Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Notes from the Case Files: A Perfect Match

By Jesseca P. Timmons, a case writer in Entrepreneurial Studies and Social Entrepreneurship for The Lewis Institute at Babson College.

Last month, I described how Sy Friedland invited the Hay Group to create a position profile of his role at JFCS in preparation for his departure after 18 years. With a strong candidate in mind to succeed him, Sy wanted to minimize risk in the transition by getting a totally objective analysis of both the job in question and the candidate. Sy explained to us why he felt obtaining a position profile was so crucial:

I had come on board 18 years before! We wanted to have a profile of what that position was going forward, as opposed to what this position had been in the past. It’s a whole elaborate process, where they interview people at every level — level below, level above, and the board — and identify the accountabilities and the competencies of the job. That’s the model: what competencies do you have to have to achieve the accountability? That’s what we wanted to be sure of.

Going into the process, Sy was concerned that any candidate would be compared to him personally instead of being evaluated against the requirements of the position. Sy — a truly visionary thinker — knew that his method of running the agency was not the only successful way. Over the course of eight months, the Hay Group team made a detailed analysis of what a candidate would need to succeed as CEO of JFCS, and at the same time, held comprehensive interviews with Rimma Zelfman — then Executive Director of Programs — whom Sy hope could succeed him.

The result was a very different description of the CEO job than the one that was on paper — in nearly twenty years, Sy’s role had gone from internal to external, and from operational to non-operational. With the old job description thrown out, the Hay Group team assessed Rimma’s skills against the competencies required by the position. As Sy had hoped, the assessment found Rimma’s skills to be a very strong match, with just a few minor “flat spots”. To address these areas, Hay Group brought in a coach for Rimma to get her up to speed. Rimma embraced the opportunity to improve her skills, regardless of the outcome of the search, recalling:

I was very proud and honored that they felt willing to invest so much in me, and I was feeling at the same time, wow, even if I don’t get this job — it’s a wonderful thing to have these skills, to have this time invested in me — and hopefully, I will get this job. So I really embraced this process. I thought it was a wonderful thing… the consolation prize was pretty good — I would still be here, and be a better senior VP.

Finally, Hay Group completed their evaluation and presented their findings to Sy and his closest advisors. The group agreed: not did only Rimma possess a stellar track record and was very well-loved at the agency, she was now fully qualified for the position. While some members of the board were initially irate that Rimma had been offered the position without an outside search, in the end, everyone agreed that she was, in fact, an exemplary match–and that subsequently, she has proven to be a truly outstanding CEO.