How to do serious damage as a board 101: thoughtless, forced senior hires

I have been a culprit in this department but want to make a big effort in being more thoughtful in the future. Bad things can happen when a board is so forceful on encouraging the founding team to make new senior hires that it becomes a blind mission. You need a new CXO. We need a new CXO. A new CXO will be hired asap at nearly any cost. I have seen teams do it more or less just to please the board, although they didn’t really believe it was the right hire – or the right timing, etc. If board and team are not aligned you really owe it to the company to understand why. We may just disagree and that may be fine. We may also just not be paying enough attention to each other and about to make a costly mistake that will also undermine trust between board and the team.

That is the highest price to pay.

Don’t get me wrong: adapting the team, making senior hires, tough decisions around folks leaving the company, etc are probably the most essential elements of building a company and a natural (and often healthy) source of friction between board and team.

But let’s step back and look at 2 cases that usually trigger the board to suggest a new hire (of course at most companies the team is ahead of the board and already has suggested this):

  1. There is a specific / clear need identified by the board “hmm at this stage we really need a CMO who can do X, we’ve seen this movie and you are going to need someone like that”, or “we are really hurting on product and despite several attempts are still struggling, so we owe to the company to be thinking about a new head of product”, etc
  2. There is a general / non-specific feeling that “the team is too junior”, we “need some more experienced C-levels to take the company to the next level”, etc

1. is always easier in my experience. However it still requires a deep understanding of why we have developed that need and if a new CXO looks like an easy silver bullet or maybe the tough answer is that you don’t new a new CXO, but 5 more experienced product people to work with the existing CXO and he has not had the budget for it to date. It is so easy to call out for a new CXO and so hard to really dig yourself in to the details of why, how, whom, etc. But you have to.

2. can be a real nightmare because often the board will say something like “ok we need an experienced COO”. If the team pushes back often the boards reaction will be “OK then a senior CFO”, “eh, OK VP Biz Dev” (I am simplifying to make a point – but it can get to this). This must be avoided at all costs because it is random and harmful and you have no idea what you are doing. If the board feels we are lacking edge / experience across the team you absolutely have to break it down in to very specific hiring needs that are logical and explainable and that ideally can be agreed upon. Avoid randomness at all costs if you want to maintain any credibility and not harm the company.

So when it comes to senior hires I have learned that every now and then the board is going to have be forceful and we may disagree with the team. However I am only willing to do that after I have done a lot of listening, a lot of analysing, a lot of thinking. A lot more then I used to do.

thatd bee great


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