Connecting your new ‘friends’ in business can be valuable. You must take heed in how this is done. Making unsolicited, blind, single opt-in introductions to please a new friend is a pretty big offense as a professional. It makes gross assumptions about the interests of your offended target. It puts all three of you in a precarious position of awkward social, uncertain territory and forces your offended target to either ignore you, privately message you back, or worse, school you on proper email etiquette with a strong possibility of public shaming in an email response that includes your new friend.
It’s better to ask than it is to assume that you know what your target contact currently wants, has time for, or any interest in. Your friend may not be a priority or interest.
So, be professional and conduct yourself with a level of executive decorum that makes people smile and admire your social grace, etiquette and excellence in social comportment. This is attractive to others and endears people to you.
There are two great ways to reach out to your target contacts. In both ways, you first provide context, color and thoughts. Either form of this simple email note ensures value creation and a successful introduction for the benefit of all parties:
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 DaveCarvajal.com/videos.
Every entrepreneur with a genius startup idea needs a strong founding team to help make that vision a reality.
How do you get the right founding team together so you can reach your startup dreams? Start with awesome people you can trust. The foundation of every great team is trust – trust that each member is committed to the grand purpose, eager and capable of getting stuff done to the highest quality.
I co-founded HotJobs.com with a small team of dedicated entrepreneurs on a mission to transform the job search industry. We were headhunters and had acutely developed abilities in recruiting and assessing the best talent. We had worked together in the trenches and we had trust. We built an absurdly talented tech team. We hand-selected and inspired a best-in-class sales force. Our founding team created an indomitable culture.
More importantly, we got the classified help-wanted ads from the newspapers to online and into the digital world to create massive efficiency. We helped millions of job seekers in the process. Our team power-built the fledgling startup to 650 employees, $125M in revenues and a $1.2B market cap after its IPO. Although we might not have realized it at the time, we had a founding team with all of the right ingredients to make our startup dreams come true.
From my experience co-founding, recruiting and building all-star executive teams, I’ve come across some essential players that can make any founding team achieve the growth and scale they desire.
Every startup begins with a grand idea, vision and purpose. The visionary is the guardian of these powerful forces. This person often serves as both CEO and Chief Inspiration Officer. If your team is in the railroad business, the visionary is the one who discovers unchartered routes and decides that your trains should go to those new markets.
The analytical, detail-oriented operator is a necessary counterbalance to the visionary. This person is working behind the scenes, figuring out tactical execution to drive the unit economics of the business and achieve performance results. This person will ensure operational excellence and that the trains run on time.
Your engineer is a master craftsman building an outstanding product. This person’s skill set is in tech and product design – he or she is your Data from Star Trek building the trains and the tracks.
Even the best and most innovative products don’t sell themselves. You need a master dealmaker to lead distribution. This person has a knack for creative relationship building and can orchestrate the marketing and sales deals that fund your operation with the right pricing model. The Dealmaker makes sure the trains are full of passengers with sustainable profitability.
The Team Builder
Your team builder is your Chief People Officer. This role is becoming increasingly more important in the knowledge economy. The team builder ensures you have the right people in the right seats doing the right things in the right way and enjoying the journey.
The biggest reason why someone will succeed or fail as part of any organization has everything to do with whether their personal DNA matches the cultural DNA of the organization. This makes the role of the Chief People Officer the most important advisor and partner to the CEO.
An organization’s greatest assets all go home at night. A great team builder knows what gets their people to come back: 1) Performance excellence on an individual level – people feel they can achieve their best work, and 2) Team affiliation, camaraderie and a sense of belonging.
A leader’s core values are made up of his or her unique life experiences, beliefs, motivations, biases and critical thinking. Once the CEO and Chief People Officer have a clear understanding and are in sync on the core values (the pillars of a company’s culture) make sure to learn the core values of each person, especially on your leadership team before you hire them. This way you can continue to raise the bar and replicate the organization’s DNA with people who amplify your culture.
Breaking up is hard to do – in relationships and especially in business. Most of us have been there: someone doing an important role in your business is failing; the needs of the business have outgrown his or her personal growth curve. But he or she is a really nice person or you have a deep history with that person and don’t want to betray the trust or loyalty he or she has shown you.
Why is it so hard to navigate conversations with someone who is underperforming? The crux of this problem is the need to be liked more than being respected. The desire for harmony over performance excellence often stems from this same affliction. When leaders are looking for external validation, they become susceptible to false logic and can come up with poor reasons to maintain loyalty from that person for the sake of being liked. The leader does this at the subjugation of truth, honor and building a true meritocracy. What’s worse is that other people see what’s happening and know that the leader is showing weakness rather than the necessary commitment to the company mission.
Problem solving this situation requires some courage, honest introspection and the discipline to re-commit to the company mission and purpose over personal feelings. What gives leaders the requisite moral authority is their dedication to the mission. Achieving your mission is what will create the greatest good for the world, your business, your team and all of the individuals involved. Practice the fortitude, self-confidence and personal commitment necessary to drive performance excellence over the need for harmony. What’s more is that there is an opportunity here to honor truth, wisdom and the personal loyalty they have earned. Treating a person with dignity and grace at the end of the relationship is the sign of a true leader.
Have honest conversations with the team member who is failing. Get him or her out of harm’s way. Stepping aside from the role they are struggling with may be the only way to support both the person’s individual growth and the growth of your company. The right or wrong leaders in the right or wrong roles will make the difference between creating and destroying value. Securing the right executive leader with both technical chops and culture fit will give you keys to the promised land.