Your CEO retired. Your CTO was just poached by a competitor. Your CFO changed career paths. Whatever the situation, losing tenured management is never easy—and it’s even harder when you’re talking about the C-suite. Great leadership doesn’t grow on trees, and finding a replacement within your industry can amount to finding a needle in a haystack.
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Upon losing an executive, many companies seek to fill the position as quickly as possible with someone who has industry tenure. They promote from within or seek to poach from a competitor. But in looking for a replacement with specific industry experience, companies limit the scope of their search. And, in doing so, they exclude potential candidates with talent that transcends industry.
Facing an empty seat at the executive table, it’s wise to cast a wide net. Look beyond your sector or industry, and hire a competent, capable leader who can bring fresh, new vision to your company.
Executive Leadership in a Time of Stagnation
Executives don’t leave positions unless they have a reason to. Often, that reason is stagnation. The company’s revenues might look healthy and the culture might be great, but if the forward-looking picture isn’t a rosy one, executives may begin to feel restless. When they decide to pursue other options, it’s a call to action for the company to innovate and grow.
Instead of just looking for a new executive to step in and fill the vacancy, look for one who can bring a new vision of the future into the fold. If the next executive sees the same vision the previous one did, it’s only a matter of time before they depart, perpetuating a troublesome cycle that companies need to avoid at all costs. Frequent C-level leadership turnover is nothing short of a disaster.
It’s Easy to Recycle Industry Experience
There’s a common misconception that hiring from within your industry begets the best results. And while this is true on many levels, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite for a successful executive hire. Companies need to understand the difference between bringing in fresh leadership and “recycling” industry experience.
Hiring an executive with decades of industry experience doesn’t count for much if they don’t look objectively at their position. Many long-tenured industry experts are set in their ways and lean heavily on past experience to inform forward-looking decision-making. For companies seeking to pull themselves out of a slump, more of the same isn’t what they need.
Looking to peripheral sectors offers a perfect opportunity to bring in like-kind knowledge and new perspective. Consider an executive from the Energy sector who takes an executive position with a Materials company. There’s significant knowledge crossover here, with fundamental differences that force creative thinking and adaptation. The result is an executive who can quickly learn the industry and bring fresh perspective to the table.
Adjacent Sectors are Refreshingly Innovative
Innovation is something that transcends industry, and crossover happens wherever it’s allowed to. For example, the smart sensors that power warehousing operations in one industry are the same ones that deliver healthcare insights in another. And while you wouldn’t hire a supply chain executive to run your major healthcare conglomerate, innovation opportunities are a reason to explore executive talent outside of your sector.
What a company is doing in one sector, a company in a completely different sector can learn from. When an executive hire bridges the gap and brings cross-sectional innovation with them, it can revolutionize operations in a major way. For companies in a slump or dragging behind the competition, it’s the spark that starts an upward trajectory.
How to Prospect Talent from Outside The Industry
It’s important to establish a more thorough vetting process when hiring an executive from outside your industry. Remember, you’re looking beyond industry-specific expertise; you’re focused on leadership capabilities, forward-looking vision and peripheral experience driving innovation. To that end, you need to adapt the vetting process.
- Look at past accomplishments and achievements specific to growth and innovation.
- Ask poignant questions that lend insight into their abilities as a leader.
- Make sure their leadership style is a good culture fit and mesh for your company.
- Test their ability to learn and understand the nuances of your specific industry.
Above all, hire for capability as it relates to the challenges you’re trying to solve. Do you need a CMO with a history of sales and marketing growth? Are you facing technological challenges that require savvy CTO leadership? Need CFO help to right-size your balance sheet and planning for growth? Evaluate through the lens of need, as opposed to the lens of industry experience.
Work With an Executive Placement Firm
Hiring an executive is an arduous endeavor—one that’s best left in the hands of an executive search and placement firm. Not only will an executive search firm place talent quicker, they’ll prospect from a broader talent pool than you’ll have access to. This is the key to evaluating talent and expertise outside of your specific industry, and placing an executive with a bold, new vision of leadership—one that’ll drag your company out of its slump and into a prosperous future.