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EXECUTIVE SEARCH: Misfits... the Executive Talent Opportunity Companies Miss


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People with natural executive talent such as Honda founder Soichiro Honda, succeeded on his own after failing to get a job at Toyota. Oprah Winfrey was fired as a television reporter because she was ‘unfit for TV’.

Countless examples drive home the point that top performers are often within reach – but reaching out to them can be a stretch, especially if they don’t fit the hiring company’s preconceptions.

Leaders with new ideas may disrupt comfort zones. They are often mavericks who feel frustrated when penned in by constraints they believe to be outmoded and may have to move on.

But itÂ’s hardly a black mark on the CV if you can prove to have been fired, or asked to move, because you are ahead of your time. It would not disqualify a candidate for a shortlist prepared by a professional talent search practice hired by a company looking for reinvention.

Many company directors also appreciate that if industries are changing then casting the talent search net into other industries could well work and may help identify top performers with new ideas.

Billionaire Scott Cook was a brand manager at Procter and Gamble before co-founding Intuit and moving into financial software. Billionaire super-investor Michael Moritz was a Time magazine reporter and a not very successful writer, before trying his hand at venture capital.

The capacity of industry insiders to get things wrong is also a worry. Publishing industry ‘experts’ at 12 publishing houses turned down J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript. Record industry chiefs at Decca didn’t think The Beatles were very good.

Embracing Outside Executive Talent

So it appears to make sense to remove own-industry blinkers and let in some outside influences.

Yet it is rare for a top South African company to embrace managerial newcomers from outside the industry concerned.

It may be subconscious, but there is a predisposition toward ‘one of us’ and the starting point for ‘one of us’ is a shared industry grounding. This then extends to experience of the same challenges, expertise in the same areas and qualification in the same subjects or professions.

The tendency to successor cloning is therefore no surprise and is often confirmed at candidate selection stage.

Rigorous assessment of competencies in line with the position profile may generate four or five candidates with strengths in all areas prioritised by the board.

Going for the ‘Misfit’ Executive Talent Might Not Always Be the Best Option

However, to provide balance and create a contrast, one candidate may be added to the shortlist who qualifies as a planning, organising, logical controller who sticks to the rules – and therefore resembles many current leaders at the company preparing for a dynamic new future.

This is the ‘comfort candidate’.

In many cases, comfort is preferred to change. The comfort candidate is the one the chairman and board go for – in defiance of the profile they themselves signed off.

These contradictions can be avoided by applying a simple precept Â… DonÂ’t recruit for today; recruit for five years ahead. This is only possible if your company is healthy and not in need of a turn-around but growth.

The good news is that forward-looking businesses are already on the road to a substantial competitive advantage Â… because so many of their peers will be looking for comfort rather than looking ahead at certain things like executive talent.

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