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Appointing a small screening group that reports to the full search committee helps address challenges

By Alan D. Johns, Chair, Academic Medicine and Health Sciences Division

Identifying the right academic talent requires a thorough search effort and a keen understanding of the client’s academic mission and culture. Our clients are seeking a different type of executive, one who understands the dynamics related to advancing scholarship, faculty governance and a culture that is more egalitarian than top-down.

It’s no wonder academic search committees include as many as 20 people to ensure a variety of voices are heard when recruiting faculty and other academic leaders. These committees can, however, become somewhat inefficient, contributing to academic searches extending longer than expected.

Tyler & Company is seeing strong outcomes with our academic clients who appoint a smaller steering team that is a sub-set of the search committee. This group, made up of a select few who can articulately speak to the heart of department or university issues, represents the larger search committee and works directly with the executive search firm.

Here are the top three ways we have seen a steering committee work for our clients.

Better overall efficiency. Effectively identifying and communicating hiring priorities with a larger search committee is anything but timely. Getting everyone in the same room at the same time is itself a significant challenge. A smaller group tasked with identifying upfront needs can get the search off to a faster and stronger start. That momentum typically carries through the entire process with a level of expediency that just can’t be experienced when dealing exclusively with a larger group. Having expectations clarified from the beginning, translates to a stronger shortlist in less time, which keeps everyone more engaged.

Better buy-in and ownership. A small representative group can provide knowledgeable feedback in real-time as the candidate pool is vetted by the search firm, allowing the larger search committee to be confident in the shortlist that is ultimately presented. Having a strong list brought to the full committee allows for more productive discussion of candidates, which drives a more successful placement. In our experience, search committees that have appointed a steering committee feel more connected to the process and express a higher level of ownership in the final shortlist than those who’ve tried to handle everything without this executive council.

Better transitions, which lead to longer terms. An indication of any successful executive search is a smooth transition into the new role. Smoother transitions usually translate to longer terms of employment. Generally speaking, a search in which priorities have been communicated clearly from the beginning and unique environmental characteristics have been baked into the vetting process all along, stands a better chance of a placement with a more seamless transition. This is just one more area where a steering committee can prove advantageous in the search process. Leveraging this team ensures the candidate has been evaluated comprehensively based on agreed upon criteria. In the end, buy-in from all decision makers sets your new hire up for real success from the beginning.

Whatever name you give them — screening, steering, adjunct, etc. — these buffer committees can provide untold advantages that play out for the current search as well as others in the future. We recommend containing the number to no more than three or four people. Otherwise, it adds rather than removing burden. The chair of the overall search committee is usually the best person to appoint these representatives, who should come from various walks of the department or college where the position is to be filled. These are people who can speak directly to the uniqueness of the environment and what is specifically important here (e.g. what journals are esteemed, what curriculum vitae experiences are most essential, what character traits are necessary, etc.) and who have the bandwidth to commit to a number of hours early on. A steering committee is an excellent example of expending effort on the front-end to pay huge dividends in the end.

About the Author: Alan D. Johns (AJ) is a Senior Vice President at Tyler & Company, where he chairs the firm’s Academic Medicine and Health Sciences Division. AJ specializes in recruiting executives for all leadership positions within an academic health science center, including schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, public health, allied health professions as well as health systems, teaching hospitals, cancer centers and other research centers and institutes. To learn more about Tyler & Company’s Academic Medicine and Health Sciences Division and how it can help you, click here.

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