Hiring in the Age of Covid and Beyond

The purpose of any senior appointment is to succeed and in the pandemic, for some key roles, success is literally life and death.

But the pandemic brings its own pressure and companies frequently have to make critical appointments with speed and without the benefits of established face to face interview processes.

While every business leader understands the imperative to act quickly and is all too aware that protracted bureaucratic processes are not the answer, the danger of making an appointment in a way that is perceived to lack transparency can also backfire. Leaders need trust, and surely any new leader in the public or private sphere wants to be set up to succeed.

The UK has been remarkably successful in the rollout of the vaccine and one key aspect was securing vaccine supply. The inspired appointment of a highly experienced venture capitalist in the life science sector greatly facilitated collaboration between academia and business in both the development and supply of vaccines. This enabled the UK to move forward with vaccinating its adult population at a speed that is the envy of many other countries.

But even with the scale of this achievement, media interviews still choose to question the appointment process, accused by some of being another instance of the “chumocracy”.

Are there lessons to be learned?

Particularly in a crisis where speed is of the essence, setting up key appointments to succeed is vital. Here are three takeaways for any Nomination Committee Chair or indeed Minister on the verge of an important appointment in the time of Covid and beyond:

  1. Clarity – a clear statement of what the appointment is to achieve and the objectives of the role.  This can be succinct, but it will demonstrate to both internal and external scrutiny (i) that clear thinking has taken place and (ii) that the successful candidate does indeed bring attributes that are necessary to succeed.
  2. Oversight – even when moving fast, for example to make an interim appointment, there are a number of checks and balances, including more than one decision maker in the process and preferably a small Committee with some independent thinkers.  Also, a clear review process and timeline gives confidence. In the vaccinations case set out above the role was for a finite period.
  3. Good Documentation / Transparency – a good process, which does not need to be bureaucratic, is key to setting the role up to succeed. This captures decision-making: who spoke to whom and who interviewed whom, as well as the outcomes. Ultimately this gives comfort to stakeholders, and indeed shareholders, that decisions have been made in best interest of the country/company.

There is much to be learned from the past year. Hiring did not go on hold because of lockdown – quite the opposite. Fidelio has successfully undertaken Searches for a number of Board and Executive roles and, even with a remote interviewing process, it is very much possible to set the role up to succeed. For international companies it has been easier to bring Board Members, regardless of geography and sometimes at short notice, into a hiring process. This can provide important buy in and support for a new Executive with a challenging role to fulfil.

Agility does not mean good governance goes out of the window. Quite the contrary. Any new appointment – Board, Executive, interim, permanent – will have a greater opportunity to succeed in role, if there is trust: trust that she/he is the best for the role and has been appointed fairly.

To learn more about Fidelio and our contribution to building better Boards through Search, Evaluation and Development, please contact Gillian Karran-Cumberlege at gkarrancumberlege@fideliopartners.com.

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