Avoid These Common Mistakes When Recruiting Executives

In rural communities, a hospital board of directors plays a vitally important role, providing effective governance through responsibilities like strategic decision-making, overseeing the financial well-being of the organization, and ensuring the hospital is providing quality care. Members of the board also are tasked with staying educated in healthcare industry news and best practices and being representatives of the hospital in the community. But of all the myriad tasks on a rural hospital board’s job list, there is perhaps none more important than hiring an effective CEO.

Not to sound dramatic, but Peter Goodspeed, vice president of executive search for HealthTechS3, calls the CEO search the most important thing a rural hospital will ever do.

“It can be life or death for a rural hospital that is already challenged in so many ways,” he says. “If you get the wrong person in there or something goes wrong, like getting cross with the medical staff and the hospital’s finances go down, it can be disastrous to the community. A rural hospital closure means reduced access to care. With rural hospitals often being a community’s largest employer, it can also be economically devastating.”

But all too often Goodspeed sees hospital boards make the same mistakes when they’re recruiting for crucial roles at the hospital’s executive leadership level.  Recruiting to rural communities is hard enough; don’t make the process even harder by falling into these common recruiting traps.

Don’t Focus on the Wrong Requirements

Goodspeed recalls a board that wanted candidates only from a specific geographical region. Would you be surprised to find out that the perfect candidate for the job was from a different one? CEOs of rural hospital do need to have some unique qualifications—hailing from a rural community or having rural hospital experience, for example, is usually a must. But check all other assumptions at the door and try to keep your required list of must-haves to a minimum. Instead, trust that your recruiter is bringing qualified candidates to you and be open to them—no matter where they hail from.

Don’t Keep Looking Backwards

Goodspeed calls this the “law of recency.” If a hospital’s last executive was a star, the board will want all the same qualities in the next candidate. If the last executive was a dud, the board will shy away from candidates who might exhibit a similar personality or management style. “You have to overcome that,” he says, adding that it’s the recruiter’s job to educate boards on various biases that come up during the recruiting process. Oftentimes, he says, just acknowledging the biases and knowing to look out for them can go a long way toward overcoming them. 

Another way to avoid looking backwards is to keep your organization’s vision, mission and five-year strategic plan front and center throughout the recruiting process. Look to those documents—not your previous leadership—to guide your hiring decision.

Don’t Underestimate the Needs of the Family

Moving to a rural community can be a hard sell to an executive, especially one with a spouse and children. Local schools and quality of life can be deciding factors for these executives, so be upfront about how well your community does in these departments.

“You don’t want the CEO to be miserable and leave in two years,” he says.

It’s also important to make sure the spouse and kids are on board with moving to your community. To make sure it’s a good fit, you might invite them for the second or third interview.

“Really when you hire a CEO you hire the whole family,” he says. “The CEO might be outgoing, but what about the spouse and kids? A lot of people would rather just blend in and have nobody know them. But that’s probably not going to happen for a hospital CEO’s family in a small community. People might come up to them in the grocery store and complain about the ER wait times.”

When meeting with them, gauge their interest in moving and being a visible part of your community. Also pay attention to how they conduct themselves.

Don’t Sleep on Soft Skills 

Whether political savvy or public speaking prowess, there are many soft skills a rural hospital executive needs to be successful. Don’t let your recruiting process be all dog and pony show, with each side always putting their best foot forward.

Instead, ask probing questions about past leadership situations that will help demonstrate their political savvy, which can be a key skill for navigating physician and community relationships. Ask candidates to present on a public health topic, just like they would at a community event.

Take the time to test for these types of qualities that will help make sure you’re recruiting a difference maker for your hospital and community. 

Want more recruiting tips? Tune in to the upcoming webinar, Recruiting a Difference Maker for Your Rural Hospital, on April 3 at noon CST. During the webinar, Goodspeed will use stories from the recruiting frontlines to help you understand the key attributes required in a rural hospital executive and more. Sign up today.