Case Studies

Evidence-Based Executive Search

The Challenge:
The Board of Directors of a community medical center sought to replace their beloved legacy CEO who was retiring. Recognizing that these “big shoes” would be challenging for anyone to fill, the Board selected The Synergy Organization to provide expert assistance in the recruitment of their new leader, advise them about what they needed to know and to do, and give them the extra confidence they wanted to help them determine who would be the best fit for their unique needs.

Our Solution:
We conducted a rigorous, initial Job Analysis on-site to assess and objectively cross-validate the Trustees’ and other key stakeholders most critical requirements for success in the position and identify potential areas of disagreement. A select sampling of these key stakeholders was invited to complete our brief, yet useful behavioral profiles, to objectively cross-validate what they had told us (during their personal interviews) about the most critical leadership attributes required for success as the new leader. After gaining Consensus, we conducted a national search with laser-like focus to identify potential candidates who were thoroughly and scientifically matched to these unique needs, using the Head, Heart and Feet Model (featured on homepage). These highly targeted objective criteria, obtained on the front-end of the search assignment, enabled us to evaluate all of the 500+ interested, recruited candidates most effectively and efficiently.

We narrowed down the field to three finalists through:
1- Extensive behavioral interviews,
2- Administration of validated leadership and personality assessments including our own proprietary predictive analytics gained from our own national research studies with the most effective leaders in the U.S. (including Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Recipient CEOs/Presidents),
3- Inviting the candidates to go well beyond their resumes and provide us with additional written documentation about which of their own prior accomplishments correlated most closely with the unique performance expectations of the position,
4- Conducting live extensive comprehensive professional references with targeted, individualized questions which supported and or challenged our other findings,
5- Preparing and presenting individualized Executive Briefings summarizing all of our key findings and verified evidence (including their relative strengths and developmental opportunities) about each of the finalist candidates,
6- Developing supplemental interview questions for each of the finalist candidates to help the Board focus their attention on what mattered most about each candidate,
7- At the Board’s request, facilitating the on-site rounds of interviews and then helping them to make the right decision, &
8- Handling the final negotiations of the selected candidate including relocation (after carefully pre-qualifying that candidate’s acceptable compensation package).

In summary, The Synergy Organization team kept the Board Chair, Board and other key stakeholders engaged and informed throughout the course of the search. Our vetting processes went far beyond the traditional search firms’ established practices and by design, excluded most candidates who appeared to be great “paper matches” but who were not likely to succeed in the position. Our powerful initial diagnostics enabled us to systematically measure and match prospective candidates with the position along those specific dimensions which would matter most to their mutual long-term success, thereby saving the Board and Medical Center considerable time and money in the process. Perhaps most importantly, we provided the they wanted to make the right hiring decision and earned their complete trust in the process.

The Result:
We presented three finalists from which the client chose an extraordinarily well matched and qualified leader. The Chairman of the Board put it this way: “I certainly admired, appreciated and learned from your team’s approach to helping us find a new CEO…thanks again for your outstanding…efforts in accomplishing this task.”

Evidence-Based Selection Assessments

The Challenge:
The President & CEO of a 2,000 employee service organization requested our help in identifying which of its external candidates were most appropriate for its vacant position of Chief Financial Officer. This organization was in a major transition and recognized that this was a critical decision for them (as their future financial stability depended upon making the “right” decision about their next CFO). They were extremely concerned about who they should hire after having been “burned” in the past by hiring someone who the organization’s leaders all agreed was “perfect” for their needs and who had all of the technical expertise they desired. They sought the independent counsel and objective expertise of an outside party who would help them to “hire with their heads” and not just on their gut reactions.

Our Solution:

We identified that the finance department was in need of a major turnaround, as the receivables and payables were several months behind. The previous CFO had been terminated and they needed an experienced CFO who would:
1. Salvage those people, processes, and systems that should be kept,
2. Fix what could be fixed,
3. Replace everything else as cost effectively as possible within very short time frames, and
4. Accomplish these without disrupting what was working.

Then we interviewed their top two candidates, prepared an Executive Briefing summarizing our findings, and discussed the candidates’ relative qualifications with the President/CEO. We offered specific suggestions to the selection committee as to how they could learn more about each person’s appropriateness.

Both of the candidates initially appeared to be excellent choices for the position. However, upon delving deeply below the surface with each person, we determined that one was much better suited for their unique needs.

More specifically, we found that the successful candidate:
1. Was better able to “see the big picture” while understanding and attending to critical details as needed,
2. Was more decisive and would make accurate decisions about who he should replace, retain, and promote, and
3. Would be more likely to establish clear priorities and implement corrective action plans.

