Hiring a second-in-command is one of the most important decisions a business owner makes, but few give it the time and attention it deserves. A great hire can make an entrepreneur’s job much easier, but the wrong one can halt growth and create problems. By carefully assessing what the owner and the company really need, searching carefully, and spending the time to get to know candidates, an entrepreneur can increase the odds of finding just the right match.
Most business owners tend to search for their second-in-commands at one of two times— either when the business is growing so quickly that one person can’t do it all, or when they are thinking about retirement. However, choosing someone to grow the company alongside you is different from finding someone to maintain it after you are gone. The best time to make the hire is when you can anticipate the need. For example, when an owner feels the company is poised to move to the next level but has not made the move yet, might be time to add the person who has the expertise they need or the confidence to help take things to the next level.
Before calling a search firm, owners should do an honest assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses. They should ask themselves what the ideal candidate will be like. What personality traits and skills will they have? Entrepreneurs tend to choose either a clone—someone who shares the same skill sets and traits—or a complement who fills in their weak areas. In most cases, the complement makes a better match. However, some overlap in personality traits and style is crucial so that communication is easy.
The first place to look is inside your company for this deputy. Sometimes, however, people that have been only employed at small companies lack the depth and breadth of experience necessary for taking the business to the next level. Working with a search firm is a good option to bring pre-screened candidates to your door. Mid-level ranks of large companies also hold many possible candidates who might want to try an entrepreneurial approach. Acquaintances and peers also might yield a good candidate.
When you find someone you like, spend time getting to know them, and assessing whether the fit will be right. Personally handle reference checks so that you can hear for yourself what former employers and acquaintances have to say about this person’s character and abilities. And, if possible, suggest a trial period before making things permanent. Take the decision as seriously as it is and the end result could be a dramatic improvement for your business.