Organisational culture plays a key role in many of the strategic leadership and management decisions that CEOs must make. The success or failure of a newly-hired senior executive increasingly hinges on compatibility. In other words, how well does that individual understand and meld with the company culture, rather than their ability and experience?
In fact, culture ranked as the number-two reason why executives were likely to leave their current jobs, according to BlueSteps’ 2018 Executive Career Outlook Report.
It is critical that executive candidates also assess company culture to ensure a fit with their own personal brand and particular career goals.
Here are some things to consider as a CxO candidate, especially when you’re in the penultimate stages of the interview process:
- Supportive senior leadership
“As the CEO, you’re the Chief Culture Officer, so yes, you will have the opportunity to influence the future culture of the company, but you need to check what kind of a support mechanism exists among senior leadership, the people who will amplify your message throughout the organisation,” recommends Workforce optimisation expert and Managing Partner of PeopleMax, Brad Wolff.
- Power-dynamics between board/Ex-Co
While a CEO is the ultimate authority when it comes to making management decisions, the Board still wields tremendous influence. Wolff believes it is vital for a prospective CEO to have a “frank conversation” with the Board and uncover the systemic and market-driven challenges facing the company and “the culture of decision-making when it came to addressing these issues... was it collaborative and balanced or skewed in the favour of a specific party or faction?”
Elizabeth Stewart, Head of Executive Assessment and Development at Odgers Berndtson in London. agrees and suggests asking the board and/or Ex-Co: “What was your biggest challenge last year? In the last five years? How was a strategy devised to address these challenges and who drove this strategy?”
Stewart believes the answers to this question will reveal “whether or not the company and your leadership peers believe in collaboration and continuous learning or whether there is a tendency towards blame culture.”
If you’re vying for another role in the C-suite, say CFO or CHRO, Wolff suggests trying to determine how previous individuals in these roles are involved in strategic discussions, including board meetings, and whether their input has been historically both valued and implemented.
- Outgoing CEO/CXO experience
“I would also want permission to talk with the past CEO to find out exactly where the gaps are and what the fundamental business realities of the organisation areas he/she sees it,” advises Wolff. “If the recruiter drags his or her feet in order to connect you, I would take that as a bad sign.”
- The average employee experience
“Ask to see the results of previous employee engagement surveys. If designed and executed correctly, they offer great insights into what employees really think about the culture, particularly the commentary, which the executive leadership will likely never say,” notes Stewart.
“Culture is what happens out on the floor, within departments, within teams. Come on board as a consultant for one or two days and spend time in the trenches,” advises Wolff. “Walk about different floors and get a sense for the workplace energy.”
- Are individuals interacting with one another?
- Do employees look stressed?
- What is the setup of the office: open floor plan or cubicles?
- Do leaders/department heads all have their own private offices? Does the workspace seem inclusive?
He also recommends having conversations with a cross-section of people across functions and job titles and sees what they reveal about the company culture. Which organisations did employees come from and where do they tend to go after?
Good advice for your next C-Suite move, always look before you leap.
This article is from the latest ‘Culture’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson global magazine, OBSERVE.
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