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Assemble a Leadership Team During a Rapid Growth Phase

It is the double-edged sword – your company is growing, however, your leadership team is not yet in place and you are forced to take your eyes off of the demands of the company to build your A team. You are not alone.

To help ensure that everyone’s vision is aligned, companies need to be future facing at all times. Doing this right requires having a clear vision for the organization, determining the precise role the new leader(s) will play and understanding if there is a need to shift responsibilities of others on the leadership team that may already be in place. It can be daunting if not done well.

Companies that face this challenge should consider an assessment of the gaps between needed resources vs. current resources available. This assessment must include a “deep dive” into overall strategies, access to capital and, especially people; including new and current leaders and key employees. A rapid growth environment demands quick decisions because too late can arrive too soon.

In rapidly launching this assessment, there’s a quick, simple and effective tool to use. By taking a critical, honest look at each key person and asking, “ If they were not currently in that job, would you hire them today?”

In a climate of accelerating change, it’s not so much about where you are, but about where are you going. An apt analogy came from Wayne Gretzky, the leading scorer in the National Hockey League who famously said, “Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is.”

The best navigational aid for the journey from today to tomorrow is to first understand where you’re going and to create a plan for what you’ll need when you get there. This requires comprehensive business analysis and strategic planning that includes measurable objectives and SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats). A good plan will help leaders anticipate the impact of changes in financial markets, customer preferences, competitor initiatives and technology. It will also highlight possible gaps in the leadership team that impact what the company needs for skills and personality attributes needed to attain future goals.

So how do you attract the right leaders? "Build them" or "buy them"?

1. Build the right leaders. Developing the right leaders internally under the leadership team’s watchful eye is always the best option. If you’ve previously hired well, you can then nurture the potential of employees to grow within the framework of your company operations and direction, and in sync with the changing business and industry. If well trained, mentored and challenged, you can take them where you’ll need them to go. You can monitor their progress, adjust their direction and groom them for growth. Then, when you need to fill a key role, you’ll know the candidates best suited for the promotion. As proven assets, the risk of their failing or leaving is minimized, and they’re up to speed and ready to go!

Be wary of rushing an internal candidate into an unanticipated void. An unprepared individual that is rushed through on-the-job training might create another unanticipated void and be very costly to your business.

2. Buy the right leaders. Building the right leaders takes an investment of time and money. Today’s employment market is very competitive, so finding the right people to help lead your company to reach its goals is a necessity for most. Most likely, these individuals are gainfully employed and may not even be considering a change. The upside to this scenario is finding the leader that can be plugged in and make an immediate impact on your business. The investment will be worthwhile. Finding these individuals that align to the future direction of the company and the required fit can be a challenge if not done properly. Having an external professional partner with proven expertise should be investigated since it may reap dividends over running a traditional job posting search.

When looking for new leaders, developing or refreshing a plan for the business, even before having a developed business plan, is fundamental. We know what the business objectives are, and where it’s going, but a business plan does not typically go into assessing culture. While a good match with the company’s operations and direction must be made, the greatest likelihood of a failed placement will be rooted in the new hire’s mismatch with the company’s culture and/or team chemistry. Developing a plan for the business helps determine the essential knowledge, skills and track record needed in the next leadership hire. These are crucial considerations when selecting the right candidates.

To effectively recruit the “best fit” leader or rebuild an existing team during a rapid growth phase, be prepared. Have an updated plan for the business to assess prospective candidates. If possible, invest in developing and retaining a bench of internal candidates, molded to succeed in a changing business climate.

Once you have established your leadership team, let them shine! Encourage your team to take the lead and allow them the chance to come up with next great idea. Support them and be proud of what they accomplish. By involving your leadership team in the growth process and giving them a voice in planning, problem solving, and leading, you will have the ability to continue the growth of your company.

Wayne Gretzky could not skate to where the puck will be if a team member did not hit it there. Every person selected must be a part of a functional team. In addition to meeting the business needs, each new employee will have to fit in the company’s current workforce, as well as with any other candidates being on-boarded. This fit is as fundamental in business as it is in successful sporting teams.


Kelley Small is an Advisor to Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.

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