The Result: The President/CEO shared that we provided them with a very efficient process to help them make an accurate and informed hiring decision. He praised the service we provided and shared with us that the processes used were invaluable, as these “forced them” to be much clearer initially about their needs and expectations for the new CFO. The process also helped reveal much more in-depth information about each candidate than they would have ascertained with their traditional hiring practices. This additional information enabled them to hire the right person who was able to achieve the financial performance expectations they had established.

Evidence-Based Developmental Assessments

The Challenge:
The Vice President of Human Resources of a large, fast-paced service organization wanted to learn what she could do to maximize her value and effectiveness to her current employer while positioning herself for additional career growth opportunities.

Our Solution:
We worked with this person to help her develop specific strategies that she could use to increase her productivity and further enhance her relationship with her immediate supervisor. This was based on a discussion regarding her career aspirations, a review of her current job performance and her relationship with her supervisor, an assessment of her own personality, relative strengths, non-strengths, as well as the creation of an Individualized Developmental Action Plan and scheduled follow-up Executive Coaching sessions.

During the course of our work together, we learned that she was a perfectionist, tried to do it all by herself, preferred a fair amount of structure and that her supervisor (the CEO) lacked focus and did not provide her with sufficient direction. We helped her to learn strategies to “manage up” more effectively, delegate more to her subordinates, prioritize better, and to use her time more efficiently.

The Result:
She reported that several positive changes occurred within the first three months after our collaboration. These included a more positive and productive relationship with the CEO, an increased productivity that has helped her organization to become an Employer of Choice, a new feeling of confidence in her current role, and recognition for her value and accomplishments within the organization.

Evidence-Based Team Synergy Assessments

The Challenge:
The President of a rapidly growing, for-profit organization requested our help because they were about to embark on a large, strategic growth initiative.  He was concerned that his senior executive team members were not communicating well nor working effectively together.

We helped these team members to establish a clear and common understanding of their performance expectations for the team and for each of the individual members.  Then, we evaluated the President and each of his senior team members.

We provided the President with key insights about each person along with practical suggestions about how to align their primary responsibilities with their unique strengths and interests to maximize their productivity within the organization.  For example, after learning that the COO was too detail oriented and controlling, we helped him to understand how some of his behavior was perceived by his fellow team members and how it hindered their performance.  Then, we helped him to find more mutually acceptable ways of getting things done.  We also helped the President to restructure the responsibilities among his team members based on their proven strengths and interests.

The Result:
This has helped the organization to achieve its projected growth initiatives, including increased revenues and efficiency.  The executive team members reported that their improved communications and understanding of each other have helped them to work together more effectively and that their financial success could not have occurred without their improved collaboration.

Evidence-Based Rerailment Assessments

The Challenge:
A newly-appointed department head of 120 employees encountered difficulties in her new position.  Although she had been extremely effective as a technical expert and solo performer, her immediate supervisor and subordinates reported that she was now demonstrating difficulties in how she managed others and in her organizational and communication skills.

Our Solution:

After speaking with her supervisor to learn more about her performance expectations and reported difficulties, a Developmental Assessment was conducted.  This found that she was not likely to be attentive to key details, tended to be overly trusting of others, needed to be more deliberate and cautious in how she approached situations, was overly concerned about being liked and would be sensitive to criticism, and had difficulty approaching others to discuss their shortcomings and areas in need of improvement.

The results of this assessment were shared with her immediate supervisor along with some recommendations that could be used to manage her more effectively and improve her performance.  Then, we met with the department head to review our findings, solicit her input, and to offer her some individualized strategies that she could use to improve her performance.  While reviewing the results with her, she acknowledged that she needed help in these areas and was pleased to receive the individualized recommendations and bibliography that helped her to prepare her own written Developmental Action Plan.

The Result:
After implementing this plan, she demonstrated significant improvements in the areas of concern, and has sustained the growth with periodic coaching and follow-up.  Her supervisor has commented on her significant growth in previous areas of concern, recommended that she receive an increase in compensation, and she is regarded as a valued member of the management team.

Evidence-Based Job Analysis

The Challenge:
A large, internationally recognized academic medical center, the flagship of its respected multi-hospital system, sought to investigate the reasons behind the rapid and repeated turnover in the Executive Director position. Within the last ten years, more than five previously successful senior executives had assumed this position, encountered major difficulties, and then either resigned or were terminated. Subsequently, each of them assumed a leadership position in other organizations where they succeeded.

