June 21, 2021

Building Your Dream Team – Hiring Leaders From The Outside


We recently discussed hiring entry-level workers to groom at your organization. Based on your business and growth trajectory, you may need to hire leaders from the outside. There are different schools of thought on when to do so and different approaches to ensuring these leaders will be effective.

You may want someone who has been there, done that, and mastered the speed bumps, thinking that such an approach will mitigate some of the inherent risk.

Or you might want someone who can innovate and bring a different point of view. Some companies fall into the trap of making decisions “because we’ve always done it that way.” You run the risk of not generating new ideas and thinking. That always works until it doesn’t, and with the rate at which companies are getting disrupted, you may not realize it isn’t working until too late.

A lot of the time you may not realize this until you’re hurting, something we see at companies with more traditional cultures. These companies haven’t been as quick to embrace change.

Where people once held jobs for 20 years, times have changed. There has been a paradigm shift, as companies and employees focus now on innovation and culture trends. You have to shake things up. You also have to look for an agent of change. But what does that look like, and how does it work?

Why Hire Leaders from the Outside

There are a number of reasons for looking to the outside for new leadership. Let’s explore a few.

You Don’t Have the Necessary Talent In-House

Maybe your company is growing. You’re going from five to 15 or 20 people, and there’s no one qualified to oversee the process. Or you need a replacement because the person in the role you need to fill left, for good reasons or bad. Maybe someone was promoted and there is no one in between them and the person beneath them to take over their role. However you slice it, you don’t have the person you need.

Fine is Not Good Enough 

Other organizations will always try to disrupt your business, and doing okay is not okay. One way to be better is to bring in someone with new ideas.

There is Something Wrong

Something isn’t working. That doesn’t mean it was always wrong, but it is now. The issue might be cultural, professionalism, a focus on the bottom line. Whatever it is, now you want to fix it.

It’s Time for Innovation and Change 

A desire to focus on innovation and change doesn’t have to be a negative. You want someone who will be a change agent and set goals that are above and beyond where you’re currently operating.

The Process Behind Hiring Leaders from the Outside

What do you think about when you’re thinking about making outside leadership hires?

Your Goals

Ask yourself what’s an absolute must-have in this role and what isn’t. You want to have a deep understanding of what you want to achieve as an organization. It can be hard to know the value add of bringing in a new person. Look at the alignment with your leadership and your goals, and how that can be achieved. What is the talent or skills gap that you are looking to address with this hire?

The Process

Let’s break it down: You need a plan for finding the right people. There are two basic routes:

  1. Working with a hiring firm (but if your company is small that may not be a good route).
  2. Trying to fill the position yourself.

Regardless, if you don’t have a good search process, you’ll pay for it later.

You’ll have plenty of people apply, and you should get a decent flow of referrals from inside and outside of your company. That’s a decent starting point, but you’ll want to dig deeper. The candidates you seek will not be searching online. To ensure you have the best slate of candidates you’ll need to proactively target people. They may not be looking at all. You have to reach out to them and it has to be compelling. They expect it. They also expect the process to be more thoughtful and come with a certain amount of hand-holding.

Some candidates may look okay on paper, but just aren’t a right fit. That’s one reason to have a dedicated expert to manage the process, they’ll handle this inbound flow—separate the true candidates from the pretenders. And they’ll provide strong comparison candidates, so you’ll have a great view of what the talent landscape looks like in a timely manner.

What to Look For 

You’re looking for candidates who come from similar environments as your organization and have solved similar problems. It can be a mistake to assume that the bigger company, and the bigger name, makes for the best choice. There have to be parallels between their work history and the work and culture of your organization, or it won’t work

You also want individuals who can articulate the business impact of what they’ve been doing, i.e. they can recite the numbers and metrics, as well as articulate what they’ve done and how they got there.

During the interviews, if the candidates say such things as “my team” did this or did that, as opposed to “I” did this or that, it can be a red flag. This requires you to ask follow-up questions and dig deeper to understand the role they played in the company and who led what. We want to hire team players (we versus I), but we also want to ensure that the person was instrumental in the success, not just along for the ride (i.e., someone else did all the work). It’s up to the interviewer to clarify the question or ask probing follow-up questions.

You’re also looking for someone with an executive presence, or the confidence to lead whatever team they’re asked to lead. Again, they’re being asked to come in as a change agent.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to making outside hires, have a realistic expectation about the role and a sense of reality, or you can make it really hard for yourself and the hiring process.

A good process from start to finish makes all of the difference in the world. And you want to ensure that the new hire feels welcome. For high-level positions, they’ve risked a lot more to step into this role.

Hirewell has assisted hundreds of companies with leadership hires. Don’t miss out on top talent that can propel your organization to the next step. Partner with a firm that can help you land the best leaders.

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