Leadership Recruitment: Strategy behind your Search, By Andrew Wigford
Leading an international school today requires educational understanding, international mindedness, and savvy business acumen. Every board will have high expectations for a new future leader, but the process they take for selection can be far from strategic; often assuming too much about the needs of the school or the leader, relying on one route to candidates, and selecting without process.
Know what and who you need
The search for a new Head provides a school board the opportunity to step back and evaluate, not only its current and impending leader, but the position of the school within the community and its future direction.
A benchmarking study of like schools will enable the board to understand how it compares against others and how these schools are compensating leaders. This provides the board with accurate data to produce a needs analysis; agreeing what they want for the school, the type of person necessary to lead it, and the package the board is willing to offer to attract best possible candidates.
When it comes to remuneration, agreement of salary parameters is important, so too is remembering the school is competing for a new leader within an international, not national, market. The vast majority of successful leadership placements involve some degree of negotiation. Too often schools lose good candidates right at the end of the process because they are not prepared to negotiate.
This process helps to form the basis for a candidate specification.
A sub-committee of the board can move the process forward most efficiently; taking the outcomes of the board’s needs analysis to prepare a candidate specification framework that will guide selection.
Most successful frameworks provide flexibility without losing sight of the priorities. This is most easily achieved by breaking the candidate specification down into three sections:
2. Preferred needs
3. Value-added needs
The skills, experiences and qualities identified for an ideal new leader can then be categorised, to see at a glance the vital assets compared to those that are beneficial but not essential. This helps identify the criteria against which all applications can be benchmarked. Rather than relying on opinion or gut feeling during the selection process, a scoring system or specification matrix based upon these criteria will determine decisions.
Promotion of the vacancy should draw upon some of these priorities. Advertising a leadership position isn’t enough; it reaches only those actively searching through one media at one moment in time. A multi-route approach is essential to find a good Head; advertising, leadership recruitment or head hunting consultancy with international school leadership expertise, associations, LinkedIn, direct connections, and your school website, which is often the first port of call for potential candidates to find out more, so should reflect your school in the best possible way.
It’s surprisingly easy for school representatives, even those participating directly in the recruitment process, to forget the reasons behind candidate selection. As soon as they see a CV with qualities they admire, they can be distracted from the key criteria identified. A specification matrix helps everyone to remain focused on the needs.
This approach ensures that considered process overrides personal opinion. Guidance and arbitration throughout is best delivered by an external facilitator such as a leadership recruitment consultant, who will be impartial but vested in your success.
CVs will help identify some of the skills and experience on your candidate specification. Characteristics, on the other hand, are impossible to identify without an interview. Even then, characteristics can be easily missed if the interview is not conducted strategically.
Careful preparation for interviews involves planning appropriate scenarios and open-ended questions for candidates. The responses to these should provide the interview panel with the chance to score each candidate against criteria on the specification matrix.
It’s not enough for the board alone to make judgements at interview stage. Representatives from all school stakeholders need to have visibility and a voice. A series of interviews with final candidates can be scheduled for different panels representing teachers, parents, students and senior management, as well as the board. All interviews should pose questions relevant to the priorities of each panel yet all should seek to score criteria on the candidate specification.
Consider interviews carefully. Inappropriate questions can miss important opportunities for information-gathering and scoring, and will waste precious time with candidates. Your external facilitator should guide your panels and help fine-tune their interview questions for optimum results. They can also monitor time allocation during the interviews to ensure every candidate receives their fair share of time with each panel.
There will always be disagreement within interview panels. This is where a clearly defined scoring system for your matrix is important. It will ensure that feedback by each panellist is objective and that majority judgement drives decisions.
Your external facilitator will analyse all interview feedback to ensure impartiality, and mediate throughout the process. At the end of the day, your stakeholder panels have a voice, but the board has the ultimate decision. Other than your facilitator, only the board should be aware of all panel results and involved in the final decision.
Not one way
Regardless of how well prepared your selection strategy may be, interviews are not one-way. As much as the school is aiming to select the right leader, so the applicant is aiming to select the right school. Every potential candidate will have their own personal measures: Are you the right school for them? Do your benefits, financial package and contract meet their requirements? Does the job, location and lifestyle fulfil their expectations? Do they respect the board and SMT, and like the environment they will be leading?
For this reason, recruitment must take into consideration how the school presents itself in the eyes of candidates; from the website, to how and when candidate communication is conducted, and how interviewees and their families are welcomed and hosted. You will only succeed in contracting your preferred choice if your choice prefers your school.