Why ask the “why” questions?

The easiest part of the executive recruiting process, candidate screening, is determining whether the applicants are qualified or not.  That is a task typically performed by researchers or junior recruiters, comparing candidate resumes against the client’s selection criteria.

whyIt is the rare exception that a clearly unqualified candidate gets hired, save political or social intercession or the ineptitude of the person making the hiring decision. It happens, but these occurrences are statistically insignificant.

The “why” question allows the interviewer to dive into some of the most important issues — values, integrity, leadership style and judgment.  It is with a deep understanding of an individual’s responses to these five decision-critical categories that an executive’s tenure will be either successful or something far less, an outcome that could threaten the future financial security and viability of the enterprise.

As an executive recruiter who has enjoyed considerable success working with rural and community hospitals, I freely admit this next statement is self-serving:  Bad CEO hiring decisions have doomed hundreds of rural and community hospitals over the last two decades.  I do not have data but I am willing to bet the farm that poor hiring choices as a reason for the failure of rural and community hospitals is right up there with poor governance, a disengaged, (read: self-serving) medical staff, a community that fails to realize the importance of the economic and personal health benefits of having a viable local hospital, or some deadly combination of the above.  To finish the loop, using an outside recruiter to advise the board is absolutely no guarantee they will make the right decision, hiring the right candidate.  Recruiting firm ineptitude can produce just as much damage to the hospital and the community which is why boards must begin to insist on more accountability from their search consultants.

The secret to avoid this kind of disaster rises or falls with the process that is used to screen applicants.  In hiring a hospital CEO we are well beyond the day when a Board can solicit resumes, do an interview and make a decision, or, perhaps worse, promote someone from within because they are a known commodity and/or will be less expensive salary-wise.

The why questions have increasingly become a bigger part of the JGS+P version of the Topgrading© predictive candidate screening model that we have used successfully for more than 20 years.  While these questions elicit revealing answers, there is no canned list of “why” questions that will apply to whichever candidate comes in the door.  Recruiters and/or boards must be prepared to look carefully at the candidate’s background  and especially the interview notes/analysis of their staff or search firm.  As the entity charged with making the final decision, board members shouldn’t just show up for the interview having only looked at the resume the night before, or worse, an hour before.  They need to have a better idea of the candidate before they walk through the door.  In other words, a background check and references should be obtained prior to the board’s interview.

Hiring a hospital CEO to run what legendary management guru Peter Drucker described as the most complex of all business organizations ever designed by man, is most assuredly not a transaction like buying a company, an expensive house, or even a car.  A CEO hiring choice is more closely aligned with one of life’s most important decisions:  asking the right person to marry you.  It is not a decision that should be made on the basis of one meeting.  Boards  have to spend time understanding who the candidate is, how they make decisions, how they treat people, including customers and employees, and whether they will be an asset and a good friend for the community.

There are plenty of bad candidates out there and that is why the why questions are so important.