TYLER, Texas — For board members it is not if, it is simply when.
The when is when they will be forced to go through a search to replace their chief executive, the result of a retirement, poor performance, or because their former executive got a better job.
For every board that has experience with recruiting, there are many more that have not.
In larger health systems, board members who sit on other boards, or serve as senior executives of corporations, understand and have experience with the process, but few have the time it takes to conduct the search themselves. Some form search committees and enlist the HR Director, who may or may not have recruiting experience, to provide staff support. Other boards work as a committee of the whole and schedule multiple additional meetings to review resumes and to select candidates they would like to invite for an interview. Others hire outside search counsel or tap into hospital association resources.
Most boards I have worked with say that they were amazed at how much time the recruiting process took, even when they hired experts to advise them.
“I learned that just hoping we found a good replacement was a terrible approach,” said a board member from a rural midwest hospital.
“Not all recruiters are equal,” a board member of a small rural hospital confided. “We used an association, and all they did was pick some resumes and conduct telephone screening interviews. We essentially did the rest. The truth is we needed much more help than we got. I think we made a big mistake trying to save some money. We ended up doing another search inside 18 months.”
He confided that what surprised him was the amount of background work that was so time consuming. Some of that background work includes:
Job Description – Update the official job description if needed
Selection Criteria – Develop a Selection Criteria that includes the basic academic and experience requirements in the job description but goes into greater detail regarding the facility’s operational, financial and market challenges as well as requirements for the candidates in those areas
Position Summary – This is a very important component of the search. This is the document you provide to all candidates who are qualified and who you plan to interview. It should include the compensation range, reporting relationships, information from the Selection Criteria, the organization’s cultural profile, performance expectations and disclosures regarding significant challenges that the successful candidate should know before accepting an offer as well as a community profile. Not being completely transparent with a candidate is an invitation for failure of the process and/or a short tenure.
Evaluation Forms – You need to create an evaluation form that can be used by members of the interview team — board members, senior leadership representatives, physicians and other key hospital stakeholders. It is important for all members of the interview team to complete these forms, sometimes easier said than done!
Prepare Interview Questions – For boards that follow the first two steps of the process, they are better positioned to prepare for the important telephone screening calls and critical face-to-face interviews. Candidates want to put their best foot forward, and that includes exaggerating their experience, accomplishments or both. Being prepared with questions that probe a candidate’s relevant experiences and accomplishments is essential to ensure that you select the right qualified candidate. Board members who are not experienced in interviewing executives should be careful not to ask illegal questions. At JohnGSelf + Partners, our more than 85 questions in the face-to-face interviews cover leadership style, organizational culture, quality and patient safety accomplishments, personal values and integrity, critical thinking, board and medical staff relations, marketing/business development/recruiting, reimbursement/revenue cycle and managed care contracting.
Reference Questions – Boards should require relevant references — those with direct knowledge of the candidate’s pertinent executive experience. Prior board members or CEOs who supervised the candidate within the last five or six years, along with peers and direct reports, should comprise the reference list. That said, the reference questions should focus on asking questions that relate to their type of facility and the performance expectations. These questions must be prepared in advance to avoid missing key issues. Remember, candidates select primary references who are, more than likely, prepared to say only good things about the candidate. Specific, targeted questions is an important tool to thwart that understandable tendency on the part of the references.
Background Reviews – There are several companies which specialize in this type of work. We advise boards not to undertake this work on their own since any use of an outside resource (entities not associated with the hospital), including those who do computer records searches, can invoke provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1998. We also recommend a 15-year review of all state, county and local records for all jurisdictions of employment and residence as well as a review of a credit history (caution: this practice is not legal in every state) to primarily look for patterns of bad practice or financial fraud, not whether the candidate pays every revolving bill on time. In our Firm we have avoided some near misses but pursuing that level of detail.