In the tumultuous landscape of 2023, marked by silent resignations, public downsizings, and LinkedIn announcements echoing the impact on individuals, a quieter narrative has unfolded behind closed doors and virtual meeting spaces – the delicate art of hiring amid strategic firing.
As a leading recruiting firm in the tech industry for over 20 years, our teams have survived and thrived through numerous down markets and market corrections. We have learned that building successful companies with longevity is never a straight path up.
For most companies, the leadership team who join Founders to stand up a business are rarely the same leaders in place when an exit happens. So what happens then when an organization that made deep cuts for cost-cutting purposes needs to hire for leadership roles they did not anticipate having to replace?
It becomes about the basics:
Communication Plan I
The narrative to the search committee or search partner needs to be well developed to ensure everyone engaging with the market is prepared to anticipate the obvious questions or skepticism, "I thought they just did a large downsizing?"
There also needs to be consistency in the messaging between the GTM search team and the interview stakeholders to create a brand message that reinforces stability. Always leave room for empathy towards candidates who are risk averse - they may have already undergone a downsizing and think they need a more 'stable' company. They may fear this role could be unstable.
A strong narrative must be in place before entering the market with any new position to counteract these potential reservations. To do this optimally, be ready to cite strategies for growth, i.e.:
- Where is investment being made?
- What are the hero stories the market would not know about?
- What does the future look like?
Discretion & Confidentiality
Even though the reason for the hire is a business necessity, it doesn’t mean the public or everyone within the company will view it favourably. It is best to avoid posting the job publicly or announcing the opening until the incumbent is in place.
Inform candidates about your commitment to discretion and ask them to do the same. A less experienced candidate may not realize that ELT searches are often confidential and may reach into their networks to get "opinions" from their community.
If you invite candidates to your office, restrict their access to areas not essential for the interview or use an offsite space. If all of this seems too much to maintain in-house, consider working with a trusted executive search firm to maintain confidentiality.
Speed of Execution
We've participated in enough replacement hires to understand that once a CEO or Board has decided to replace an executive or a key team member, they want it done quickly.
This is when the VP People will assume a partnership role with the CEO and recommend the strategy they should take to achieve an outcome as efficiently as possible. When engaging a search partner, their experience will help create the roadmap to a fast and discreet hiring decision.
Communication Plan II
Many employers who search to replace an employed executive will choose the time of termination when an offer for the replacement has been accepted. Sometimes, a fractional executive may even be placed while an organization looks to hire a full-time replacement.
This is often done when a fractional hire is focused on assessing the current situation and ensuring the transition will be smooth(er). While it gives the organization more flexibility on timelines, it can also ‘feel’ more unstable to those in the department or at the organization.
To combat worry or questioning of leadership’s choices, a clear communication plan for announcing the new executive to the company and its team is essential for the team's transition to a new leader.
In most cases, an executive's termination is not necessarily a surprise. However, it's more complicated to communicate when the issue at hand is not directly related to performance or culture fit, but rather a strategic decision to find someone who can provide the same level of expertise at a more cost-effective rate. Being ready and involving the ELT to help the team through the transition is essential. Messages should focus on why this hire helps get the brand closer to its mission and vision.
In the intricate dance of hiring amid firing, adherence to these foundational principles can transform challenges into opportunities, ensuring the resilience and longevity of organizations in an ever-evolving landscape.