Our Solution:
We met individually with those senior team members within the organization who had the most direct prior knowledge and experience with the former Executive Directors to identify the primary responsibilities and challenges associated with the position. We asked them a series of prepared questions that helped to reveal the underlying issues that prevented each of these senior executives from succeeding in the position. In addition, we asked them to complete objective behavioral profiles to identify the leadership style that would be most effective in the position.

With the data gathered, we prepared an Executive Briefing summarizing what we found to be the most critical issues contributing to their “Revolving Door” and met with senior executives from the system to share our findings. We helped the senior team members to develop some concrete strategies for removing the specific barriers that we identified had blocked the prior Executive Director’s success. These included the withholding of critical information that any competent Executive Director would expect and require. We also learned that their resource allocation practices prohibited the Executive Director from reinvesting much-needed dollars to make necessary improvements. We provided the senior team members with a more complete understanding of their unique expectations for this person and clarified the position’s real challenges for them, and this knowledge enabled them to select someone who was well suited for their specific needs.

The Result:
Over the past few years, the “new” Executive Director has achieved his performance expectations and has brought a great deal of much-needed stability to the organization. Today, the organization has re-established itself as a leading, international medical center, has become much more profitable, and has won various awards for quality and service excellence.

Evidence-Based Pre-Employment Assessments

The Challenge:
An organization was experiencing much greater turnover among their managers than was typical in the industry and saw their selection process as a key contributor to this challenge.  The Vice President of Human Resources wanted to implement a more formal selection process that would be more consistently accurate, and yet easy to use.  They also wanted to improve their understanding of each candidate’s relative strengths and weaknesses, structure their interviews, and make better hiring decisions (especially when considering a panel of internal and external candidates).  In addition, they wanted to reduce their expenses of interviewing out-of-town candidates.

Our Solution:
We started by meeting with the VP of HR to identify her specific needs and goals.  We developed and then trained her and her staff in the use of a fully automated, internet-based assessment instrument to be used as part of their selection process with all of their potential managers.  The tool that we developed provided them with a comprehensive overview of each person’s strengths and weaknesses, was supplemented with individualized questions to be asked of each candidate, and included practical tips for the immediate supervisor about how to manage, motivate, and retain each person most effectively.

The Result:
Within the first few weeks, various Human Resources personnel reported that the tool was easy to use, its fully automated administration and scoring gave them the consistently accurate and objective information they wanted on each candidate, provided immediate feedback on the candidates, and that this had not only met, but exceeded their expectations.  They also reported that the assessment results helped them avoid hiring two candidates who “looked great on paper” but who were unable to give them adequate responses to the suggested follow-up probing questions generated by the assessments.

Evidence-Based Organizational Redesign Assessments

The Challenge:
An extremely well respected service organization with 1,500 employees sought to increase its productivity and efficiency through a streamlining of its organizational structure.  The CEO understood that such results could not occur unless the organization’s talent was identified objectively and leveraged optimally by having the right people in the right positions. And, he wanted to use a fair, consistent, and effective process to ensure that all internal applicants (both current and potential leaders) were carefully assessed to determine which, if any of them, would be most appropriate for each new leadership position.

Our Solution:

We partnered with the CEO and the senior executive team members to identify their unique expectations for each middle and senior level position (over 70) throughout the entire organization.  Then we established and implemented a comprehensive process for selecting the most qualified internal candidates, including the creation of a selection matrix. This consisted of:

  1. personal interviews conducted by Synergy personnel,
  2. completion of objective leadership assessments,
  3. structured interviews with the senior executives utilizing questions developed
    specifically for them,
  4. completion of written essays, and
  5. a review of prior performance ratings and history.

Next, we facilitated the Selection Team’s final decisions. Finally, we gave feedback to all of the internal employees involved about the rationale for the processes used and provided them with individualized, developmental suggestions.

The Result:
The organization achieved significant cost-savings while increasing productivity and their satisfaction ratings. Not only were there measurable improvements in key organizational metrics, but also, the vast majority of those employees who participated in this process (who were and were not selected for the new leadership positions) reported that the process had been much more fair, thorough, and objective than they had originally anticipated.

Evidence-Based Succession Planning

The Challenge:
Several of the senior executives in a large, metropolitan healthcare system were approaching retirement age. There was no current system for filling the leadership positions when they were vacated.

Our Solution:
We worked with the senior executives to identify the necessary skills and resources to achieve their organization’s strategic plan. We led workshops to help the company anticipate future changes that might be required in the organizational structure, preparation for reorganization, and plans for growth.

