1. Candidates are not senior enough.
You start out thinking you want an executive role, but during your search process you scale it back to something at a lower level because (a) you can’t afford an executive level person – or at least you think you can’t, (b) you don’t want to upset your existing senior managers by bringing in someone above them, or (c) both. Be sure that you are bringing someone in at the appropriate level for your company and your situation – it may cost a little more and it may temporarily ruffle some feathers, but it will pay huge dividends in the long run.
2. Candidates are too senior.
This happens more than you might think. You find someone with fantastic experience at Fortune 100 companies coupled with every certification and degree on the planet and naturally assume this person must be brilliant and will lead your company to greatness. 9 times out of 10 this person is trouble to a growing company. These folks may not have rolled up their sleeves in a long time and may not be the right fit at all for an entrepreneurial company. They are also used to spending money as they please, and may over-engineer a multi-million dollar solution that you don’t need. Beware of the impressive pedigree – be sure there’s substance underneath it and that they are going to fit in your culture.
3. You don’t listen to your existing management team.
You have hired your current management team for their skills and knowledge. They know how your operations work – probably better than you do. That’s ok, they’re supposed to. If you like a candidate but the majority of your management team doesn’t think that’s the right person, do yourself a huge favor and listen to them. Ask them why – they may have some insights you don’t, or they may not be able to articulate anything but a gut feel. Don’t dismiss that. You may need to sort through any politics that are feeding into their thought process, but in my experience people are often more focused on getting the job done than their own personal gain. Listen to them.
4. You limit your search to candidates within your industry.
This is often a very big mistake. Of course there are some specific industries that require very specific experience, but that is the exception not the rule. I’m guessing your job description has a line like this: “__ years of experience in the ___ industry” - but you don’t really need that to be successful. Any good operations person has skills that can be applied across almost any industry. As a perfect example – I know the owner of a company in a traditionally ‘closed’ industry that was looking for someone to lead his operations team for over a year. He decided to open the search to candidates without the originally required industry experience, and he hired someone who was a great fit for the role in a matter of weeks. Don’t limit yourself. Find a good, smart ops person and they will learn your industry quicker than you think.
5. You are only looking for local, full-time candidates.
Many employees only visit an office a couple of times a week, if at all. If someone has a computer and phone – and the right background – they can get the job done for you. Think about what’s right for your culture. You might truly need a COO-level person, but only need them part-time. Explore your options – there are a growing number of highly accomplished executives offering part-time or interim services. It may allow you to get a more senior level person than you could otherwise afford while lowering your overall budget.
Debbie Millin is President/CEO of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim COO services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.