“How do I identify the candidate who can best lead our organization into the future?” Great question. Most business leaders find it simplest to focus on experience and credentials. As a result, companies typically rely on rigid checklists designed to replicate the last person who held the role rather than entering uncharted territory by seeking new skills for future success. But done right, hiring for potential is a rigorous process that will lead you to the candidate you never knew you always wanted.

Here’s a five-step holistic approach that applies across industries:

  1. Identify past gaps in previous leaders. If you don’t want a clone of the last person in the role, start by figuring out what that person was missing. When you understand why you need a change, you can seek people who have succeeded with similar types of transitions.


  2. Prioritize the criteria. Of all the strengths you’d like to see in a candidate, which will determine the new hire’s success and greatest ability to drive your business goals? For example, you might want someone first and foremost who can lead innovation, or change an organization’s culture, or show flexibility in management style. Identify the top three or four skills that get to the heart of what the person needs to do and focus on those criteria.


  3. Give the candidate a wide-sweeping view of your business. Most hiring managers overlook the value of providing strategic information needed to prompt insightful dialogue. Before discussing how a candidate’s abilities might help your organization, brief him or her on your business, financials and industry priorities and, most important, how the open position fits into your overall business strategy. This provides a landscape for strategic thinking and is critical information when considering candidates outside your industry who may bring a competitive new perspective.


  4. Be mindful of the company culture and its tolerance for outside perspectives. “New” is not always better; however it does provide a fresh vantage point. This is especially important when companies are asking their new hire to improve, change and even disrupt their existing business strategies.


  5. Move fast when you find the right person. Always remember that the best candidates have options. If they were not looking for a new role before you called, and truly start to become interested, they are likely to start reaching reach out to their network to determine if there are other “ideal” roles available to consider. This type of behavior should not be misinterpreted as the candidate trying to find something better but rather understood as an example of their ability to collect data before making important strategic decisions. I have often had to deliver unfortunate news to clients who hesitated and lost the chance to hire their top choice.

With the right process in place, you will find that your best hires have the ability to meet the needs of your company not only today but also tomorrow.

By Laura Brown

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