A frequent question is "why can't the school board conduct it's own hiring process?" "Isn't that what we pay you for?", some people say!
Now before I answer that question, let me say that one thing I will not blog about is the specifics of our actual hiring process. The information about that process will be handled by the search firm under whatever protocol they establish in consultation with the school board. But I thought that it would be helpful to say a few words about why school boards typically use a search firm to assist in the process.
Most school boards use a search firm to manage their superintendent search for a number of really important reasons. Here is a bulleted list of those reasons:
- Whatever we think about our own strengths and competencies as board members, we are not professional executive recruiters. We are part-time school board members. A number of the board members will be hiring a superintendent for the first time, and executive recruiting is a skill that improves with experience. The ultimate decision belongs to the board, and we are responsible for the choice we make, but a professional search firm assures us that we have the best possible panel of finalists from which to choose.
- When a school board member serves as the primary communication link with potential candidates, that presents all sorts of problems. In the first place, the candidates don't know that board member. They may be concerned that the board member won't protect confidential information. They may not be sure that the board member is communicating information to the rest of the board in an unbiased way. Candidates want to know whether they have a strong chance to be considered, and a single board member is not able to assess whether that is the case. When a search firm is handling these communications, the candidate pool knows that they are dealing with a company whose reputation depends upon maintenance of the highest professional standards.
- If a district employee manages communications for the search, why then that person is managing a critical part of the hiring of his or her own future supervisor. Typically, the top people in a school district have short-term contracts. However professional the top executives in the district, there is an appearance that possibly the internal staff have an agenda that might differ from that of the district. Sometimes there are internal candidates and employees may have positions on whether that internal candidate should, or should not be hired. A search firm assures that all employees have input to the same extent and that the search will be managed without favoritism.
- The best candidates are likely to be in a position where their current employer wants them to stay. A good search firm has built longterm links to the existing administrator community and actually recruits people who may not have been contemplating a career move. Search firms build databases with information about executive talent and they all employ as consultants recognized outstanding former superintendents who are in constant contact with school districts and superintendents throughout the state and region. A good search firm brings forward candidates that local people might never have considered.
- Superintendents who are thinking about applying may often be reluctant to announce their intentions to seek alternative employment, until they have a pretty good idea that they are likely to be successful. Sometimes, they don't want their own community to know that they are in the market. Sometimes they actually don't know whether they are in the market, and won't make the decision until they are reasonably sure that they are going to be one of the top candidates. A search firm can provide assurances of confidentiality and manage those communications with the board in ways that the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and data practices law would otherwise make impractical.
- A search firm typically leads community stakeholders and employees in a discussion about the perceived strategic needs of the school district. The hiring of a superintendent typically becomes a time for stock-taking and soul-searching about whether the district needs to strike out in new directions or emphasize new objectives. The best search firms are really good at helping the school board, staff and community think strategically about the talents, skills and priorities that the new superintendent should have.
- Related to all of this is the need for the new superintendent to arrive with a sense of legitimacy: that the best possible selection was made in the most professional way.