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.
Here at Dave Partners we exist to help entrepreneurs conquer the world with what they are doing. More than just executive search, we build the teams and 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.