Month: April 2017

When to Hire an Executive Search Firm & How to Find the Best

We see it play out every day: show us a promising startup that’s floundering, and we’ll show you an executive team that was built haphazardly or based on short-term thinking.

Building dynamic executive teams is the key to success — an insight that holds doubly true for companies in high-growth mode. Inside the tornado of rapid expansion, emerging businesses won’t survive or thrive without the right executive teams in place to nurture system-wide creativity and protect organizational values. That’s why top CEOs now report spending 30–50% of their time managing human talent.

So when is the right time to hire an executive search firm?

If you’re asking that question, the answer is probably: right now.

Typically, by the time executive search firms are brought on board, companies are already hurting. They’re missing one or more key members of the executive leadership team, stalled on a crucial search, or struggling with a string of bad fits. They’re losing market share or paying the high costs of lost opportunity. Their CEOs find themselves burdened with endless rounds of recruitment, instead of putting their energy where it counts — building the team.

This happens even with some of the most productive, people-savvy CEOs around. Chalk it up to the dynamics of growth. When a business is small, the personal contacts of the C-suite and Board may suffice to build out a strong executive team. Once the business is on a rapid growth trajectory, that’s unlikely to be true. It takes specific expertise to run a fast, agile, and rigorous search. It takes miles of networks. It takes deep wells of HR experience and intuition.

But once you know you need outside help, how do you find the executive search team that’s right for you?

Here are crucial issues to consider:

Find a search firm committed to learning your culture and core values. It’s not enough to understand the list of competencies you seek in a new executive. Each candidate a headhunter brings you should be vetted for the core value set your leadership team honors. They should share your cultural DNA. Otherwise, their presence is likely to cause turbulence at a point where you need to focus on fortification and growth. You need a strong core values match, to be sure and you can’t afford to think short term; sacrificing values fit over skills fit. Neither should your executive search firm.

Ask who will be leading the search. Remember the adage: Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. The bigger the search firm, the more that people take credit for work of others and the longer your search will take. Make sure your search will be led directly by someone whose name is on the door. It’s that simple. That way the success or failure of your search will reflect directly on the firm you’ve brought on board. It’s the quickest and best way to ensure accountability — and to avoid having a crucial search languish for months on the desk of an overwhelmed associate.

Look for a search partner who has been on the inside, building a company with his or her own hands. A search executive who has been on the inside, rapidly scaling up both an executive team and the functional teams that support them, will understand your needs and growing pains intuitively. They’ll understand the pitfalls of recruitment from the inside out — and they’ll have mastered the art of the executive interview in a way that only happens when your own company is on the line. There is just no substitute for experience.

Look for a search partner who can be a full partner to you. A search firm will be your bridge to talent. It will represent your company to diverse circles of stakeholders, including investors and potential clients. You need to make this choice count on multiple levels. Look for someone with the energy to inspire top talent to join you. Look for someone with the gravitas to represent your firm and its mission in the fullest and most holistic way.

Professional recruiters exist to help entrepreneurs conquer the world with what they are doing. More than just securing great hires, we influence the culture, strengthen teams and form a real mission-based partnership with the companies that have the greatest opportunity to make the world a better place for us all.

This is our calling. It’s why we love what we do.

For more information visit

Investor Spotlight: How to Best Support an Executive Search

As an investor and board member, you have a unique perspective that can help guide an executive search to success. You are more emotionally removed from the day-to-day pressures a CEO faces. This emotional distance puts you in a great place to uphold the mission, vision and prosperity of the organization while remaining a fiduciary to shareholders.

You might at times intuitively sense when a CEO is about to make a mistake. The right board mentorship and participation can help a startup founder avoid serious blunders. One of the worst mistakes a CEO can make is selecting a bad executive hire. Failed executive searches cost up to five times the annual salary. The wrong executive hire at a high-growth business costs significantly more than at a slower growth company. It can literally put your survival at stake when an executive leadership role is involved.

