As a leader/MD you constantly think about how to deliver on your ambitions for the business. However, there will inevitably come a day when your kind of leadership is no longer the right one and your time and focus would be better applied elsewhere in the business. While this is never an easy realisation, the logical next step is a senior hire to replace you, to act as your lieutenant to run operations and help support the company on its next chapter.

Don’t do what you’ve done before

So how do you go about things? This will be unlike any other role you’ve recruited for, so you will have to totally re-think how you go about it. Resist the temptation to fall back on existing methods of identifying talent, including the types of recruiters you might have used for less senior roles.

Nothing short of an executive search approach will work; someone who can really get beneath the skin of your organisation and how it works and specifically what set of skills are required to take it on its growth journey.

This person and their team should help you create the role spec. Rather than the skills of the candidate being the primary driver, they should focus in on the attributes required to deliver on your corporate goals and then identify the right person on that basis. The level of conversation you have with them will be far more strategic than with a conventional recruiter and you will have to be honest with them about the business and the challenges you face/the journey you are on.

Given how high the stakes are, do your due diligence and choose a partner who has solid experience in successfully placing senior talent for companies who are at a similar point in their journey to yours.

When you start narrowing down your shortlist, listen to the language they use. Are they focusing in on your business strategy and working to understand that first and foremost or are they talking “candidate first” and job spec? If the latter, that’s your red flag to avoid them.

When the stakes are this high, focus, focus, focus

This will be a really expensive position to hire for, but if you get it right, you’ll see a significant return and someone who may be transformational for the business. Equally you can’t afford to get it wrong as the fallout could be catastrophic.

The Holy Grail is a combination of the right attitude, skillset and experience accompanied by a track record of success – each is as important as the other, so don’t compromise and look for shortcuts in the process. Also be sure to identify someone who is in tune with your culture but who can also challenge it where need be.

When it comes to actually meeting candidates, a long list of around six to eight is standard, shortlisting down to three or four. At that point, you should be involving other people in the selection process, your coach/mentor, any other advisors and your non exec.

When it’s a choice between two remaining candidates, your senior team needs to be brought in. That way they will feel like they are part of the decision making and it’s a chance to see how well they all gel together.  

Once the decision has been made, there will be a period of negotiation regarding the overall package, including some sort of remuneration beyond salary and bonus, e.g. an equity stake.

A final thought for agency land

There can be a tendency in agency land to think you always need to hire from within the industry. We tend to overcomplicate our world and think it’s unique. Well, I have news for you; when it comes to a mission-critical senior hire, you might be better off bringing in someone from outside. Our sector is actually not that complicated and the right “outsider” will get to grips with it pretty quickly.

What you need above all else is a really good leader of people. Someone who can inspire teams and first and foremost understand business. Being an MD is about running a business not about running any business in particular. If they are good, they will get to grips with the industry fast.

Phil Gripton

Post by Phil Gripton

Partner at Waypoint Partners

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