The Executive Brief

3 Key Factors for Avoiding Surprises in a New Role

Bob Schoenbaum Executive Leadership, Culture, Hiring

Have you ever accepted a new position with an uneasy feeling about the company or culture you were entering? During the interview process, everything looked good on the surface - but you can't shake the feeling you hadn't gotten the full story.

Unfortunately, this uneasy feeling can lead to some very real regret if the company or role is not as expected.

As Principal of KeyStone Search, a retained executive search firm in Minneapolis, I've interviewed several thousand business leaders and have heard many stories about great people leaving positions after a short tenure. It isn't typically due to a purposeful deception, but almost like dating, companies put their best foot forward in the interview process. And if the chemistry during the interviews is excellent, issues can be glossed over.

Surprises are Only Good on Your Birthday

At KeyStone Search, we have been fortunate to work with many great companies, but even the best companies have their problems. As executive search partners, we have become experts at making sure there are no surprises when a hire is made. We avoid surprises with thorough due diligence - we keep asking the right questions until we fully understand the culture and the business. We dive deep into the company's Core Values, Vision and Strategy and Leadership Style. As a candidate, these are 3 key areas to delve into to avoid unwanted surprises.

1. Core Values

Almost every company has acore values statement; however, these can sometimes be more about the values the company is struggling to live, rather than the values they are actually living. For example, I once worked with a client who listed Innovation as a core value. I learned through our Discovery process that innovation had recently taken a backseat to acquisitions. Through careful questioning, I was able to better understand the situation and share it with candidates so there were no surprises when the final candidate was hired. During the interview process, make sure you are familiar with the company's core value statement and be prepared to discuss. Through a little questioning, it can become clear whether or not the core values are truly engrained in the culture of the company.

2. Vision and Strategy

Every good company has a vision statement and most engage in regular strategic planning. Perhaps more important than understanding the strategy and vision is identifying how connected employees are to these initiatives. A company can have a big vision and a great strategy - but if people are not actively engaged, it may be a sign of broader problems. This could be a problem with the actual vision and strategy, or a communicatoin problem (employees do not know or understand the strategy). As part of our retained search process, we meet with team members on all levels of the organization. It doesn't take long to identify misalignments when you talk to people underneath the leadership team.

Remember the old story of the maintenance worker at NASA? When asked what he did for a living, he responded: "I'm helping put a man on the moon." While most visions aren't quite so extreme, you need to see and understanding and enthusiam for where the company is headed among employees.

3. Leadership

There's so much material on leadership and I cannot possible include it all here; however, I will say that few people like an autocrat. Most employees want to work with empowering, strategic leaders. The challenge is making sure that this leadership style is being deployed in the company. As a candidate, keep asking questions until you're satisfied you understand the leadership style of the CEO and senior management team. What you learn about core values, vision and strategy should illuminate the culture and inform your understanding of the leadership style. If you're looking at an offer and have an uneasy feeling, request another meeting and continue asking questions before making a decision.

There is always a risk when making a job change, and no companies are without problems and challenges. But, when you understand the challenges on the front end, they are much easier to overcome. Overcoming obstacles to take a business to the next level is what makes starting at a new job so thrilling. Just make sure you ask enough questions and dig deep enough to understand if the issues are something you can tackle or an indication of a no-win situation.

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