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Reflections on recruiting our CEO

We recently announced that Aaron Snow is joining CDS as our first CEO. I’m delighted that Aaron is taking the leap to move to Ottawa and be part of our digital movement.

Admittedly, we were looking for a unicorn. Someone focused on making things better for the people who use government services, and who saw the value of collaborating and building capacity in our partner agencies. A track record of shipping, technical chops, with great soft skills. An evangelist, without the ego that often comes with that. Aaron ticks all those boxes and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome him.

I want to thank the global digital community and the exceptional candidates that went through the process with us. Over a hundred people reached out to us to talk, not just about the CEO role, but about CDS in general. We had great conversations about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and received plenty of solid advice. There’s a general excitement for CDS and so much support from people (and organizations) who’ve been working on digital government transformation for awhile. This is the beginning of a digital movement. Not that many people have done what we are setting out to do. We’ve been reflecting on the experience to understand what worked, and where we need to do better.

We must get better at sourcing diverse candidates

We wanted to recruit from a diverse pipeline of candidates and we were pleased that the applicant pool reflected global experience, diverse backgrounds, and serious qualifications. In the end though, mostly men applied – only 11% of applications received were from women. We’d love to publish data on other aspects of diversity, but we didn’t collect it. We will in future.

One thing became very clear: we can and must do better. At CDS – and across the entire digital government movement – there is much work ahead if we are to be successful in encouraging diverse people to apply and pursue leadership roles in this new arena. We are committed to building a team – and that includes our leadership and technical team – as diverse as the people we serve. This is important because it helps us to see the world in ways that would be impossible if everyone looked the same. We can tap into our collective experiences to make sure we’re building services that really meet the needs of our service users.

Adapting the process to meet our needs

Recruiting at the executive level in government is typically pretty standardized, with long-established processes. At CDS, we knew we wanted to approach it differently and there were a few things that helped make our efforts more reflective of who we want to be.

  • Our job posting described what we were looking for using language that would resonate with the right candidates, instead of talking about what we want.

  • We developed a behavioral interview guide that will serve as a question bank for future interviews.

  • We made a concerted effort to be open and communicative with our finalists throughout the process. We could certainly have been better and we will bake that into our future processes.

  • We knew we were also selling the idea of CDS, the Government of Canada and Ottawa. The person we needed was most likely to come from ‘outside’ and we needed to show that our ragtag start-up was a leap worth making.

  • Throughout the recruitment process we wanted the CDS team to be engaged in choosing their new leader, while acknowledging that everyone has plenty on their plate with their day to day responsibilities.

  • We had a ‘lessons learned’ debrief, to help take stock of the process and we invited everyone who had been involved.

A huge thanks goes to the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Human Resources team. They’ve been incredibly helpful as we’ve navigated complexity and pushed boundaries. We’ve developed a great working relationship, for which we are very grateful.

Lessons learned

It’s been a great learning experience about how we approach recruiting, the work involved in finding the right people, and where we need to raise the bar. We’ll keep sharing as we test and iterate. If you have great practices to share, we’d love to hear from you!