2 Critical Questions CEOs Should Ask Head of People Candidates

In my previous post, I mentioned that when a CEO and the Head of People are not aligned on the scope and goals of a People function, that is a recipe for failure.  It’s important to have that discussion upfront, ideally through the candidate assessment process.

Two other critical areas that should be explored during these initial conversations are: “How do you plan to meet these goals?”, and “What do you need from me/the company to be successful?”

Especially for lean startups that can’t afford a hefty People team, finding a Head of People who can both strategize and execute is key.  Execution is very, very, very important. However, I get the sense that CEOs find execution to be a pretty dull topic and one where they don’t have much expertise, so they like to focus on strategy, vision, values, etc.  While I love engaging on those topics, I know that, if you can’t execute, all of that talk is just hot air. It can be tempting to hire the strategic ‘visionary’ who can talk a big game, but I implore CEOs to make sure they are placing their bets on someone who can deliver on these big promises through clean execution.

How?  If, as a CEO, you don’t know much about the ins and outs of HR, bring in an outside expert to probe for specifics.  If you have an experienced Exec team, they’ll likely have situations where they’ve worked with a strong or weak People team, so get them to pose those types of questions.  Or ask the candidate to present a workplan for their first 3-6 months, and make sure to pressure-test for well fleshed-out details and rigor. Don’t let anyone get away with hand-wavy answers.  

Related to the ‘how’ of a People plan is the ‘what do you need to be successful’.  This is so important to clarify upfront. Hiring an awesome Head of People and not equipping them with the tools to do their job is like buying a Ferrari and using plain unleaded gas (or some such analogy….  I’ve heard this expressed much more eloquently than this, but you catch my drift….).

This doesn’t mean you need to provide a massive budget and the promise of a full staff.  It just means you need to talk through how that person thinks through resourcing, budgeting, etc. and roughly what they think they’ll need for the first period (at least 1 year out, might be more).  It sets expectations on both sides, as any good interview process should elicit. And you might learn that the leading candidate is someone who has previously operated with a huge budget and team, and that they expect to be able to replicate that at your company.  Or not — maybe you’ll learn that the candidate needs your help in sussing out their budgeting and resource needs. And that’s okay, but at least you know what to expect, and how that lines up with the goals you are setting for the function.

PS>> Make sure to include your CFO on this stuff!

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