The People Pivot: Hiring in a Rapid Growth Environment

Posted by: Louis Gerzofsky

Posted on: Oct 8, 2015

Your company has been in a low growth or no growth mode for the last few years. As a result, your team has been remarkably stable for almost as many years. They’re a cohesive unit that’s well known by the business. In meetings, you finish each other’s sentences.

And then it happens! A private equity firm acquires your company and starts to heavily invest in a growth strategy or your sector of the economy is reviving and you need to rapidly expand your headcount as your company ramps up for new business.

We constantly read and talk about the disruptive power of new technologies upon our society. Their unchecked admittance into our lives and workspaces creates wholly unanticipated stress and tension. Well, in my experience as an executive recruiter for C level technology executives I believe that the unchecked – or, rather, inadequately planned – rapid introduction of new people into an organization creates far more stress and strain and the results can be far more damaging to its viability and success.

Many excellent IT executives who pride themselves on their ability to advance innovation while ‘keeping the lights on’ may undervalue the following premise: Just because you’re really good at one thing (e.g., introducing and assimilating new technologies) doesn’t mean you’ll also be good at rapidly hiring and assimilating new people into your team. After all, if your company has been in a low or no growth mode for the past number of years, you may be unprepared when it comes to one of the most critical challenges of any executive’s career.

I've been fortunate enough during my career to have helped numerous clients meet and exceed the challenges they face when they’ve needed to rapidly scale up their teams. Your ability to adapt and innovate during a rapid transformation may be sorely tested. Here’s a few of my recommendations:

Recreate your Plan – When I sit down with a client’s executive leadership team I always ask: “If your new employee does a great job, what will success look like to you in a year from now?”
Well, success is going to look a lot different now that your company is rapidly growing. This is an opportunity for you to play a significant role in your company’s transformation on an operational as well as a technological level. Gaining more employees shouldn’t automatically translate into a more bureaucratic and less nimble organization. If you haven’t mastered your company’s organizational chart and its operational processes, now is a great time to do so. How can you reliably create technology solutions that enables frictionless workflow and a great customer experience if you don’t know how the parts fit together? You could ask finalist candidates to present a mock plan for their first 90 days that helps you evaluate their thinking around rapid expansion and change.

Invigorate your Process – identifying, interviewing and hiring two or three (or more) senior people will require more of everything: meetings, evaluations, interviews, feedback sessions and then more meetings. And if your competitors are also in a growth phase then it’s likely that the candidate market is a lot more competitive. Everyone in the interview loop needs to be a better salesperson than ever, effectively articulating your company’s unique differentiators and strategic focus. It might be useful in your next few staff meetings if everyone is given a few minutes to explain why your company is a great place to work: enthusiasm is catching. If you’re using a retained search firm to find talent then avail yourself of the opportunity to see a diverse slate of candidates with different levels of experience and compensation price points. This isn’t the time to interview and fall head over heels for the first candidate you meet. If that candidate receives multiple offers and a counter offer to boot, you may be looking at an empty seat instead of your next star executive. You owe it to yourself and your company to interview a diverse slate of candidates who represent different levels of experience, compensation price points and, perhaps, industries. Partnering with a retained search firm that possesses the resources, industry expertise and comprehensive process will ensure that you and your leadership team will receive the ‘education’ and candidates that your company deserves.
Prepare for 'VUCA' – a rapidly growing company and your rapidly growing team will mean lots of: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. You need to interview and assess candidates with a different mindset. What type of questions will you prepare to properly evaluate candidates? Intelligence, skills and experience are important predictors for successful technology executives. But in a VUCA environment, behavioral skills and EQ are critical predictors for success. Are you preparing position descriptions that accurately represent your company’s challenges and opportunities? This new environment requires a closer partnership with human resources and your executive search firm. If your company uses psychometric testing during the assessment process then it’s in your best interest to understand what it’s testing for. If the test isn’t designed to ‘see’ a given candidate’s ability to thrive in a VUCA environment, then your company may need to either adjust the questions or find a more sophisticated testing process.
Reinvent your Program – eventually those great candidates will become new employees. Now comes the real challenge: How do you onboard and assimilate these new resources without damaging your team’s carefully crafted chemistry? Some members of your team will feel excited and motivated by the addition of new talent. But some of them are liable to suffer from a case of ‘stranger danger’. If your new hires were recruited from your competitors, there transition is likely to be easier. They’re more familiar with the company’s product or service. They know the ‘lingo’ and may even come from a similar culture. However, if you’ve recruited from outside of your industry then your assimilation and cultural challenges can increase almost geometrically. A certain amount of stress and dislocation is to be expected among your team members with the most tenure. And you can live with some of it because the new ‘DNA’ in your organization is there to present new sources of energy and new eyes for old and new problems. However, communication can suffer and with it, delivery. Everyone’s time is limited during a rapid growth stage but investing in team building events and exercises will be worth the time and money.
I recently came across a Peter Drucker quote from 1967 that seems even more relevant today than when he first wrote it: “We are becoming aware that the major questions regarding technology are not technical but human questions." At Stephen-Bradford we understand that an executive’s technology competency is only a piece of the puzzle. True excellence will depend upon emotional intelligence and cultural fit, particularly when our client company experiences rapid transformation.

Your input is always welcome and appreciated. Feel free to write me at: or call: (646) 728-2315