On the other hand, the positive impact of a successful executive search is a 1,000% ROI. The right executive hire earning a $350k total cash package will create a $3.5M+ increase in enterprise value in the next 12 months. When it comes to your important executive search, the costs add up to one conclusion: get it right the very first time, every time you secure a hire in a key leadership role.

To ensure a successful search and maximize ROI, here are three important steps to take:

1. Refocus on Strategic Priorities

The CEO of the company is facing enormous pressure. Either the company is in the midst of tremendous growth and the need for a functional leader will help keep the train from derailing; or, the team is overworked and performance numbers are suffering so a CEO might decide that something, anything must be done fast. He or she might settle for a candidate that is “good enough” just to alleviate some pressure. In this scenario, the CEO is so mired in the company’s current struggle that he or she has lost sight of longer-term strategic priorities. Double down and re-focus on your strategic priorities for the next six to twenty-four months.

2. Define Success Factors

After you’ve rallied your executive leadership around the mission and strategic priorities of the company, make sure you are also crystal clear on what the success factors are for the leader you need to place. What do they need to accomplish and what will success look like for them? How will they help drive the strategic priorities?

3. Core Fit Selection

Technical chops account for 20 percent of the reason why someone will succeed or fail at any company. A strong values fit accounts for 60 percent. Remember that what makes a candidate uniquely qualified to be successful at your organization is a combination of both core competencies (the basis for strong technical chops) and core values (the basis for strong culture fit). Core competencies allow a leader to be effective in a role, and core values alignment is what pushes leaders to achieve their purpose.

Everything bad that happens at a company is fundamentally a people problem, and so is everything that’s good. There is an A+ player for every executive role in every company. As an investor or board member, you have a broader perspective. You have a more clear view of what the values of the organization are and what core values a candidate must have in order to achieve the mission of the company.

The best utilization of venture capital is in acquiring the right human capital.

For more information visit

This is Why You’re Not Finding the Right Candidates When You Hire

The emergency call usually comes in when a botched executive search has escalated to a crisis situation. The search has typically been going on for nine months or longer as a big brand search firm cycled through subpar candidates who were unemployed, available and convenient leftovers from previous searches. Or the search firm was sending candidates with horrible culture fit who couldn’t pass the airport test. My team gets called in to rescue that search gone bad when the CEO has had enough and is ready to invest in another process to achieve a greater result.

Large firms are interested in going a mile wide and an inch deep. They are spread too thin and have many encumbrances and restrictions that keep them from pursuing the absolute best talent. Large firms also struggle to create the genuine relationships and meaningful engagement that a more nimble boutique firm is capable of. They will often have junior recruiters doing the heavy lifting. By doing this, big search firms operate a lower quality search and frequently fail to engage top candidates with the opportunity you created.

This happens because most recruiters still believe it’s acceptable to perform Level 2 Recruiting. Level 1 and Level 2 Recruiting consist of broadcasting openings and relying on a blunt, passive search process. Level 2 Recruiting relies specifically on referrals and networks to find candidates who are available and convenient.

There is a better way of recruiting — an elite, special forces approach — and that is Level 3 Recruiting™. Level 3 is a refined selection process of precision extraction to secure the top 1% of A+ executive leaders. Each search for a leadership position must be conducted with a fierce drive to find the ideal candidate. This means caring deeply about not only finding the right person, but communicating with and listening to that person. It means presenting a powerful, irresistible argument to convince that candidate to leave his or her great job. Most top leaders are not between jobs, waiting for the phone to ring. They’re already engaged in something they find interesting. An elite headhunter capable of Level 3 Recruiting can get top candidates out of an existing state of mild happiness, assess their core competencies and core values to ensure culture fit, and then secure them in a fantastic new role — one where they are uniquely qualified to succeed.

For more information visit

CEO Spotlight: What To Do When Performance Numbers Suck

CEOs are responsible for driving the highest possible performance results. Of course, this task is much easier said than done. Teams miss their KPIs and MBOs for any number of reasons. Sometimes, despite the strength of your leadership, you know your own expertise in making it better is limited.