Leaders nearing retirement were identified, and the likelihood of other leaders remaining in the organization was assessed. We then reviewed the current workforce and listed high potential managers and developed plans for their career paths. This was done by achieving consensus as to the high potential candidates — managers who excelled in their current positions and were still climbing.

These candidates were evaluated for the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform competently in their current roles. Logical next positions to which each candidate would likely be promoted were defined, and a detailed job analysis using job evaluation technology was performed to evaluate the knowledge and problem solving skills that would be required in the position.

Developmental objectives with follow-up action plans were defined, mentors were assigned to monitor progress, and annual reassessment schedules were put in place.

The Result:
The outcome of this process was a more robust leadership team and support structure that was ready to meet future challenges of the organization. This approach has helped create a more focused, proactive, and confident management team.

Evidence-Based Executive Coaching

The Challenge:
A large organization requested that we coach one of their senior executives because of his reported interpersonal difficulties. Although he was praised as being technically skilled, he was also criticized for being condescending, negative, and narcissistic with members of his department. As a result, the department had experienced significant staff turnover, morale was poor, and the president and other senior executives were pulled into several ongoing, time-consuming controversies.

Our Solution:
As part of the initial diagnostic work with key people within the organization, we interviewed several people around, above, and below him to gain an understanding of the unique challenges of his position and to learn about the current performance expectations for him. In addition, we asked some of those interviewed to complete a behavioral profile to help identify and clarify the leadership style that would be critical for success in the position. These combined expectations would serve as the objective baseline against which he would be compared when we assessed him.

The initial position interviews and diagnostic profiles revealed that several conflicting expectations hindered this leader’s success. In addition, we found that both the organization and the senior executive shared significant responsibility for the problem. For example, when they hired him, they told him that they wanted a change agent who would raise the department’s quality, consistency, and productivity. Yet, we found that many of their concerns about him were the result of their own unwillingness to modify their established practices and make the needed changes.

Over the course of confidential, weekly coaching sessions, this leader was given the opportunity to develop his leadership skills and enhance his overall effectiveness with others. We found that he was very committed to serving the best interests of the organization but needed to alter his approach and adjust his expectations of others.

The Result:
The senior executive reported that the initial assessments provided him with a clear and concrete understanding of his relative strengths and weaknesses, and that the Job Analysis gave him a clear picture of exactly what he needed to do with others in order to be most successful.

Within several weeks, the executive had learned specific techniques to engage others,
to increase cooperation, and to produce quality work. In addition, the other senior team members reported that this process helped them to better understand the unique dynamics of the department. It also gave them critical insights (along with specific examples) about what they could do to remove obstacles and increase productivity and profitability. Our approach enabled us to earn the buy-in of all key parties and we were able to encourage them to implement specific strategies to achieve their strategic goals.

During the course of the coaching, significant improvements were tracked in several key metrics, including the department’s productivity, profitability, employee satisfaction, and turnover. Within several months, many of this leader’s primary critics became his most ardent supporters.

Evidence-Based Conflict Resolution

The Challenge:
A new Director was hired to lead a merged organization and to centralize their services in one location. Most of the staff from both of the formerly separate entities were loyal and capable long-time employees committed to doing good work. Both organizations had been fairly successful while operating independently. Since the new Director was hired, the merged staff expressed some concerns about how they were being treated by this Director and by the newly-formed organization. In addition, other concerns had surfaced recently about the department in areas such as employee morale, turnover, and productivity.

Our Solution:
We conducted a series of individual meetings and small focus group with a sampling of those involved including the department staff, unit managers, the Director, and his immediate supervisor to identify the primary issues. During these discussions, we gathered specific examples as to why the staff did not feel respected and valued, how several unrealistic expectations had been placed upon them, and how the Director had interfered with getting their work done. These examples were used to facilitate the subsequent conflict resolution sessions. All conversations were guided to remain focused on the operational issues while allowing the participants to share their feelings, concerns, and suggestions in a safe and constructive manner.

The Result:
Despite their initial apprehensions, all parties later reported that they were able to share their thoughts, concerns and ideas openly and that they had seen marked improvements in most of the areas we had addressed. The specific improvements included reduced overtime, a small increase in staffing, increased efficiency and productivity, and greater employee satisfaction ratings. By focusing on the issues, the Director was able to develop concrete strategies to improve his communication style and interpersonal behaviors. Plans also were implemented to monitor and sustain continued progress in each of the areas of concern.