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Growth Archives | Underwood Executive | Executive Search & Talent Management

2 years, 10 reflections….what I’ve learnt from striking out on my own

By | Business, Leadership, Results

 

8403f4cd7065ebac2b1e75374500b3e2This month I reached the 2-year milestone of running my own business. The day came and went with a team lunch, congratulatory messages and thoughts of wow that went fast. Other than that, it was a normal day and business as usual.

I was made to reflect on this achievement this week when I interviewed an executive who is at a crossroad.  He is deciding between pursuing a leadership career path to CEO or to continue as a sought after expert in the management consulting space.  I made a suggestion of a third choice “you could build your own business empire” and he laughed and said “I respect people who put their own homes on the line to build a business – but that’s not for me!” It hit me in that moment; I was included in that reference. I made that decision 2 years ago to back myself with a vision of creating something great. That optimism in my DNA kicked in and I never considered that it wouldn’t be a success or the depth of risk, if it went pear-shaped. This is not egotistical. It’s encompassed belief, capitalising on opportunities and a desire to make a difference.

Before you jump and put it “all on the line”, here’s 10 things I’ve learnt from taking the leap 2 years ago:

1. It’s up to you – I find being in control and 100% accountable for direction and results thrilling and motivating, but understand that this sort of risk and accountability might scare the bejesus out of you. There is no regular monthly pay, or leave provisions, if you like being the master of your destiny; you can put a tick here.

2. Do what you love – waking up excited about what the day may hold, who I’ll met and be inspired by is a rare commodity for the majority of the population (I know through many interviews!).  You want to be sure that you are dedicating your energy to something you know you are passionate about. You can’t fake a love for what you do.

3. Conservative growth – I read an article in the first month of being on my own that said entrepreneurs should not hire any staff in the first 12 months – only when you are desperate for more hands. I was tempted many times – but only hired my first team member 6 months ago.  The benefit was getting my hands dirty in every aspect of the business, defining the business strategy, knowing the pipeline was full and having clarity about who I wanted to work with day in and day out.

4. Vision – I didn’t take the plunge of starting my own business for a long time because I could not get crystal clear on the vision of what I wanted the business to look like. Let a vision evolve, just start doing because being in action allows the cream to come to the top. Sometimes it’s okay to not know all the details (take note control freaks!).

5. Culture – in my experience, culture drives everything in a business. The type of people who work with you, the type of clients you attract, the business decisions you make and the behaviours you demonstrate.  Know your own values – do a personality profile and don’t try and be something you’re not.

6. Clients – without them, I don’t have a business.  I make developing my connections and relationships a priority. I know at the core, these relationships are everything.  If you don’t have the discipline to “walk the walk” as well as converse with people, building a business is going to be incredibly difficult. In 2 years, it gives me a buzz to be working with some exciting, innovative and generous business people who are like-minded in the quest for finding and keeping executive talent.

7. External support – I was able to identify fairly early on that I wasn’t able to do everything on my own.  Outsourcing, asking for help and paying for expertise has been a great investment.  I have learnt many business lessons from listening to others – ongoing learning is an essential success ingredient.

8. Brand – you don’t have to spend a fortune, but you do need to stand out from the crowd. I met a brand expert recently who told me that your brand could only be world-class in one of three areas – excellence, reliability or innovation. Having this focus means your brand brings something others don’t and then you have to leverage that. The past 2 years I have consistently been told our brand is authentic, relationship focused and progressive.

9. Be healthy! When you run your own business, there is no calling in sick and asking someone else to cover for you. Being top of your game and staying healthy across all aspects of life – physically, mentally, emotionally is critical to staying optimistic in the tough moments!

10. Reward & enjoyment – no point waiting for a rainy day to enjoy the business success – whether that’s an indulgent purchase, time out or just doing the things you love most.  A very clever friend of mine said “pleasure is an absolute necessity for long-term success and it is essential to do things that make you feel delighted, delicious or just plain good.” I’m slowly learning to embrace this!

Since leaving my corporate role 2 years ago, I have consistently been told “you’ll build an empire again”, “it’s who you are”, “it’s in your blood”. I wasn’t so sure, but I can say it’s been a ride and the best is yet to come. I feel like I’m only half way up the mountain and I’m keen to see the view from the top.

 

Who will carry your vision? Tips to develop your successor

By | Leadership, Retention

60% of companies don’t have succession plans in place and yet this article suggests “the most successful CEO’s come from within”.  It signals that many businesses take the approach that it’s hard work to build internal leaders and still relatively easy to go to market to find top executive talent.

This topic sparked my interest this week due to the sad passing of Steve Jobs and how Tim Cook, his right hand man has taken over the reigns as CEO at Apple. I also immediately connected with this article as I too, was in this position several months ago when I announced my successor.  In my opinion, hiring an external candidate to take over from my role, as General Manager would have been a disaster.  To learn the internal workings of what makes the business significantly different and gives it a competitive advantage is not easy to put into words or in the training manual. To groom and promote an internal leader was a long-term process and necessary investment to ensure a smooth transition.

My 2IC Megan Nicholson had worked with me for over 8 years and we had been working towards the goal of her taking over for a long time. When she asked me ‘where are you going’? I would brush it aside saying it didn’t matter, we had to make sure she was ready regardless of circumstances.  I didn’t know when or where I was going, the important thing was the plan to ensure that the business would continue as she prepared to take the reigns.