So how do you get performance back on track fast? Skillful leaders are able to achieve results through their team the same way a good coach builds team performance by leveraging individual talents and filling the gaps. Sometimes CEOs and coaches feel torn about what to do when it comes to making tough calls on talent. Here are your options:

  1. Train: You can send someone to get the training they need to improve individual and team performance. It’s a good idea to develop the skills in your team, but this option takes a significant investment in time. In the months that it takes for this person to learn new skills, he or she might have the theoretical or academic understanding of how to solve a problem — but the person will still lack the the years it takes to develop mastery. If your business is in high growth mode, any individual’s capacity to learn — no matter how strong a team member he or she might be — will likely be outpaced by the needs of your company.
  2. Outsource: You could outsource a problem area to a consulting firm. This might be a good plan for skills that are not strategic to your vision and goals. Keep in mind that this option is expensive and you are not guaranteed quality. If you need to increase performance in an area that is strategic to your mission and vision, then you need to build the capacity internally.
  3. Recruit: That leaves a CEO with the best option for developing capacity in a high-growth company. Recruit and hire a world champion to fill the gap your team is missing. And remember that hiring must be done with mastery. Dabbling in recruiting and making the wrong hire will only add to whatever problems you’re already facing.
  4. Nothing: The last option is to do nothing. CEOs do this all the time by choosing not to hire an expert. Sometimes it’s worse and they take on yet another set of responsibilities for themselves to prove their personal significance. This is the most painful option that often causes the kind of skull-crushing brain damage that creates suffering for everyone involved.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Make the right executive decision and remember that the best utilization of venture capital is to acquire the right human capital.

For more information visit

What CEOs Get Wrong About Recruiting & How to Break Out of the Box

CEOs often set out to make an executive hire because they’re in some kind of pain. They might be missing a key player on the team or a person doing the role right now is failing — and it’s affecting everything from performance metrics to relationships with board members. Recruiting the right leader can put an end to that pain or add to it, depending on the quality of the hire. All this pressure can lead an employer to feeling trapped. When you don’t have options, it’s easy to get into a scarcity mindset — a mindset that actually limits your ability to recruit and hire the best candidates.

There are two sides of the table in every hiring process. Masterful recruiting requires understanding the mindset on each side of the table. As a CEO, recognizing and understanding the mindset with which you are approaching the hiring process is crucial if you want to optimize results and find candidates who are uniquely qualified to succeed at your organization.

Much of the pain that a CEO or employer experiences prior to making an important hire has to do with the need for someone to step in and execute the functional role. As the CEO, you might have had to step into the role yourself, on top of running a hiring process and putting out the day-to-day fires that come with running a business in high-growth mode.

And when the need for someone to come in and help you execute functionally is the most palpable thorn in your foot, you’re prone to committing one of the worst hiring mistakes a CEO can make. Because what you’re feeling most intensely is the need for someone who can get things done in the functional role, you might find yourself placing the highest priority on technical chops in the search process.

Technical chops are undeniably important. Keep in mind that candidates with extraordinary skills must be able to perform those skills within a team so that the organization — not just the individual — soars.

To break out of the typical employer’s scarcity mindset, pay close attention to the other defining characteristics that are of huge importance in a hiring decision — core values, unique proven experience, leadership gravitas, agility, biases and critical thinking.

Organizational culture and the human aspect of work are undervalued, even though they are major determinants of your team’s ability to realize the company’s greater purpose. Its impact might not be as glaring as an empty desk in the office, but an organization’s culture is like a strong immune system and it will squeeze out those that are harmful to the greater body.

In reality, the biggest factor determining the success or failure of a leader at any company is a core values match between his or her personal DNA and the cultural DNA of the organization. Culture fit accounts for 60% of a candidate’s ability to build enterprise value within a company. Core competencies, hard skills and technical acumen, are responsible for just 20% of success. Core competencies ensure that a candidate can excel within a role; a core values match ensures that candidates can help you achieve your mission and the vision for the organization.

