Last year, Hewlett Packard announced its 7th CEO in 12 years. No one was promoted from within to fill the big chair. Instead, they chose to look outside and hired heavy-hitter Meg Whitman to steer their course towards "Innovation." Do the rewards outweigh the risks of making an outside executive hire?
For sure, Whitman knows business. Included on her impressive track record is leading eBay to become one of the most successful and innovative online retailers. Her resume also boasts an unsuccessful attempt at running for Governor of California - she didn't win, but one has to acknowledge her spirit and tenacity in seeking such an office. Meg Whitman has attitude! You don't do all of these things by being shy-this woman is a take-charge leader. Last year, everyone in the business community wondered-will her presence be a breath of fresh air to reinvigorate the tech giant, or knock the wind out of their sails by cutting and slashing her way to increased profitability and viability?
Whitman is clearly one of the most powerful women in business. Was HP's board smart and savvy or desperate in hiring her? Let's examine 5 risks and 5 rewards of bringing on outside executive hires:
Risks of Outside Executive Hires
1. Succession planning- Having to hire from outside to fill key roles reveals a lackluster line of succession. Not having the right person to promote can cause a sense of panic and lead to faulty decisions. A clear succession plan will alleviate that "last minute" scramble.
2. Executive attrition- The organization could lose those who thought they'd be next in line. Often, when there's a vacancy to be filled, several people are strongly considered for the role while others mistakenly believe they have a shot. Those not promoted may feel jilted and will likely leave. Which of these leaders can you afford not to lose and how will you calm them?
3. Culture clash- Outside executive hires rarely come in to take a back seat. Rather, they come in with a mandate from those who hired them and an agenda for change, which may or may not be aligned with your current culture. If they move too slow, it will appear that nothing is being done; too fast, and they'll confuse and overwhelm people.
4. Baggage- When you bring on someone from the outside, you have to be prepared to take the bad with the good. Most executive superstars have an attitude and edge to them, which can be polarizing. Make sure their baggage is not too heavy to weigh you down.
5. Risk of rejection- Just as in the case of an organ transplant, there's a high risk of rejection - either by the host body or the transplant. The uncomfortable "It's me, it's not you" break-up line has often been used between companies and outside hires who just don't fit. It's clear that assessments will certainly help with good job fit and minimizing risk of rejection.
Rewards of Onboarding an Outside Executive
1. Objectivity- Their objectivity can help you see beyond the way things typically work. Sometimes you need to break the mold and get new ideas from outside of your inner chamber. Consultants can help to advise and work in tandem with the outside hire who often signals a commitment to a new way of doing things.
2. Broader experience- Experiences from their past lives can benefit your processes and way of thinking. Beyond objectivity, you get the benefit of the outside hire's former roles, successes, and failures.
3. Network- You not only get the person, but also their network, which can mean more business for you. This can include not only potential clients/customers in your space, but also expose you to new opportunities.
4. Increased productivity- Your employees will want to work harder to impress the new boss. Some of your workforce may not like the new way of doing things, but most will want to prove their worth. Make sure that you're ready to capitalize on the momentum and try to sustain it beyond the honeymoon.
5. Higher profile- The new outside hire's presence can raise your organization's profile and make a statement of "how serious you are to be in the business." People will talk about the hire, including employees, customers, investors, and the media. That increased coverage could help to increase awareness of your organization and raise hope for greater things to come.
The jury is still out on how successful Meg Whitman will be at HP. While we're waiting, think about your own organization's succession plans: When you hire, do you promote from within or go shopping outside? How deep is your bench strength? How do you determine talent moves? Do you have an eye on your other high potentials to make sure you don't lose good people? Building your talent strategy with definitive data on your top performers and an eagle eye towards succession planning for all key roles will relieve that sense of panic when you know, for whatever reason, that a chair needs to be filled with the very best.