How to solve the hiring puzzle How to solve the hiring puzzle

When analysing corporate failures the question around smart recruiting is on the centre stage. More than ever the recruitment process needs to protect the welfare of the company against the threat of inflated egos, individualism, and dictatorial management style, explains Philip Lefebvre, Managing Partner, Whitewater Executive Search.

Organisations must embrace a more thorough recruitment process and show more diligence when hiring senior executives. It is no longer enough to rely on an individual’s reputation when making a decision.

Humans and their decision-making processes are much more complex than what can be described during an interview call. Companies must be able to measure the individual’s inert ability to seamlessly integrate into the organisation, and to successfully deliver against the organisation’s objectives.

A diligent recruitment process can only benefit and protect an organisation from future negative events. The required diligence is in essence a formal agreement on what are the ideal competencies of the individual who will be successful in the role, and how can we be certain that the person we hire will, in fact, be who we want them to be. This decision becomes the framework for the recruitment project and, ultimately the recipe for a successful hire.

Methods of measuring an individual’s competencies have been around for many years. In the past, some companies relied on a combination of psychometric testing and industrial psychologist reports to support the hiring decision of an executive. These tests comprised of several hundred multiple choice questions that extracted a broad understanding of an individual’s personality and what their potential strengths and weaknesses were. They were then supported by an industrial psychologists report derived from a one-on-one interview with the potential candidate.

As these methods evolved, organisations began to see the potential flaws in such processes. The obvious was that candidates were becoming experts at structuring their responses in line with what the role required and thus, companies were not getting the “true” picture of who they were hiring.

Beyond this, these exams and interviews only supported a “snap shot” or static analysis of a potential candidate’s personality. They were not able to capture the individual’s active behaviour in a broad range of situations such as their ability to integrate into a team, how they would react in times of stress, or how they process a situation and act upon it.

In addition to the validity of the information gathered during a psychometric testing session, companies did not have a methodology to ensure that potential candidate skills were aligned to the overall corporate objectives.

A Vice President responsible for sales can demonstrate that they are great sales drivers, but if the company views customer satisfaction rather than revenue generation as a key corporate objective, they could end up making a costly error in hiring the wrong person.

Furthermore, as corporate objectives changed over time, there was no mechanism in place to know whether the current CEO was capable of leading the company towards these new goals.

Today, these tools have evolved tremendously and they are more frequently used in the recruitment process, particularly when hiring an executive. The practice is now more commonly known as Competency Modelling; a powerful tool to ensure a targeted recruitment approach and subsequent proper “fit” between the new hire and the organisation.

Philip Lefebvre

The objective of developing a competency model is to ensure that the right people are currently in the right roles. Furthermore, these competencies are aligned perfectly with the organisation’s objectives or mission statement, which further supports its future success and strengthens the point of having the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

The process of developing a position’s competency model can be extremely insightful for a senior executive team. The exercise demands a complete alignment between each executive’s views on what the corporate objectives are both short and long term. Based on these objectives, the team will then align the necessary competencies required for an individual to be successful in the role.

A typical executive position requires 8 – 12 key competencies and these make up the competency model for that role. This model is then used by the recruiter in order to target the exact profile required by the company in order for the candidate to successfully attain the objectives set out by the executive team.

Armed with the organisation’s competency model for a specific role, it is now the recruiter’s responsibility to use this as a blue print for the identification of potential candidates. These competencies are rarely identified through an interview so the recruiter will typically use tools to measure an individual’s ranking against the specific competency model. It now becomes important to link an individual’s behavioural traits to these competencies.

This is typically measured through a case study or questionnaire, which maps out the individual’s automatic behaviours given certain circumstances. These behaviours are then measured against the pre-established behaviours required for a competency to manifest itself. So, in essence, once a candidate completes the case study, a recruiter is able to discern whether or not a candidate will demonstrate the required competency for the role.

This process is not as cut and dried as it seems. In some cases, candidates demonstrate a core competency but at a lesser degree than desired. In these instances, organisations can use this as a foundation for formal training and development in order to promote certain behaviours and subsequently align a candidate closer to the required competency level. Some tools can actually suggest specific types of formal developmental programmes and self-help techniques that can be followed by the candidate.

In addition to drastically increasing the probability of a successful hire, competency modelling is also used in the analysis of a candidate’s overall fit with the other members of a team. The benefit is to ensure that the new hire’s personality or behavioural traits will not clash with the current team. It also increases the probability of the successful hire to remain engaged and committed to the company for a longer period of time.

Many businesses today have successfully implemented competency models through their executive ranks. There are fewer that have done so across all functions and levels and, unfortunately, very few actively use it to recruit new executives. Nonetheless, the benefits of having the basis of a formal competency model are evident. A fully integrated corporate competency model offers the organisation the backbone for human capital management.

Once implemented, it assists in the recruitment process and aligns the new hire to the existing team dynamics. It’s used as the foundation for performance reviews and, finally, it acts as the outline for employee training programmes. Furthermore, it can be used as a powerful retention strategy as it gives the employee a comprehensive understanding of their strengths and opportunities for development.

A new application for competency modelling has recently emerged as companies are faced with cost cutting initiatives and hiring freezes. Although they are not in the position to hire top talent today, they seek to stay top-of-mind with the candidate market. A “talent mapping” service can assist companies in identifying executives for future hire.

This process uses the competency model of a given organisation and applies it to the candidate pool in a given function, region and compensation bracket. Short-list candidates are then regularly updated and once the company is prepared to hire the recruitment timelines are drastically diminished.

Although competency modelling can be perceived as a complication to an otherwise straightforward recruitment process, it definitely provides a much more tangible measure to the importance of “smart hiring”. The cost of a bad hire can be astronomical and in some circumstances, as we’ve seen recently, can actually destroy a company. The only way for an organisation to safeguard against such catastrophes is to embrace a strict and diligent recruitment process, and to use the tools that are currently at their disposal.

A company’s road to growth is highly reliant on its human capital and it takes only one poor judgement call to impact its course. The future health of an organisation is determined by the people who are making today’s business decisions. Therefore, recruiting key decision makers is not an exercise in cutting corners or to be outsourced to the cheapest firm, but rather a process that should be done with the utmost attention to detail.


Philip Lefebvre combines more than 15 years of executive search experience between Korn/Ferry International, and Heidrick & Struggles. He subsequently moved to Dubai in 2008 to participate in the growth of a regionally-based executive search firm.

Philip began his career in Montreal, Canada, assisting companies across the telecommunications and natural resources sectors. He then moved to Toronto, where he broadened his experience and worked closely with clients in the pharmaceutical, FMCG and financial services sectors. Prior to moving to the UAE, Philip was the Canadian Practice Head for the life sciences industry sector for Korn/Ferry International. Since his arrival to the region, Philip has had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients. He has successfully closed searches in sectors such as industrial, oil & gas, real estate, hospitality and pharmaceuticals. He has also worked across several key geographies including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Philip is Canadian but spent the first eight years of his life in Saudi Arabia. He holds a Bachelor of Finance degree from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and is fluently bilingual in English and French.



Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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