The Flaws of the Hero Hiring Strategy

by Jeff Hilimire on September 4, 2013

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I’ve made some very bad hires over my time at Spunlogic and Engauge. I’m not sure I’ve ever hired “bad people”, but I’ve certainly hired the wrong person or people who weren’t a good fit for my company or for the role we gave them at the time. In fact, my partners and I all agree that hiring the wrong people was the biggest mistake we made over the years.

One of the biggest mistake a leader can make with regards to hiring is falling into the trap of what I call the Hero Hiring Strategy. This is when you have a real business problem – you struggle to build a profitable business, your culture is out of whack, you’re not able to grow the business – so you decide to hire someone who is a supposed bada$$ at that particular area to “fix” the problem. “If we hire this person, they’ll completely fix our <fill in the blank> problem.”

This never works. If your business is broken in a key area then hiring a person to come and fix it is not going to be an effective solution. Let’s take the issue of growth. Say you have a solid business, anywhere from 5-15 people, and your only problem is that you’re struggling to grow. If your business isn’t growing then there is something you need to fix at the core of your business. You’re probably not set up to grow and if you bring in a growth-oriented leader to save the day, what you’ll probably end up with is someone who struggles mightily because the company itself isn’t positioned to grow.

To continue with this example, let’s look at a few attributes that a growth-focused company should embody:

  • One of the founders should be focused on growth. While this might seem obvious, I know many small businesses led by incredible people that just aren’t passionate about growth. They’re focused on the work itself, or the culture, or the profitability, but not the growth side of the company. Without an owner focused on growth there is very little chance a company can get over that 5-15 person staff level.
  • The company has to know who it is. This is a very common problem with businesses that struggle to grow. They haven’t figured out who they are and how to communicate that to the market. Bringing in a new leader will not fix this, it has to be the focus of the founding team.
  • The company is risk averse when it comes to sacrificing profit for growth. This is a common problem for companies that are trying to grow but have already built a sustainable small business. They get comfortable with the profits and are unwilling (even if its subconscious) to forgo those profits in the short term for growth. Bringing in a leader to try to grow the company in that scenario is a recipe for disaster.

Those are just a few examples that illustrate why I think the Hero Hiring Strategy is a common trap for businesses to fall in to and why its almost always unsuccessful. It is so much easier to simply hire someone to come fix the problem vs. looking under the hood and analyzing your business to figure out what the real problem is. But if you do that, you can solve the underlying problem and then absolutely hire a leader to help you. But hiring someone before you figure out the root of the problem is going to end badly for both you and the new person.

  • hazybuck

    Jeff, you’re fantastic! I’m writing my OWN business plan and this is just what I needed.

    PS . . . don’t be surprised if you receive a 911 email from me in the near future!

  • Jeff Hilimire

    Sweet, bring it!

  • Joe Koufman

    And I thought I was your growth hero at Spunlogic/Engauge… ;-]

  • Jeff Hilimire

    Well, we doubled our revenue for four straight years before I hired you, so I wouldn’t say we had a growth problem ;) But…you’ve proved my point that when you hire a badass leader and put them over something that isn’t operationally broken, amazing things can happen. You’ve absolutely crushed it here for five years my friend.

  • jhaynie

    couldn’t agree more. people problems IMHO are the #1 restriction/inhibitor to growth and scale. also, people needs and functions/roles/responsibilities/needs change constantly as you scale. what you needed 6-9-12 months ago is now different and sometimes great people are in the wrong position, don’t have the right experience, are up to the challenge, etc. that’s hard.

  • Jeff Hilimire


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