Recruiting top executives: due diligence in the #MeToo age

Out-Law Analysis | 02 Mar 2020 | 12:15 pm | 2 min. read

Large corporates can learn lessons from Premier League football clubs over the recruitment of top talent into high-profile roles in an age where those individuals' actions and behaviour is under intense scrutiny.

The #MeToo movement, changes afoot in relation to non-disclosure agreements, and incidents such as the Presidents Club scandal demonstrate how bad behaviour is being called out and the damage that can be done when people in high-profile roles behave improperly.

Increasing diversity in the board room can help companies to set a modern culture and challenge outdated attitudes. Regular training for staff and setting policies on conduct, equality and whistleblowing also has a role to play in regulating behaviour, but more can done at the recruitment stage too.

McMorrow Joe

Joe McMorrow

Senior Associate

With the spotlight increasingly falling on people in high-profile roles, and the reputational damage that can flow from cases of improper conduct, the time is right to review recruitment practices for senior executives

In the Premier League, clubs use detailed scout reports to understand more than just the physical attributes and skill levels of prospective new players; they contain information about the players' character and behavioural traits too. This reflects the importance of sound due diligence given the pressures players are exposed to in a high-profile, high-earning environment. The reports help clubs assess whether the players will fit in with team-mates and if behave like a role model on and off the pitch.

FTSE100 companies cannot exactly replicate scout reports when in the process of hiring new executives but, unlike Premier League football clubs, they can use the interview process to get a better insight into the emotional intelligence, attitudes and behaviour of prospective new executives.

There is broadly no legal restriction on the questions that can be asked, other than in relation to pre-employment health questions which are not related to the candidate’s ability to undertake the role or adjustments needed for them to attend an assessment. Those rules are aimed at preventing disability discrimination. Many recruiters should go much further than they currently do and ask more probing questions.

Interviews will commonly focus on exploring candidates' professional achievements and how good they are at their day-to-day job. While these are critical areas for questioning, recruiters should delve deeper into candidates' extra-curricular activities too.

Questions about what candidates do outside of work are often viewed as incidental and not at the core of the interview. They might even be used as ice-breakers. However, probing deeper into the activities candidates get involved in outside of work can reveal a lot about their character and attitudes and provide indications into the standards they would embody when representing the company.

Many footballers engage in charity work or voluntary community service, and this can give recruiting clubs an indication about the players' character. There is no reason why those sorts of activities could not be explored when interviewing senior recruits in the business world.

It is also possible to explore issues of candidates' character, attitudes and behaviour when engaging with nominated referees, with more probing questions around the way they dealt with people and represented themselves and their previous employer both inside and outside of the office.

With the spotlight increasingly falling on people in high-profile roles, and the reputational damage that can flow from cases of improper conduct, the time is right to review recruitment practices for senior executives.