Managing high-calibre recruits

Recruiting ‘superstar’ talent is a popular strategy for bringing a company to its next stage of growth. Breakthrough Business Editor Liz Loxton explains the best way of managing your new arrival

Bringing aboard a high-calibre individual to help move your business to its next level of growth is an important moment for any company. But don’t be tempted to view your superstar recruit as someone who will not only work their magic within their own area of responsibility, but also inspire everyone else to raise their game. A new arrival riding roughshod over the achievements and efforts of others can do a great deal of harm. Getting the appointment and early days of their arrival right is paramount.

At the interview stage

Serial entrepreneur Martin Leuw, Chairman of investment consultancy Incube8it, says the interview process itself is a great way to get an in-depth perspective on the candidate. He advocates extensive referencing. “You can always find a few people to say nice things about you, but five to ten – including people not on the reference list – normally gives a pretty accurate picture,” he says. Martin also asks candidates to give a presentation to peers about how they will approach their first 30, 60, and 90 days. “Another tip is to encourage the candidate to come to a meeting or two, or social event before they start.”

Early days

Managing the arrival and induction of your high-flyer must be handled sensitively. Mark Withers, Managing Director of Mightywaters Consulting, believes it is essential to avoid heralding them as a superhero who will single-handedly conquer the market and completely shake up the way the business works. “This new leader will be joining a successful organisation that has clearly done a lot of things right,” he says. “Their brief is clearly to help take the business to the next level.”

Mark recommends ensuring that the reasons for bringing this person on board are shared and understood by the executive team. “This person must be filling a capability gap that must be closed for the business to achieve its strategy,” he says. “Be clear with the individual you have recruited. It is really important that they respect the past and understand they have been recruited to enhance and strengthen an already successful team.”

It is also important to sell the problem this appointment is seeking to address first to employees, before emphasising the strengths this person will bring.

In the first few weeks and months, Martin recommends regular catch-ups and objective setting with the new arrival. “People generally turn ‘native’ within a few months, so I’ve found that asking them to write a letter to themselves at the end of month one and then share it with their line manager works really well,” he says. “The contents of the letter are first impressions on what they like and want to retain, and what they don't like and want to change. A review of this at six and twelve monthly intervals can be enlightening.”

“Be clear with the individual you have recruited. It is really important that they respect the past and understand they have been recruited to enhance and strengthen an already successful team.” Mark Withers, Mightywaters

Give them space; give them time

“They will never have another opportunity to find out how the business works and what makes people tick,” explains Mark. “Depending on the size of the business, give them time to go and meet people, spend time with their peers, get down the levels and into functions other than their own (and as well as their own), meet customers and suppliers. Through these conversations let them start to shape their plan and bring their observations and reflections back to the executive team. Encourage them to identify organisational strengths, as well as areas for improvement. Use these insights to create a conversation back into the organisation led by the executive team that enrols others.”

Managing uncertainty among other employees

A new person can create a certain degree of uncertainty, particularly if they are a senior appointment, says Marielena Sabatier, CEO of business coaching company Inspiring Potential. The best approach here is to be clear to the whole company about responsibilities and lines of reporting, as well as making sure an induction takes place. “Clearly nobody singlehandedly can change an organisation’s culture, so it’s important to provide the right amount of support for the new person without being undermining,” says Marielena. “Ensure everyone in the business knows that, as of a certain date, the new person will be responsible and any queries related to those responsibilities will be forwarded to them.”

In turn, the management team should set clear goals for their new recruit, including key milestones and quick-wins that could be achieved in the first 100 days. And don’t neglect basic admin. “Do all the IT admin in advance of the new person joining so they can get up and running quickly, with the right email, phone extension, mobile, business cards and so on,” says Marielena. “And make sure that they are included in the appropriate distribution lists and meetings from the offset.”


If issues arise, it can be tempting to intervene, after all your judgement is at stake. But this kind of move can exacerbate problems and generate ill will. “Getting involved in disagreements as a referee or umpire should be avoided,” says Martin Leuw. “It can make the newcomer look weak. Better to advise them on how they might want to consider managing conflict.”

Mark Withers agrees, but says it will depend on the nature of the issue. “My default is to let people work through issues themselves first,” he says. “The newcomer will need to learn to work with the energies and talents that already exist in the business, as well as bring others around to new ways of thinking. Where the CEO needs to get involved is where issues get personal or that differences become entrenched, negative and toxic.”

The key is to spot any significant issues early, get them on the table and discuss them. “The worst outcome is to let things fester,” he says.

And if issues prove intractable? Martin’s answer is simple. “If someone is just not right after hiring, it is best to part company early and amicably.”

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