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By Stephen Archer, Spring Partnerships LLP

We keep hearing in the news about directors whose standards fall below that which was expected of them in their role and what would be expected of them by society in general. How can a financial organisation minimise the risk of such people emerging?

Hiring the right people in the financial sector is immensely complex – it is no surprise that so many mistakes are made. Getting recruitment right will pay huge dividends, but is enough rigor applied to the process? Though luck will play its part, businesses need the right people to be available and attracted to your organisation. If there are two things that are critical it is to assess people’s values and leadership.

Stephen Archer, Spring Partnerships LLP
Stephen Archer, Spring Partnerships LLP

Values must come first. Underlying nearly all the failures of directors will be inappropriate values. These are the things that define how a person behaves and in turn, the culture of the organisation. Values also have a big part to play in the way that a person ‘fits’ an organisation. They may have a different style or character to that which you imagine and may even have a slight mismatch of background and experience; but the values must come first. Always.

Remember, ‘hire the smile, and train the skill’ – the same simple rule applies to values. ‘Hire the values, train the expertise’. Values are the inner beliefs, the things that define behaviour in individuals. They define how people approach work and how they relate to colleagues – and in a director they define how they behave as leaders. They can and should be defined, but rarely can this be achieved with a five-point list that is hung in reception; these speak to an aspiration, designed by committee.

So how do you define the values that you seek in a new recruit? It is not as hard as it may sound.

The starting point is analysis of what constitutes the existing organisational culture – the blend of beliefs and behaviours that makes the people effective and the company successful. Do not treat this lightly – in competitive markets the most important differentiator that you have will be your culture and how employees behave. Those involved in the recruitment process must use this defined value set as a basis for candidate assessment in the interview process. They need to ensure that candidates are assessed in a balanced and objective manner. It sounds obvious, but candidates can all too easily be seized on with too much enthusiasm by senior colleagues when they see the experience on paper. HR and other directors should be looking beyond experience to ensure that the personal fit is matched.

In addition to the formal processes, there are two other ways to assess candidates. Firstly, telephone them at home, out of hours. Catching people off guard and away from the mentality of the interview ‘performance’ can be very revealing. Heed the findings because these often represent the real person.

Secondly, ensure that many other people in the organisation meet the candidate before they are appointed – especially those that will come into direct contact. Ask these people for their views. They will be most revealing and if this process is used frequently the employees own empowerment will increase. They will also help the new director more when they do arrive and increase the chance of the fit working and lasting.

Stephen Archer is a UK-based consultant and business analyst and in 2003 founded Spring Partnerships LLP. He is a consultant to various multi-national companies at CEO level, and has been called the ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ of business speakers, for his amusing and insightful perspectives on the changing business environment.