Hiring for growth – when the current leadership team is not enough

In the marketing services sector, entrepreneurial spirit and hard graft can get you far. But there comes a time in the life of most  agencies when they reach an inflexion point. The founder or founding team that has driven the success of the business through the start-up and early grow-up phase may lack the skills to continue sustainable and profitable growth. When they realise this, a sensible next step is to bring in one or several individuals with wider experience and a track record in making growth happen throughout the scale-up phase of a business, employing them as permanent members of the leadership team.

Sure, the current senior team will experience all sorts of emotions when they come to this decision, especially if they are of the original line-up that has been with the agency since it launched. Feelings such as: “Why can’t we handle the next stage alone?” “Will we lose status or control?”, “Will the agency change beyond all recognition, destroying the culture we worked so hard to build?” “Will we be able to find the right person or people who we can trust?” When you’ve put your heart and soul into building something up, it’s only natural to feel this way.

Along the way the senior team may have taken measures that acknowledge there’s stuff they don’t know, for example embarking on coaching programmes, skills or personal development initiatives. But admitting that a permanent solution is needed for the agency to reach its full potential feels very significant and definitive. And so it is.

Why it’s a good time to be looking for senior talent

Once everyone agrees on bringing in fresh blood in the shape of senior talent, the big question is where to look for it and how to ensure you get the right person.

The really good news is that the current scale of job losses in the tech world and others, means there is now a significant pool of people with rich experience looking for a new home. For many agencies, recruitment has traditionally been an expensive, time-consuming, soul-destroying affair conducted in the knowledge that the “best talent” was always destined for the big corporate gigs, or even outside the industry with one of the FAANGS.  Now that the latter no longer offer the same kind of safety, fast-growing marketing agencies have the opportunity to enjoy an incredibly buoyant recruitment environment, the likes of which they’ve probably never known.

The talent gap that has been a constant narrative over the last few decades has vanished. And for an ambitious, fast-growing agency now is a great time to attract seasoned professionals who are having to reassess what a rewarding role looks like. For a fast-growing agency that has arrived at a pivotal point in its development which sees it having to make a key decision regarding spend and investment, a transformative appointment might be a fantastic way to bolster performance.

How to conduct the search

To fill a senior agency leadership role, you need to be using an executive search agency that understands your market and has a proven track record in hiring for positions like yours. Yes, it’s an expensive option but in the long term it will save time and money and avoid you having to kiss too many frogs.  

It can be tempting to go it alone – personal networks, job ads, recruitment agencies etc – but that’s likely to be a thankless task that rarely delivers the goods. Having the wrong person in situ, even for just a short period, can quickly erode culture and worse. Every leadership team in our industry has probably had some sort of nightmare experience.

Beyond the obvious things like job description, brief and remuneration, ensure that you draw up a formal overview of the business that includes current state, future ambitions (your vision) and strategy to get there. You want your candidate to have a thorough understanding of where the agency is headed so that there’s no misunderstanding about the nature of the task in hand and their intended remit.

When it comes to the interview process, you should be trying to get a deep sense of the candidate, including:

  • Their accountabilities AND importantly their material achievements and to what extent they were the driving force behind them;
  • their communication and leadership style and how that may or may not work with your existing team;
  • the key things they will add to your existing team – among them might be strategic thinking and challenge, stronger leadership, better communication, quick thinking and decision-making ability, action orientated;
  • their plan for their first year and how they will go about it

No one individual acting alone will change the course of the business, but bringing in the right new skills and energy can transform a good leadership team into a high performing one.