Assessing For The FleX Factor

by Mark Oppenheimer on 15 July 2015

The only thing that is constant in business nowadays is change. As companies face permanent uncertainty, strategic goals become a moving target. To succeed in this ephemeral world takes a new genre of leader, one who has the aptitude, attitude and courage to adapt, to change direction, to remain confident and to take people with them. Great leaders need the fleX Factor.

Companies are focusing on the characteristics of success

In-house talent managers within progressive companies are shifting the focus away from what people have done in the past to what they can do in the future. They are putting more resources behind junior management, employing psychometric tools like Hogan or Topgrading to help identify potential and assess promising employees against a suite of competencies pertinent to strong leadership. They are creating shadow boards and providing coaching and development to prepare tomorrow’s leaders. As the business world converges, they are rightly looking beyond their own sectors to mirror effective organisational design and acquire complementary talent at all levels.  

The executive search industry must reinvent assessment

When companies need to bring in senior talent, they expect their executive search partners to recognise the hallmarks of a great leader who can fit into their culture, someone with chameleon-like qualities who can steer their organisation through an ever-changing commercial landscape. To select on future promise, rather than past success, takes a blend of science and art, psychology and psychiatry. Executive search firms can’t be assumptive or rely on third party endorsements. They need to reveal the person hidden beneath the skin of a CV.

To do that requires rigorous processes to test competencies and more subtle techniques to assess behavioural traits, values, tenacity, adaptability, EQ and creativity. Some search firms cling on to anachronistic practices, while others have developed their own assessment models. These are often closely guarded secrets, but the common denominator is an emphasis on candidates’ ability to fit in on a number of levels: with people, with a particular corporate culture and with permanent change.

Uncovering ambition

Delving into the real person behind the CV and teasing out character traits takes far more than a casual conversation and should be conducted in a controlled environment. A candidate’s psychological make-up can be traced back to an early age. Unravelling their history – probing into childhood, university, standout memories and chosen paths – permits the executive searcher to understand how and why a candidate became who they are today. It’s not about navel gazing, but about finding the candidate who thinks big, who does not accept the world as it is but wants to find a better way, a smarter answer. Someone who wants to shape the future.

Interpreting the life journey

Exploring a candidate’s life journey can reveal aspects of their personality that otherwise remain hidden. Getting candidates to open up about successes and failures, obstacles they have encountered along the way and how they overcame them, helps the executive searcher to see how they approach life – and work. Then they can separate those with the potential to journey further from those who have taken too many shortcuts or got lost down too many dead ends.

Evaluating potential for personal growth

By unearthing the real reasons for a candidate’s career moves, the executive searcher can form a view of where the candidate wants to get to in their career and whether or not they have what it takes to get there. Part of the job is to discern between raw ambition and burnt bridges, separating candidates who want to keep moving forward – learning, growing and achieving more – from those who struggle to engage, to cope with change, to stay ahead of the curve and to deliver sustained improvement.

To date, candidate assessment has focused on track record, experience and technical skills rather than values, behaviours and potential. With today’s fast pace of change it is time to redefine the ideal leader, which in turn demands more insightful assessment of candidate psyches. The new generation of executive search firms can offer clients huge value in this respect, finding the stars who can make a real difference to their business. The challenge is to identify the fleX Factor, that rare ability to lead from the front without being blindsided by constant change.