Past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future success

Many of us are used to hearing this mantra in our financial advisory meetings where we have the opportunity of using the ‘portfolio effect’ to mitigate risk (not to mention the wealth of data available on underlying businesses, stocks, investors and fund managers, banks and institutions).

When it comes to Board level hiring, we do not have this luxury (at least not to the same extent) with a business, people’s livelihoods and significant shareholder value resting on the performance of one individual (in the worst instance). Looking at more of a team dynamic when considering the Chairman, CEO, CFO and other Non/ Executive Board members, this utter reliance may be reduced but the scale and speed of impact of a ‘wrong hire’ cannot be underestimated at the senior level.

How then can we find a way to mitigate this risk, if not through portfolio effect, through predictive assessments and analytics, data and deep understanding – not only of the past but what likely scenarios will play out in the future?

So often, we are asked to find candidates from a very specific background. Often this is because they are referenceable quickly and easily, but also as a perceived way of reducing the risk associated with the hire. The theory being that if that candidate has done well in a very similar role, business and ownership structure, they should be able to repeat the recipe with a greater degree of certainty.

A valid assumption in the main. However, it inevitably leads to excellent candidates not being considered who could bring something new and potentially explosive.  It’s also not necessarily the optimal way to reduce risk – just because someone was on the ride, doesn’t demonstrate how much value they actually created, nor how they might fare given the sheer complexity of external factors that can have a significant impact (consider the challenges faced with changes caused by shifts in/changes to team dynamics, markets, business cycles, financial pressures, life pressures, location/geography, legal framework to name a few).

Throughout a formal search process and with all senior candidates we meet at Eton Bridge Partners, really understanding those candidates is one of the most important things we do – not just stand alone, but in relation to the specific client, role and personalities with which they will become embedded.  Formal and informal referencing. Analysis of past performance and roles, challenges and actions.  Character assessments and news, data and social media mining. Multiple, detailed interviews with information built up over time. All these things have a significant effect on our search process and successful outcomes, however, increasingly, we are also utilising an additional layer of assessment though independent experts such as Richard Waddell, founder of Talent ID.

As Richard explains, “we would normally work alongside but independently from our Search partners. We would take the shortlisted candidates and ask each to undertake a psychometric test.  So far, so good. This in its own right can be highly beneficial and helps to indicate the candidates preferences which may support or bely their presented interview behaviours and a beautiful CV”.

“Stopping here is not the full picture, however – it’s only their preferences and should be balanced with an in-depth behavioural interview focusing on recent work-related events. A deep understanding of both preferential and behavioural tendencies yields significant insights into their approach, potential under different likely situations, not to mention values and character. When then measured against the behaviours required for outstanding performance in a specific role and organisation, we are able to build up a complex picture of likely success based on the here and now, but also an element of predictive behavioural understanding that will help clients avoid making the wrong hire, understand where any gaps or danger points may be, point to areas for development which can be hugely valuable to candidates and clients too and also indicate untapped value that could be realised”.

“It’s the final piece in the jigsaw and complementary to senior level Search processes. An investment in the individual and the business, not an on cost and a point of frustration for the process and candidates”.

Whilst the use of technology has made candidates ever more visible and accessible, and modern ways of life accommodate significant travel for new roles, there can be no substitute for a well-benchmarked, rigorous Search process, managed by a skilled professional with extensive knowledge of the client, the role and the all important ‘fit’ required.  Using independent assessments for critical leadership positions is a reliable way to help mitigate some of the risk associated with the noise that inevitably exists around a candidates CV, online data and presented behaviour – it is deeply insightful and rich in detail because it can reach the underlying character of that individual – something no amount of words or interview polish can hide.

For more information or a confidential discussion on talent assessment, please discuss with Ed or Louise, or contact Richard Waddell directly, or via the Talent ID website.

Edward Fanshawe

Partner
Board Practice - Private Equity


With an MA (Hons) in Economics & Management from Oxford University and more than ten years in UK industry, Edward brings first hand experience of building, managing and restructuring high performing board teams.