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Recruiting a hands-on yet strategic IT director

A case study

 

Recently, I worked with my colleague, Robin Hills from EI4 Change, to help a manufacturing company recruit an IT director.

Given that this organisation doesn’t currently have an IT department to direct, the new recruit would need to be hands-on, able to roll their sleeves up and deliver the day-to-day IT requirements of the business.

But the company also has ambitious plans for the future and knows it needs to develop its online marketing activity as well as increasing the efficiency of its ordering and fulfilment processes. Their new IT director would therefore also need to be able to think strategically, build and manage a team and work alongside the Chief Executive.

Here’s what we did:

A recruitment agency started the process by head-hunting and CV mining. They drew up a list of potential candidates and conducted telephone interviews to check they met basic criteria. As a result there were eight candidates in the frame.

We were engaged to narrow the field further by assessing candidates’ behaviours, personality, values and motivations to ensure they could fulfil this demanding and complex role. Essentially we wanted to find out whether they were:

  • Bright enough for the job
  • Strategic enough to take the company forward
  • Lively and engaged
  • Hands-on but not to the extent where they’d get bogged down in detail
  • A good fit for the organisational culture.

We designed a solution to thoroughly test the candidates using a range of psychometric and reasoning tools. Those tools were:

  • A personality questionnaire
  • Numerical, verbal and diagrammatic reasoning tests
  • An analysis and report writing exercise.

The candidates would be scored against core competencies including strategic thinking, leadership, communication and decision-making.

Why these tools?

The personality questionnaire was used in conjunction with an interview to explore how the candidate’s personality would emerge in the role. What behaviours will we see in the role as a result of their personality traits?

For instance, a candidate might have a tendency to be controlling. While this would be useful in terms of the hands-on element of the role, too much control could slow down strategic activity. So we wanted to explore how controlling they liked to be, could they delegate to a team or would they try to do it all themselves?

The reasoning test had three elements:

  • numerical – to assess how smart candidates were with figures – given that the role came with significant financial responsibilities
  • verbal – the successful candidate would have to write strategic reports and deal with complicated information – were they up to it?
  • diagrammatic – this test looks at whether you can make links between information and spot patterns – useful when a role demands that you work in this way.

The analysis and report-writing exercise presented the candidates with a fictitious company who, on rolling out a new IT system, had incurred major customer complaints. The candidates were asked to identify the main issues and write a report demonstrating their solution. This tested their ability to sort and prioritise problems, make links between data, make decisions about what needed to be done, communicate those decisions effectively and write a strategy for the business.

The wash-up

Once all eight candidates had been assessed, we met with the Chief Executive to discuss the results. From the personality questionnaire and interview we were able to talk about people’s capabilities and their fit with the organisation. From the reasoning test, we could show which candidates had the wherewithal to deal with the demands of the job and from the written exercise we could evaluate how strategic they would be in developing the business.

From this, we were able to identify three candidates from the eight who had the mental capacity to do the job as well as being people-focused and strategic. They went through to the final selection stage – a competency based interview with the Chief Exec and a presentation. After this, an offer was made to the successful candidate.

This rigorous assessment meant that:

  • the Chief Exec only had to interview three people rather than eight
  • he was reassured that we’d really pinned down whether the candidates would fit in
  • we’d got the true measure of people across the range of tests used. This avoided the risk of hiring someone simply because they’re good at selling themselves which can happen if you just use interviews.

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