How the presidential race can inform executive search strategy

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In many ways, the presidential campaign process is like hunting for a new hospital or health system CEO.

The positions certainly require similar character. "He or she needs to be good at hiring and trusting the right people; making constant big decisions with limited information and often while exhausted; setting the right big picture strategy; and knowing when to stick with it as circumstances change and when to make tactical adjustments," Neil Irwin, senior economic correspondent for The New York Times wrote, comparing the two executive-search processes.

However, the magnitude of the two processes cannot compare — 127 million Americans voted in the last election cycle, according to Mr. Irwin. Nor can some of the logistics compare — CEO candidates generally don't know their competition and face "voters" — hospital board members — directly in interviews. Meanwhile, U.S. presidential candidates do know their competition, but do not usually address voters face-to-face.

Yet Mr. Irwin suggests the hiring practices of the private sector can inform the election process. And arguably, the long, expensive, often circus-like process of presidential campaigning can inform healthcare CEO recruitment strategies too. From The New York Times analysis, two main conclusions emerge.

Interviews are not always the best tool for weeding out candidates. Or at least, interviews should not be the only tool in determining a candidate's eligibility for the job. Mr. Irwin argues unstructured press interviews and televised debates in the presidential election cannot give voters a full picture of what candidates would actually do in office. Similarly, he cites examples of interviews failing in the private sector. Google, for example, found its infamous brainteaser interview process ultimately had no correlation to how well candidates performed on the job, according to the report. Structured interviews can still be helpful in the interview process, according to Mr. Irwin, but he also presents a better alternative: performance tests.      

Simulations and performance tests are particularly useful. How a presidential candidate runs their campaign, including who they hire, how they present their policy and how they connect with voters can be a better predictor of future performance on the job, even more so than experience. After all, only the toughest survive the long, drawn-out race, and often emerge with more refined ideas and strategic chops at the end, according to Mr. Irwin. He gives the example of Barack Obama, who had less experience than his competitor, Hillary Clinton, but through his campaign proved he could lead a country. By this logic, healthcare executive search committees could use case studies or simulations and assess how candidates approach the process to supplement assessments.  


More articles on leadership and management:

8 business lessons learned on the marathon trail from Strata CEO Dan Michelson
Note to the CEO: One Scripps employee's testament to the power of career support
Management truths that go against your instincts: We asked, executives told

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