Many small-business owners get excited when their company finally becomes large enough to hire an executive from a major corporation in their industry. They believe this person will now take their company to the next level. Wrong! This is one of the biggest hiring mistakes a small-business owner can make. It's very difficult for a high-level executive to go from working at a large established enterprise to leading a small entrepreneurial venture. Many times the executive turns out to be a corporate manager instead of an entrepreneurial leader.
In 1990, when I left IBM to become the director of sales for a smaller computer services company, I soon realized I was ill-equipped to lead my team. As a manager at IBM, I had a large support infrastructure and a long established brand culture to lean on. At the new company, none of my training helped me run a small national sales organization. As a result, I was fired a year later.
There are a few reasons why hiring a large company executive typically fails for a small business:
They're managers, not leaders. At large companies, executives spend more time thinking rather than doing. This is because it takes longer to move these types of organizations and they want to make sure they get it right. They're typically taking the direction of someone else in the organization and just managing the implementation of that solution. They're so busy delegating, they spend less time actually doing. At small companies, inaction always hurts. Small-business leaders use a series of small actions because the company direction can change quickly and this increases their chances of success.
They're about politics, not action. At large companies, executives tend to be concerned about their career path and need to take actions that ensure their future. At small businesses, executives take action so they can actually have a future. They more closely identify with the company and the customers instead of their career.
They're used to assistants, not teamwork. Many large corporate executives get used to having a large support structure like executive assistants, human resources and a legal team. This allows them the luxury to only to focus on the job they were hired to do. At small companies, executives typically have to do all these functions themselves.
They're used to following a culture, not creating one. Most large corporate executives have an established culture to lean on for how the company is run and who to hire. Unlike small-business owners, they may have no idea how to shape or change a culture as the company grows and faces new challenges.
Still, it's not impossible to make the transition from a large to a small company. Ask these questions when interviewing any large company candidate to get it right:
- Did they originate the action or just follow someone else’s direction? This is sometimes difficult to determine. Ask how they came up the idea and what different alternatives they considered.
- Did they really lead or were they just a part of the effort? Many times they claim their resume accomplishments were directed by them, but instead they were just the beneficiary of what happened. Determine what exact role they played in the company’s success.
- How much support do they really need to get their job done? Many corporate executives need a lot of functional support like secretaries and assistants to work effectively. Most small businesses have none of these. Can they actually go it alone?
Did you hire someone from a large corporation? What were the results?
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