The brief should be germane to the role they are seeking and structured to test not only their presentation skills but their research skills. Each candidate will have 15 minutes to present, with another five minutes for questions. The audience will consist of the executives from the potential employer.
One-on-one interviews (1 hour, 20 minutes). Akin to speed dating, the candidates would each be subjected to a one-on-one interview with each executive. To encourage spontaneity, interview topics and the format of the interview are left to the discretion of each executive. However, for obvious reasons they should be focused on topics relevant to the role candidates will perform, if successful.
Group exercise (1 hour). The candidates are assembled and briefed on an exercise they will perform as a team. Written instructions are also provided. In essence, the group is expected to prepare a team presentation. They will decide how many candidates (it could be all four) will present in the allotted 15 to 20 minutes. Throughout, all the executives remain present, observing and noting the dynamics between group members.
Debrief to candidates (15 minutes). The chair of the employer group thanks the participants, asks if there are any questions and explains the next steps.
Based on the above, the employer group ranks the candidates. If the process has worked well, one candidate will stand out and be offered employment, subject to the usual conditions. For those who performed less well, some insights on their performance may be shared with them on a one-on-one basis based on the collective observations of the executives. The intention is to provide honest and useful feedback.
A survey conducted for Information Systems Audit and Control Association by Right Management in February and March last year, which gathered responses from almost 900 senior business leaders and human resources professionals in North America, focused on what contributed most to achieving accelerated business performance with new hires. In summary, when it came to contributing to an organisation's performance, employers placed a far higher value on "soft" behavioural and interpersonal skills than on technical prowess or experience, which together accounted for just 23 per cent of the organisational performance contributors cited in the survey.
Rob Mackinnon is an adviser with IBRS.
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