This process of identifying and developing a natural predecessor was a big investment.  Finding the right talent in the first place is always tricky! The goal is to match skills and experience, competencies and motivational fit which is rare to find in an individual, but to then try and determine it from an interview process is another skill altogether.  In my case, it proved to be the right hire and our journey of development happened over many years and had the following ingredients:

  1. Core values must match – working with someone or an organisation that doesn’t mirror your core values can be an exercise in frustration at the best of times.  It is critical that your potential successor demonstrates the necessary behaviours to lead from the front and execute the vision (not just the experience and results). In this case, Megan didn’t have the recruitment industry experience, however, she did display coachability, a strong desire to achieve and a dedication to making a difference.
  2. “Shop floor” experience – gaining experience from all areas of a business gives a holistic view of the organisation and a deep understanding of the competitive advantage of the business.  It’s easier and often perceived as more genuine to sell the message if you’ve been there.  Again, Megan started in an entry-level role that proved to be an essential step her development as she gained deep knowledge of candidate interactions essential for the business to succeed.
  3. High performance – your replacement must be a top performer. Being able to gain the respect of fellow colleagues and staff will be faster if there are consistent runs on the board.  Of course, results without leadership isn’t going to work either, but quantifiable results is a solid platform to lead from.  In one of my first leadership roles, I was running a team of 7 that included people all older than me.  The night before my official first day, I remember great words of wisdom from my father telling me to show them the results I had achieved and how I could help them generate the same success. It worked – I’ve always taken the philosophy that age is irrelevant; numbers don’t guarantee attitude, commitment and desire.
  4. Key clients – introducing your successor to key clients and stakeholders gives them the opportunity to build these relationships without your constant presence, assistance and approval.  I had clients that had only dealt with me for over 6 years and handing over that opportunity to account manage was a big step for everyone involved. It proved to be an essential step in building trust and credibility for future interactions.
  5. Leadership opportunity – about 4 years in and already one promotion, I gave Megan a Team Manager role where she would have overall responsibility for a team of Consultants and their performance.  This stepping-stone was critical in her leadership development for the top job.
  6. Increase responsibility – like Tim Cook was given opportunities to lead the helm of Apple when Steve Jobs was absent, I gave Megan responsibility for the acting General Manager role on two separate occasions when I was on parental leave. These situations gave her full responsibility for the business and the opportunity to ‘test drive’ the role.  This was an invaluable developmental step in the long-term investment.
  7. Make mistakes – all leaders in their rise to the top have to make mistakes, feel the pain and resolve the issue. Often, mentors/those higher up the ranks can see the writing on the wall, but without wanting to interfere and restrict a learning opportunity, you have to watch from the sidelines and be there to support in the fallout.
  8. Coaching and Feedback – absolutely essential for grooming a successor is honest and straight talking feedback on what’s working so they can keep doing it and what’s not working so stop doing it.  This was a courageous process for me as having a stand-out performer  for so long made it fresh territory to be back coaching on areas to improve.
  9. Timing and execution – when is the right time to hand over the reigns? Sometimes, it will come without warning, other times it will be a finite date in the future.  The best strategy here is to be clear in the communication around the opportunity and it will happen.  So often I interview candidates who say, “they’ll never leave” or “I’ll never get that opportunity”.  It demonstrates the importance of communicating well in advance your intentions for someone to take over.

To develop your internal talent takes time, investment and patience.  In my experience, a combination of recruiting, coaching and mentoring, in addition to ongoing opportunities was the right recipe for success. The fact that Megan and I only needed a week’s hand-over is testament to our relationship, open communication and shared vision and ethos for the business. I am completely confident that I left the business in the most capable hands…could you say the same thing if you left tomorrow?

“It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” – Steve Jobs

Belief Critical to Business Success

By | Results, Success

This week I had a new business owner track me down on Linkedin and ask if they could buy me a coffee to pick my brain about how I’ve “grown the business so successfully”. Apart from the fact that I’ve recently given up coffee (my adrenal glands are running over-time!) – I have agreed, because I know in my own experience learning from others can sometimes be the most inspiring way to take an idea or business to the next level.

This happened for me late 2001 when I was working at another recruitment firm where things were going really well from the outside.  I had a great team, a group of repeat-purchase clients and revenue targets were being overachieved.  However, on the inside, it was a different story.  We had a new CEO, who was less than inspiring and had zero recruitment experience, the culture was changing significantly, staff were being treated like second class citizens and I was becoming disengaged.

I was reading Richard Branson’s “Loosing my Virginity” autobiography at the time and I was inspired by his road to success and his theories about growing business. His beliefs included small is beautiful, look after staff first, clients second and shareholder interests last.  He stressed that your key asset is your people and you must give them every opportunity to work at their best.  As I looked around I could see that the opposite was happening in this national recruitment firm – it was very much about the share price, winning volume tenders, cutting costs and reaching the number one position in the market.

Coincidently, I was headhunted at the same time by well known Adelaide businessman, Mark Hender to join his consulting firm.  Although highly prestigious and reputable in the executive space, I was reluctant to move into a sole consulting role again since I was thriving in leading a team of people.  That is when he offered me the opportunity to set up a new business.  A very exciting proposition that I didn’t refuse.

There I was, all of 23 being offered the chance to develop something from inception, put in place everything I had learnt and make the people the focus instead of just the profits.

The recipe for success was clear.  I had something to believe in – a new business where people and quality were going to be the differentiator, I had someone who believed in me and was prepared to take the risk with me and finally I had the confidence and belief in myself to get it off the ground.

The results were generating revenues of $3 million in our first year of business and creating a new recruitment system where clients paid for part of our service upfront and where candidates were king – treated with honesty and respect and very much just as important as the paying client.

I celebrate my 10th year at Entrée Recruitment  this year and as I reflect on what I will say to this business owner over coffee next week – it is very clear that belief is a critical ingredient to business success. You need to believe in yourself, you need others who believe in you and finally you need a business idea that you believe in.