For more information visit

How CEOs and Board Members Can Make the Best Hire Together

Often times, performance improvement hinges on making an important executive hire that is necessary to fill a key gap in your team. When teams begin to consistently miss their KPIs, MBOs and other metrics, the consequences of low performance fall squarely on the shoulders of the CEO.

Achieving high-growth at a startup is difficult, and it can be an even bigger feat to sustain the same level of growth as a company matures. Series B funding comes with greater expectations for founders and CEOs. Boards can easily decide that in this pivotal moment, given the performance metrics or lack thereof, it may also be time for that dreaded conversation about a succession plan or an immediate replacement plan.

So what can you do as a CEO when you’re in the midst of a turnaround plan or have already launched an executive search and the board is worried about continued deterioration in performance?

First, understand that when any board expresses this concern to the CEO, what they really mean is, ‘You better make something happen fast.’ The hard truth is that they’re not talking about your team’s failure to perform, they’re talking about your failure in leadership performance. And if you’re incapable of solving this problem as a leader, you might have reached the end of your tenure.

Making the right or wrong executive hire in this situation can be your saving grace, or give the board more reason to give you the boot.

The weight of this pressure on a CEO can unfortunately make a hiring process all the more difficult. Board members might want to step into operating roles, make introductions and suggest potential candidates to fill the role. This is well-intentioned, and occasionally seems like a promising idea. As a CEO, you feel obligated to meet those candidates and the feeling is awfully similar to being set up on a blind date by a friend who means well but doesn’t fully understand what your wants and needs are.

These kind of referrals still limit you to Level 2 Recruiting — a blunt, passive recruiting strategy based on referrals, networking and candidates that are leftover from other searches or unemployed (often with good reason). If you end up hiring the person the board recommended and it doesn’t work out — as CEO, you’re still the one responsible for the whole mess.

The biggest factor determining the success or failure of any CEO is his or her ability to recruit and hire well. And when something as important as an executive search — and potentially your own position in an organization — is on the line, you want to make sure that the job is done with mastery.

Rather than you or your board members dabbling in recruiting and using up the precious time and energy you need to drive your team’s performance, bring in the right expert — not just someone referred by the board. Partner with someone who has built companies like yours before, who understands core competencies and culture fit and can elevate your search to Level 3 Recruiting™. Level 3 Recruiting™ is about precision extraction and a refined selection process that secures the top 1% A+ executive leaders.

This collaborative process is the best way CEOs and boards, especially in the midst of intense pressure or even in a crisis situation, can make sure they make the best hire.

For more articles and information visit

Top Tech Executive Steve Johnson on the Most Important Things In Life & Business

If anyone knows how to grow revenue exponentially, it’s long-time tech executive Steve Johnson. Steve is President and COO at Vidyard, the video intelligence platform for business. Before joining Vidyard last year, he was Chief Revenue Officer for Hootsuite. At Hootsuite Steve helped grow the company from a sub-$100 million valuation to over $1 billion and from 27 employees to more than 800.

Steve has a broad range of experience with strategic accounts, global partnerships, web analytics, SaaS to database and email marketing applications. He has served on executive teams for startups and established companies including Constant Contact, Blackbaud, Scopus, ACI 4th Dimension and others.

To master a spectrum of skills, the key to learning, Steve says, is to “always be curious.”

Failure, inevitably, is a part of learning. And Steve has advice on how to confront this challenge – if you must fail, fail fast.

For Steve, the most important aspect of life and work is making a real impact. He founded a SaaS application called iAbida for special needs children, to help improve team communication. And he continues to ask himself, “Are you really making an impact? Are you learning? Are you having fun?”

I had a great time talking with Steve Johnson about the insights he’s gained from his years as a top tech executive. For the rest of my conversation with Steve and for insights from other exceptional leaders, check out