If you're looking to make a new hire, you've likely pinpointed where your company is weakest and plan to fill that void. This sounds like a logical approach, but it's actually the worst strategy to lean on. In fact, I just hired a Chief Operating Officer (COO) for my company for nearly the opposite reason.
If you're constantly scrambling to fill a vacant position, or merely trying to plug a skills gap where the current team is weak, you're hiring reactively. This method of building a team leaves you one step behind, forcing you to make impulsive decisions based on pain.
Nothing derails your ability to make good decisions more than pain--common sense gets abandoned when the need is large and the pressure daunting. What if, instead, you flipped your hiring approach and started viewing it through a strategic, proactive, long-term lens? What if you started hiring for the roles you want?
Build a foundation, not a house of cards.
Look at the projections for the next one to five years of your business. What is your expected revenue? Are there are any industry or business trends that might affect you? This is where you start to hone in where some of your holes might be down the road, so you can start to hire for them today.
Plan for drastic change.
Part of why I just hired a COO was because we could use some operational help--like most do. But we also looked at how the market is changing, potential competitive problems such as downward pricing pressure, the likely backlash that's brewing from the widespread saturation of technology and how the consulting business model as we've known it is going to be impacted by all of this.
We realized what we had in place currently might get us by for the next 12 - 24 months, but almost certainly wouldn't keep us strong and growing for the next 60 months.
Learn to juggle agility and specialization.
As the CEO of LeadMD, I've been doing what many CEOs do--taking on far too many roles in the business and consequently spreading myself so thin that I have no energy or time left to innovate.
At some point, you have to pick where you're going to specialize and when you do, you open your company up to a growth curve. The trick, however, is to make sure all team members still know the basics of each department of your business (so they can be agile, knowledgeable and help out when needed)--but stick to their areas of true specialization 95 percent of the time. I'm a huge advocate for developing a layer of generalization but then creating incentives to allow employees to explore their specializations.
This way, each person contributes their strongest skills primarily and isn't distracted by other tasks. I had to acknowledge that this included me, and that I had to get back to my strengths as a CEO, like leading our vision, evangelizing, and spending time innovating. Hiring our COO helped free me up to do this now and for years to come.
Remember that a leopard can change his spots.
The beauty of the COO role is it could be nearly whatever you need it to be. COOs roles have been historically mysterious--one that is unique and situational.
In our situation, the COO was brought on to take over some of what I've been doing as CEO. But more importantly, to focus on expanding our product offerings to capitalize on our current success, and continue moving our company toward more innovation.
As an organization, we had to take a step back and say, "We don't want to look like we do now in two years." And the best time to plant those seeds was immediately.
Don't overlook curiosity.
When innovating is the goal, how do you get from wanting innovation to actually putting people in place to help you achieve it? The key is interviewing for curiosity. When our COO came on board , he approached all of our operations with a "why?" mentality. He was relentlessly curious about why we operate the way we do, why we've chosen to use certain processes and not others--and so on.
I'm entrenched in the business, but he was an outsider until now. When he asks these questions, it's with an interested curiosity and a fresh perspective from which he can challenge us if he sees a weakness. This is what stokes innovation, and it's single-handedly the most important reason we brought him on board.
Change requires that you let go of emotional attachments and hiring for someone who can promote that critical disruption.
Don't cast aside logic.
Of course, there are near-term needs that you can't leave unattended--especially if they're in your sales, marketing, finance or customer service departments. If possible, try to keep a dialogue open with strong players at other companies so you have some people in mind to talk to when a need arises.
This can help you get who you actually want, rather than just selecting someone because you have a need, while freeing you up to focus on hiring for the future. You have to create a culture of "always on" hiring to ensure you have the space to hire for innovation.
Whether you think you could benefit from the skillset of a seasoned C-level exec or you're just looking for skillsets you don't have in your org today, I challenge you to think about doing so through the lens of what your organization looks like five years from now. Yes, fill your immediate needs, but look at your greater vision and make your team decisions with a long view in mind. You'll find that more often than not, the two go hand-in-hand.