Leadership assessment in the housing sector
Unexpected factors can sometimes affect an executive search exercise. A candidate might get stranded on holiday for a few days. Freak weather can disrupt the transport system. There’s a hold up in such cases, yet the process rarely gets delayed for long.
But how do you keep things moving under lockdown conditions? And how do you run a credible c-suite assessment when nobody can meet candidates face to face? The NSCG team rose to the challenge when a social housing provider needed a new leader in place without delay.
- Cultural fit is critical in a leadership role and can still be assessed in lockdown
- Using a wide of range tools is extremely valuable in assessments for key roles
- Keeping the momentum going in a recruitment process benefits all parties
“NSCG really took the time to understand exactly the type of person we were looking for, digging way beyond the job description and person spec. The shortlist was exceptionally strong, with a broad range of experience across the diverse candidates and gave us the luxury of more than one appointable candidate.”
Inspired by its founder, the social reformer Octavia Hill, Octavia is a not-for-profit that provides thousands of people with affordable homes in inner London. Octavia engaged us to identify, evaluate, assess and recruit an assistant director of housing management.
This was a critical hire. The new leader was not just being recruited to oversee the key services provided to Octavia’s 3500 residents. They would be tasked with continuing Octavia’s transformation journey – with the goal of creating a more commercially-focused, joined-up, forward-looking organisation without impacting on its core values or community-centric approach.
Thanks to Octavia’s industry reputation, it was not a difficult task to attract interest in the opportunity. The challenge would be assessing cultural fit, motivations and personal style. Who would be the best complement to the incumbent team? Who could bring the creativity, positivity and capability to help change systems, processes and culture?
The UK COVID-19 lockdown was brought in shortly after the assignment commenced, immediately preventing traditional assessment measures being deployed. The initial response was to put the process on hold. But it was quickly decided that this posed a twin risk. First, there was a danger the best candidates would no longer be available when the process restarted. Second, delays to bringing in the new leader would hinder Octavia’s ability to adapt to the pandemic and support residents through worrying times.
We began by taking a comprehensive client brief – enabling us to visualise the skills, personal attributes and behaviours required to achieve specific goals. Then, we carried out a comprehensive search to identify target organisations and engage with potential candidates.
Our lead consultant interviewed a longlist of 12 (including two internal) candidates. We also asked candidates to carry out a psychometric test. The results fed into the assessment of leadership style and ability to operate flexibly and creatively within a regulated environment.
These parts of the process stretched out slightly, as three of the original list either contracted the COVID-19 virus, or had symptoms. However, with minimal delay, we were able to select eight CVs for initial review by Octavia. At that point, lockdown called for a change to the original assessment plan. We quickly designed a robust, new process. The hiring divisional director held short initial phone conversations with the candidates to keep them engaged. This then progressed to hour-long conversations (by video), which acted as the first client stage of the assessment process.
Next, we short-listed four candidates who were asked to deliver a presentation (again via video call) and answer questions from a panel of Octavia stakeholders. At the same time we co-ordinated a timed report-writing exercise. Finally, we took a minimum of two verbal references with previous employers.
By utilising so many different ways of assessing candidates (initial video calls with a senior NSCG consultant, client telephone calls, a panel presentation, psychometric testing, referencing and timed written exercises), we were able to identify the strongest candidate amongst a shortlist of very able leaders.
They had the right technical experience and competencies. Equally as important, they were the best fit for working style and the ambition to maximise customer service levels. The candidate was offered, accepted and we supported them through to taking up their new role.