When your business is growing fast -- faster than you could ever possibly imagine -- it's likely that you will consider bringing in an expert who has "been there and done that" to help your business go where you want it to go. But whether you are inventing something completely new, creating a new business model or merely shaking up the status quo (and aren't we entrepreneurs always trying to do that?), an expert from the trenches of business-as-usual may not be the perfect fit for your company.
It's not that you don't need an expert. Most growing businesses could benefit from a seasoned point of view. But you need a very special kind of expert, someone willing to help you build the business you want to build, not the one she thinks you should be building. That kind of expert is not so easy to find.
To avoid making costly mistakes (and I'm speaking from experience), here's what we try to do at my company, Lolly Wolly Doodle:
Don't start with the title.
Old-fashioned job titles can send you down a rabbit hole. Even if you're sure you need a vice president of operations, you should identify the top three things that you want accomplished by the person sitting in that job. Be as specific as possible. Then, when the VP of operations from the big-box store down the road walks in for an interview and shares her experience with you, listen for those three things.
Prepare three scenarios and ask how she would react to them. If she answers differently than you expect, don't discount the expert right away, but explain how your company reacts and listen carefully to how she responds. That will give you clues as to how her experience might align with your needs.
If you're interviewing a candidate from a traditional top-down company for your new and growing business, don't gloss over the specifics of his experience. Startups require someone who is hands-on and flexible and who has been close to the ground recently enough to understand not only how to manage people and develop processes, but also how to roll up his sleeves and do it themselves.
If you're looking for an expert in enterprise resource planning, ask each candidate how many systems he has implemented. What went right and wrong? What was his specific role? You may be in apparel, like Lolly Wolly Doodle, and the candidate may come from the grocery business, but you may find that his experience dovetails with your needs. You won't know unless you ask for specifics.
It's so easy to be dazzled by the promise of experience when you're determined to succeed. But tread carefully. A wrong hire can prove costly -- in time, in money and in business progress. Make sure the cultural fit is right. If you're gutsy and fast-paced, then your expert -- no matter whether he hails from a traditional role in corporate America or the startup in the office next door with the magnetic black walls and neon chalk -- better share your values and vision.
Know exactly what you need.
If we knew exactly what we needed, we might not have sought an expert in the first place, right? Well, not exactly. As someone who built a business from the ground up, I still feel the urge to do everything myself, but realistically I can't. So if you wind up hiring an expert who doesn't work out (and it's bound to happen at some point), reevaluate those top three things that you thought you needed in the first place.
The best way to revamp that list is to do the job yourself. If the person you hired was perfect on paper but didn't work out, it may be that you didn't fully know what you needed. You probably won't be able to do the job perfectly, which means you will quickly learn what skills you are seeking to fill your knowledge gaps. After all, isn't filling gaps in knowledge what working with an expert is all about?