As a founder, there will come a time when you’ll have to hire someone more senior/experienced than you, whether it be simply a function of age, or experience, it is important to keep in mind that setting up your new colleague for success is critical for you to also get the most out of the relationship and also learn from their experience.
Whilst I’m sure the list below could be much longer, below are five different points that are worth considering when bringing on someone more experienced.
- Clearly define their roles and responsibilities — One of the biggest causes of friction with you and with others in the organisation will come from role ambiguity. Someone in the organisation is likely already taking leadership roles in what the new hire is going to be doing, so making sure there is a clear handoff is important to not have the new hire feel like they are arguing and/or competing with existing team members on final decisions.
- Set clear Goals/KPIs and remove KPI ambiguity where it infringes on their performance or the performance of others where they have no authority — Following from the above point, it is equally frustrating for a new hire if they are tasked with items or are given KPIs that rely on others, but don’t have the requisite authority to action things or are in conflict with the KPIs of others.
- Identify and break down cliques aligned to founders so they don’t have to fight them — As organisations develop, people who have worked together for a long time can develop cliques. This makes it harder for new people to join and become part of the culture. This is likely one of the hardest things to figure out because you should also not ‘break’ the values your company operates with, but you should also try and break down any cliques that prevent people from joining in. For example, if you hire someone who is not athletically minded, and your existing team has a tradition of going rock climbing after work, then you have created a culture that omits that new hire and they will always feel ‘left out’. Just keep track of that and break things down where you can. You should feel like your culture evolves vs. ‘breaks’ as you add new and more diverse team members.
- Clarify and align on company culture so no issues that stem from wrong tone with customers and suppliers and employees — Sometimes people with experience in other organisations can become ‘institutionalised’ with the way they worked in their previous organisations. This is partially why you might be hiring them, for example, to gain wisdom from how they did things, but with that can also come bad-habits, and you just need to make sure those don’t create friction, particularly when it comes to customer-facing functions. The last thing you want is creating division between you and your customers because a new hire treats them differently than you did.
- Catch up early and often and break down walls that you identify that prevent them from achieving what you set them out to do — Because someone is more experienced than you, doesn’t mean that they will get things right all the time. In other words, don’t just leave them to ‘crack on’ because they might know what they are doing. Make sure you (and they) have the bandwidth to try what they need to try (and possibly fail), and as long as that comms bandwidth is there, you’ll be able to make time for the appropriate feedback loop. Lastly, keep in mind that they, knowing that they were hired for their seniority, may also feel a sense of pride/duty to ‘pretend’ to know what to do because they were hired to do something. Break those barriers down with continued communication so that you can check assumptions.
- Be careful with titles. It might be tempting to automatically give someone more experienced an inflated title, but keep in mind that might complicate bringing on someone else above them if necessary in the future and/or might give the more experienced person the temptation to intrude into other areas outside of their remit which can further aggravate how other team members feel about role clarity.
None of the above points are rocket science, and yet they are so easy to get wrong and hard to fix retroactively. In the end, sometimes things just don’t work out and you need to let someone go, but at least if you consider the above six points and feel like you’ve done them well, you can rest assured that it might have been the candidate and not you if it ultimately doesn’t work out… but hopefully it does!