Health Care Executive Search Library

Attracting Top Healthcare Leaders: Four Ways to Maximize Your Executive Search

Posted on August 25, 2017
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Written by Rebecca Kapphahn, Vice President, Search Consultant

Demand for a new breed of healthcare executives is high — those who possess the analytical skills to interpret health and financial data, the vision to turn this knowledge into actionable strategy, and the interpersonal leadership style to build rapport and garner influence. Finding these individuals is difficult and the competition from other healthcare employers is fierce.

So, when your healthcare organization is in the market for a new healthcare leader, it’s important to run an efficient and thoughtful search process. To help you effectively compete and secure your healthcare leader of choice, I’ve compiled a list of the most common employer mistakes and missed opportunities to avoid. These guidelines are based on my ten years of directing national leadership searches for a wide range of healthcare organizations, from large renowned health systems to rural hospitals to academic institutions and medical practices.

Common Mistakes and Missed Opportunities to Avoid

1. Don’t overlook the importance of due diligence.

Vacancies in leadership create disruption and angst, and the temptation to launch a search without doing the internal due diligence required to thoughtfully define candidate criteria is common. The notion that you’ll “know what you’re looking for when you meet her or him” is flawed and makes for an inefficient and obstacle-ridden search process. Instead, hone in on the specific goals and objectives you would like to see met by a new leader.

  • What are you looking for them to accomplish in his or her first 30, 60, 90 days on the job?
  • What level of influence should this person have within the organization?
  • How will the leader contribute to the culture of the organization?

Answering these questions in advance and obtaining consensus among key stakeholders, who will partner with the new leader, will provide greater clarity — for staff, the search consultant and potential candidates — on some of the critical hard and soft skills required in a candidate. It will also help determine where to position the role within the organizational structure for optimal effectiveness.

2. Be open to creative candidate sourcing approaches.

Avoid job history requirements that may restrict your search to too narrow of a profile. Organizations that make this mistake miss opportunities to discover “out-of-the-box” leaders who may be just what an evolving organization needs. For example, some search committees will request candidates who worked at a specific health system or medical group. But just because a person has experience at a leading facility doesn’t make them an ideal match for your organization. For example, a leader who succeeded at a resource-rich organization may not have the creativity it takes to succeed at a non-profit, high Medicaid organization. Broadening a search to include candidates from potentially untraditional backgrounds might surface uniquely qualified individuals. For example, there is a vice president of patient experience position that was traditionally held by an RN. After redefining the scope of the position, we expanded the search criteria to include non-clinical healthcare candidates. As a result, we tapped into leaders with a broader range of skills essential to the current goals of the position, including LEAN and Six Sigma process improvement, and experience at successfully influencing staff and improving performance metrics.

3. Look beyond the job description.

Instead of focusing on an ideal job history, focus on a leader’s ideal competencies. Leadership career paths in the healthcare industry have evolved so much over the past ten years it is difficult to recruit the most relevant leaders if a recruiter is narrowly focused on, for example, five years in medical group operations, four years in a vice president role, etc. Instead identify ideal competencies and let these guide candidate requirements. For instance, stepping into a medical group CEO role overseeing 150 disjointed providers, who are working in silos, is very different than the CEO role for a long-standing, 300-provider group. The former requires a “builder” and “challenge-seeker,” which is a different type of candidate than someone who’s operated in a more stable environment.

4. Emphasize commitment to the process over the committee.

While your search committee is the client, remember it’s a candidate’s market, and their perception of the interview experience is paramount.

Take, for example, a chief administrative officer search I recently spearheaded for a physician- owned medical group. The search committee requested a slate of six to eight candidates to provide them with “plenty of choice,” but rescheduled interviews on several occasions due to committee members’ busy schedules and the amount of time it takes to interview a large panel of candidates. Against best-practice recommendations, the duration of the interview process extended over a six-week period, during which time active candidates were meeting with other potential employers. During my post-interview debriefings with candidates, three of the four removed themselves from the running because they sensed a “lack of commitment” from leadership regarding the position.

This is in sharp contrast to another one of my clients who followed my recommendations regarding best practices in their search for a senior vice president of financial reporting. They relied on Cejka Executive Search to carefully source and screen candidates, and based on our recommendation interviewed only the top four. As a result of this streamlined process and an engaged team of leaders who made candidate interviewing a top priority, all interviews were completed within four days. This was beneficial as it allowed me to facilitate the leadership team’s evaluation of candidates while interviews were fresh in mind and promptly proceed with the selection process. In this case, all four candidates following interviews were interested in the job, citing a sense of organizational clarity and enthusiasm regarding the role. In the end, the client secured its first-choice leader for the role.

In today’s highly competitive and transparent healthcare employment market, organizations must adhere to best practice executive search procedures to effectively compete for top leaders. Remember, a successful talent attraction strategy begins long before you initiate a leadership search — with defining a clear organizational vision and mission and understanding of the leadership needed to cultivate a culture of success. Organizations that leverage their search consultant’s expertise regarding how to best manage the candidate experience will more readily stand out from competing healthcare employers.