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How to keep the good apples when hiring from outside your sector

Many community organisations are hiring ex-corporates for their C-suite to bring in some new thinking and business acumen. A logical strategy given the depth and nature of government reforms to operate more in a business-to-consumer way rather than business-to-government. Boards and CEOs believe a corporate background will bring some commercial know-how, ideas from other industries and consumer expertise into management teams.

Many not-for-profit aged care providers have a long and successful history built on a strong reputation. Aged care providers have a brand just like any other business. In many respects, your brand is the primary intangible business asset. Investing in people is risky, especially someone who doesn’t know your sector. How these executives turn up, how long they stay and the difference they make is important to your brand and culture. What is the brand impact of a poor hiring decision at the top?

A brand holds an intrinsic and intangible meaning in the minds of your customers and sets an expectation about the service they will receive from your company. It’s in your DNA. It stands for something, and everything. It’s an attractive proposition to people from the corporate sector to work in a business that benefits the community and the greater good.

When it comes to work, you can distil what motivates people into three areas. First, it’s the autonomy to make their own decisions on a day to day basis – employees just want to get on with it. Next, it’s about being good at what they do. Everyone wants to be proud of their work. Lastly, it’s about doing something meaningful. How can your eight hours a day make a difference to someone else? If you look closely most aged care brands nicely tick all those boxes.

Further, I see ‘organisation’ as a metaphor for a set of structured relationships to serve a brand. Trust is the glue that holds those relationships together, internally and externally. You either have trust, you don’t have it or are trying to get it back. A brand attracts the right people and with high trust you can do pretty much anything. Without trust nothing else matters.

Recently, there have been many high-profile cases of well-known brands solely motivated by profit damaging their reputation and the trust of their customers and long-standing employees due to poor behaviours of both Boards and leadership teams. Currently, Air New Zealand, Qantas, JB Hi-Fi, Toyota and Mazda hold the top five places for trusted Australian brands while the four big banks and AMP have dropped significantly in 12 months and are now outside the top 50 (according to the 2019 Corporate Reputation Index).

So now you might be thinking of hiring someone with a corporate background. Think of a situation when someone was recruited from a corporate leadership role into a not-for-profit organisation. How did they show up? Did the apple cart get upset?

Firstly, I have come across dozens of ex-corporates with pre-conceived or flawed assumptions about what the health and community sector actually does. The expectation gap begins with a values clash around where your business sits on the purpose-profit continuum – a poor cultural fit.

Next, these people often come with a myopic focus on “what is wrong” founded on a presumption that only a corporate methodology can fix whatever might be wrong. This is seen by others as an arrogant attitude from someone who has spent less than five minutes in the organisation.

Lastly, in the health and community sectors the stakeholder base is much broader and complex. The “organisational rhythm” is a different tempo because big decisions require time and consultation to gain genuine consensus. Successful CEOs in the NFP sector know this only too well. This can be eminently frustrating for a gung-ho ex-corporate leader used to doing things their own way.

The hiring outcome is a lack of utilisation of the expertise of a person that was meant to improve the condition of the business. What can be worse is the development of fractured relationships with capable long-standing employees.

So how can ex-corporate hires successfully fit in and integrate their expertise from the get-go? The critical elements of successful leadership transitions into community aged care are:

  1. Start with a focus on what’s working and seek to understand what’s not.
  2. Slow down. Incrementally adapt their commercial skillset and expertise to the sector.
  3. Find ways to develop deeper connections with the people around.
  4. Enable opportunities for self-reflection – to reassess assumptions and perceptions.

The benefits of a successful ex-corporate leader transition into the community sector are profound. It starts with developing stronger working relationships and maintaining a healthy respect for the past to ignite future possibilities. Having and keeping the right people on your team bus brings a fresh perspective and new ideas. You will get to places you never thought possible.

All of this strengthens and reinforces your brand. Your most important asset. For a business that is in the business of human services, it is your brand that attracts the right people to ultimately drive your economic engine. There’s a bunch of talented disenchanted corporate leaders looking around for work with meaning. Perhaps your brand is just what they might be looking for and you can keep a bunch of good apples in your management team.

Bruce Mullan is a certified workplace coach bringing energy and focus through the art of organisational coaching.

Vinaigrette develops innovative coaching approaches to solve business problems. Our clients make profound change by maximising the potential of the people they already have. Visit our website to learn more about how coaching can make the difference that matters: www.vinaigrette.coach

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