Recently, I’ve been asked by several business leaders how to find new executives who have a variety of specialized expertise and who will work out in their companies without causing organizational strife, and without “throwing the baby out with the bathwater:” disrupting the original culture or norms so much as to leave them unrecognizable and broken. This concern is expressed by leaders who do not have the desirable specialized skills themselves. Why is this such a problem?
The Usual Scenario
Your company hires a recruiter who seems to know the field of specialization. The recruiter finds candidates who’ve done the kind of work you’re looking for, although not necessarily in your cultural environment or at your stage of organizational development. A couple of the candidates look interesting — they can explain what you need to be successful and how much they’re going to accomplish for you. So you choose one, the recruiter checks references, you haggle over some of the details, and the new hire starts with great fanfare.
Early on, there seem to be many new, exciting plans afoot. But then things get too quiet or troublesome. Results don’t materialize within the specified timeframe, or the plans turn out to have ridiculous price tags attached. Suddenly there’s excessive conflict between colleagues, team members visit HR too frequently, or the star is up in your face asking for extra resources, contractors, and funding that wasn’t part of the original plan — and that you can’t justify.
When Hot Shots Scorch the Environment and Themselves
Some hotshots were previously lucky to have worked in the right place at the right time, and knew how to take advantage of promising situations. They promote themselves as winners, as if they were brought in to show just how lacking their colleagues and staff are. But now, they only seem to be applying whatever worked for them elsewhere, without taking into account the differences in your customers, operations, or culture.
Then, when things don’t succeed the way they expected, the hotshot gets sullen and negative, starts acting out, or leaves for a more exciting job. Or else you decide it’s too costly to keep this person, considering that the promised changes never happened, performance hasn’t improved, and other things are measurably worse.
It’s shocking how many people behave this way, when it’s such a losing strategy. When the “winner” eventually makes a big enough mess, everyone else steps away, demonstrating how ineffective and isolated the hotshot really is.
Many hotshots don’t realize how important it is to become fully part of the new organization. I’ve had to remind numerous new execs that it’s not persuasive to keep referring to “the way I used to do it in my old company,” as if the old company was so much better. Learning their new colleagues’ strengths and styles helps build relationships and fosters collaboration. Then the smart techniques they’re transplanting might grow in fertile soil — and the ones that don’t apply could be gently discouraged.
Turn Down the Heat to Improve Your Chances for Success
It’s hard to see a stranger’s downsides as clearly as you can know your current employees’ negatives. It’s like buying produce packaged in plastic containers — you don’t know what’s on the underside till you get the vegetables home. If you could examine the contents more carefully, you would have noticed the blemishes and soft spots.
When you interview someone who has technical skills you don’t have, it’s easy to be dazzled by their expertise. So approach the interaction as if it were an exciting first date: After getting to know this person better, will they turn out to be someone to partner with for the long haul and welcome to your family?
In addition to having multiple team members interview candidates and share their impressions with you, you’ll learn more about candidates’ work relationships their careers by adding questions like these vto your standard interview: Who helped you when you were in a pickle? How did people treat you in that situation? Who could call on you for support?
Listen to candidates’ responses carefully. Were their relationships mutually supportive or merely transactional? Did you hear disparagement or disdain?
When you ask about teams they’ve managed, stay alert for negativity toward team members. If there were poor performers, do they discuss them with empathy, caring, and compassion? Or are they dismissive and objectifying?
If you don’t have the technical acumen to assess the candidates’ skills, then you need to invest more deeply in the reference-checking process. Mine your entire network to find individuals who know the candidate personally, rather than relying on the recruiter’s reference list or conversations. That way, you’ll have the chance to explain crucial details of the position, get more candid responses, and pick up on what is not being said.
Don’t get burned by hotshots — or stand by watching, appalled, while they flame out. It’s very common — and human — to be temporarily blinded and not consider deeply enough how a seemingly dazzling candidate will work with the rest of the staff — or with you. Instead, look for shining stars who glow and light the way for others.