Jason Lauritsen - Crushing talent dogma to free human potential

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When a Hired Gun is the Right Answer

Through much of my corporate HR life, I made it my goal to minimize the use of external recruiters when possible.  I had decided that when I had to engage outside recruiting services, it was a signal that I was failing to deliver on what was expected from my recruiting team and me.

The thing is, I’m not sure that the rest of the organization viewed it as a failure on my team when we had to use outside help.  The rest of the organization just wanted to get positions filled with the best possible candidates and they trusted me to make the right call on how to make that happen.  If I told them we needed to use an external recruiter, they usually trusted my judgement.

I think all too often, as managers and professionals, we adopt a mindset that getting external help is an admission of weakness or failure.  We try to avoid hiring consultants and advisors at times when we really need them to best do our jobs.  We rationalize that we are saving money, being responsible and doing what we were hired to do.  And those things may all be true, but if you don’t deliver the results your organization expects of you, no one is going to pat you on the back for saving a few bucks or “doing your best.”  There are times when getting external support from a consultant, recruiter or other source is the right thing to do.

When you should consider a hired gun:

  1. When you don’t have the expertise in your team to deliver exceptional results.  As an example, if you need to do some work on branding for your organization, unless you have someone who has done brand development for a living in the past, hire some with that expertise to help you.  In almost every case, if you are trying to accomplish a task where you lack expertise, it will take you at least twice as long to produce a product that is at best half as good.  If the outcome of the project is important, go find some help.  
  2. When your time is stretched so thin that taking on another project will crush your (or your team’s) ability to deliver on what’s already in front of you.  Sometimes, even when you have the ability to complete a project, it’s wise to hire someone else to do it so that you can maintain focus on the work that’s already in front of you.  
  3. When the project requires some conflict that might be politically dangerous.  One powerful way to use external partners is facilitate processes that might be painful or politically charged.  A consultant will often get praised for saying or doing something that might have gotten you in trouble had you said or done the same thing  When you need to shake things up or tip over the apple cart, it’s far better to let someone from the outside be the instigator so that you can play the role of the hero who puts things back together on the other end.  
  4. When you need to lead a group through a discovery process that might slaughter sacred cows along the path.  This is why many companies use external facilitators to lead strategic planning or succession planning processes.  These are high stakes ventures that, when done right, require leaders to take a hard look at everything in the company.  This usually leads to some insights which suggest that hard decisions must be made.  It might be that a core product has run it’s course.  Or, a beloved senior executive needs to move on.  These are tough conversations that can become very personal for some leaders.  A skilled external facilitator will ask questions and push buttons that an internal person might be very uncomfortable with.  
Hiring help shouldn’t be an admission of weakness, incompetence or failure.  Done right, it’s how skillful leaders move the needle on important initiatives.  Inserting the right help at the right moment can make all the difference to delivering exceptional results.  
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  1. stuart chittenden

    Thanks Jason; another insightful post. I hope this does not come across as self-serving, but as an outside consultant, I appreciate a client that is willing and open to engaging my firm due to these (or other) reasons. It makes our collaboration more creative, potent and enjoyable. For what it is worth, as I'm sure you have experienced, engaging with a client with this open mindset makes me even more sensitive not to oversell, but to be doubly sure my firm is adding value in the right place. Moreover, it prompts me to respect the client enough to point out when we should, in fact, no longer be engaged. That may be a short term business loss, but it is far more valuable over time and, indeed, for my business relationships and own ethical health!

  2. Jason Lauritsen

    Great points Stuart. The fundamental problems stem from viewing consultants as adversaries versus partners who are a resource to help us accomplish our work.

Jason Lauritsen