I'm hiring: do I need a search committee or an advisory committee?

I'm hiring: do I need a search committee or an advisory committee?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Choose the one that’s best for you.

By Stephanie J. Underwood, Senior Vice President

When it’s time to make that next executive hire, the success of both the search process and the actual person chosen will have a profound impact on your hospital. Choosing a new leader who quickly earns respect bodes well for both the company’s future and for your reputation and legacy. Do you need to assemble a top-quality search committee or a search advisory committee? They are not the same thing, and choosing the right one will make the process easier, faster, and more successful, helping you create buy-in across the organization.

Search Committee

This is the term you’ll hear most often, and it could easily be just what you need. How do you know? A search committee is the typical choice in an executive (C-level) search in a hospital or academic setting. In this case, the CEO, dean, or board of directors will make the hiring decision. The search committee is charged with reviewing the staffing firm’s top candidates and finding two or three to present to the ultimate decision maker. An advantage of a search committee is that, while the final hiring decision is in the hands of the CEO, dean, or board, it is not a unilateral decision. Rather, it is the fully-informed decision of the leadership based on the in-depth recommendation of key stakeholders. The search committee is a more formal group than an advisory committee. The ultimate decision maker hand-selects each committee member.

Advisory Committee

How is an advisory committee different from a search committee? The primary difference is in the responsibility to make decisions. A search committee narrows the field of candidates to a small handful of top contenders and recommends that the decision maker choose among them.

An advisory committee, on the other hand, simply provides feedback based on members’ evaluation of the candidates interviewed. The advisory committee makes no recommendation, although a preference may be apparent from its input. Members will evaluate each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and will give their opinions on the likely cultural fit of each candidate. The advisory committee can build consensus among the members and convey that to the decision maker, but it does not make a binding recommendation. While a search committee will be best in some situations, it’s advisable to have nothing less than an advisory committee in most significant hiring decisions.

In both cases, the CEO gains the support of his team. Committee members gain a degree of ownership in the hire, embracing the placed candidate with a refusal to let him fail and a vested camaraderie throughout the transition. And because a successful hire reflects favorably on the ultimate decision maker, a CEO’s reputation grows with each thriving new leader.

If you are considering hiring a search firm to embark on a search process, here are a few tips to remember:

Keep it objective. For a successful hire, all involved should be using the same rubric for evaluation. This should be taken directly from the position specification to ensure the group is measuring candidates against the criteria agreed upon at the outset of the search. This evaluation of the specific requirements for the position is often supplemented by standard personality or behavior inventories; at Tyler & Company we use the DiSC® behavior preference profile. 

Keep it timely. Committee members should complete an evaluation of each candidate as soon as possible after the interview. Even the sharpest person can forget details and impressions in just a matter of hours. You might even want to schedule time for each person to complete his evaluation privately.

Keep the interviews close together. To the greatest extent possible, complete the entire interview process within 7-10 days. The longer you wait, the harder it is to compare the candidates objectively, because even the best memories can become distorted.

Keep the playing field level. “Who are the decision makers here?” It’s a question you’re likely to hear from at least one candidate. To be fair, each candidate should understand that everyone’s input will be considered, from the receptionist to the committee members to the CEO. 

Creating the right committee is an individual decision for each organization and a chance to unite the team under a new leader. 

Stephanie Underwood is a Senior Vice President at Tyler & Company. She brings more than 20 years of hospital and executive search experience to clients. Her work involves successfully recruiting and placing a broad range of healthcare and academic leaders, including CEOs, COOs, CNOs, VPs and division directors. She also leads Tyler & Company’s Children’s Hospital Practice and directs the company’s efforts with Children’s Hospital Association.