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Too Many Cooks

The Brief

When we take on the task of finding a great leader for a client, we know there will be more than one party involved. In this instance, our client was three-headed: the private equity investor, the CEO of their portfolio company and a minority shareholder. All with the same objective – appointing a great successor to take over from the outgoing CEO, but all with a slightly different view of the ideal candidate profile.

Now, we’ve done this many times before (successfully), and we’ve also seen the ‘Too Many Cooks’ syndrome go horribly wrong. So with the early warning bells indicating that this was likely to be more challenging than our other multi-stakeholder projects, we decided to place extra focus on the foundation phase of the process.

Firstly, a thorough briefing process with all major decision-makers in the final appointment (there were five in total); then, sign off on the role profile. This point can not be over emphasized enough.

Challenge and Outcomes

Typically, when there are several stakeholders, the role profile gets passed from one to the other, each person adding a few more items to the already long shopping list of candidate criteria. No human on earth could possess all of the qualities on the list, by the time the pass-the-parcel exercise has been completed. Our job is to unravel, dissect, clarify the core non-negotiables and bring a level of coherence to this document.

After a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing, and with the role profile in shape, we then needed to agree on a process of communication. Notably: who is included in emails, who is on the progress update calls, and who is involved in the shortlisting meeting.

But most importantly, over and above all of this, and most certainly the key element that under-pinned the success of this search, was the appointment of a ‘Head Chef’.

Our Head was the one who – from time to time – would call the shots when the cooks got too rowdy. He stepped in when emotions started to rise as the kitchen got hot, and he extinguished flames when unreasonable expectations (not in line with the original role profile) were suddenly put on the table.

While the individual ingredients requested by the co-chefs were critical for the overall flavour, without the co-ordination of our Head Chef, it is doubtful that the dish would have turned out as well as it did. His guidance resulted in a quick and smooth appointment and the candidate is introducing them to new recipes already.

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