Q: My company just lost a long-time senior manager. She was a very effective, successful, and well regarded leader. A member of her team has taken the management role on an interim basis. He’s a very capable “company man” but not necessarily the strong leader our company needs for this strategic leadership role.  How can we make sure we find the right fit?

A: I have to answer your question with another question. How will you know who is the right fit for your company? This is a question with many layers. Whether you look within or outside to fill this position, take the time to define what you mean by the “right fit” for the position and for your company. I recommend creating a best fit profile based on your company’s culture, needs, and strategic goals.

 How would you describe your company’s culture?

 Examples of different kinds of organizational cultures include:Collaborative, where the workplace is like an extended family, with emphasis on teamwork, consensus, and cohesion;Creative, where the company is a dynamic, entrepreneurial, and creative place to work, and innovation, risk-taking, and individual initiative are encouraged to remain on the leading edge;Control focused, where structure, rules, and procedures govern behavior, and efficiency, stability, and predictability are valued;Competitive, where results matter most of all, driven by goal setting and productivity.

Your description of the interim manager indicates that he fits well with your company’s particular culture yet also implies there may be a need for other qualities that he does not have.

If you cannot answer the culture question clearly and succinctly, take a step back and ask yourself: what problems are you trying to solve? Is your company looking to grow in a new direction strategically? Is your organization missing critical, needed skills?

Most companies have what I call a “blood line” and they tend to hire people of that same blood type. Regardless of whether this is good or bad, it certainly ensures that your company will continue to attract the same type of individual. This may meet certain needs but it does not promote growth. If you are looking to shake things up, consider attracting talent that is outside of the ordinary. This can be good for everyone in your organization although such change can be very hard to implement successfully without a good strategic workforce plan in place.

Of course an essential part of the “right fit” is a job description that clearly defines short- and long-term goals for this position and also describes the day-to-day responsibilities in terms of priorities, responsibilities, and most pressing concerns. You can then determine the necessary skills, education, and experience for fulfilling those responsibilities and goals.

Beyond those baseline requirements, what “soft skills” and key personality traits you are looking for ideally? These qualities are less likely to be articulated through the traditional recruiting and hiring process yet are absolutely fundamental to determining the “right fit.” The following example is a list of character traits that ESA helped one client identify in their search for a new chief executive officer: “Humility; respectful of others; strong public relations ‘presence,’ high integrity; trustworthy; exemplary leadership abilities, including success with mentoring/coaching others; ability to ‘turnaround’ organizations and be a change leader; collaborative; not a ‘maverick’; commitment to lifelong learning; curiosity; authenticity; empathy; respected by community, peers, etc.; courage to speak from a place of integrity and empathy.”

Where might you find the kind of person you are seeking? Should this be someone who comes from within your company or industry and has deep knowledge about your products and services?  Or should you be looking for someone from outside your industry with expertise in new business areas who can bring fresh perspective? What would motivate someone to leave their present company to come to work with your organization?

Answering these questions leads to crafting a “best-fit” profile that your company can use to search for any position from receptionist to C-level executive. By scoring candidates based on this profile, you can streamline the process and interview only the highest ranking ones. Just realize that no candidate will ever score 100 percent. One mistake that too many hiring managers make is combining two or three distinct roles and skill sets into one position, expecting to find candidates who have all of these. Since this is not realistic, you have to determine how to weigh criteria to qualify a candidate’s overall “fit.”

Inevitably, the quest to identify the “best fit” also requires a little soul searching. Has your company been successful in the past with attracting the “right” talent? Why is this current position open? Did you lose the previous manager to your competition? Are you offering a competitive compensation package that meets or exceeds your industry’s standard?

Without clear, honest answers to these questions, you cannot define the “right fit” for your company and you are at risk of making a poor, costly hiring decision simply to fill the position. This is what makes professional talent acquisition such a worthwhile investment. Recruiting is never a matter of filling positions; it’s a process, not a transaction, and one that is constantly evolving as your company changes and grows. You must know who you are before you can get the right talent.•••

Jennifer Laxton is the president of ESA Consulting, located in Santa Rosa www.esa.com. ESA is a consulting company providing talent acquisition, workforce planning and career coaching services. You can reach her at 707-525-1010 or jklaxton@esa.com.