Getting your lateral hires right

Taking on a lateral hire is a risk, but we all have to take risks now and again.

The right lateral hire will enable you to win market share and help to propel your firm’s growth ahead of your competition.

Or it will end in tears – expensive ones at that.

I am a lateral hire partner myself so I feel qualified to have some strong views on this subject. I was recruited by Baker Tilly to strengthen a growing sector team and win work. A rainmaker therefore. I couldn’t bring a client following with me as I came with very stringent restrictive covenants.  I was a high-risk move for the firm.

Four years on, I would like to think they are happy with the outcome.  So how can you ensure the same for your firm?

It is important to understand that lateral hires fall into two distinct categories – those who value integration highly and those who don’t.  Both types can be very successful at winning work, but the effect on your firm could be very different.  Neither type is necessarily right or wrong. It is all about understanding which type you have and how to manage them effectively.

Let’s start with those for whom integration matters:

Being part of a team and fitting in is important.  They will be asking questions about the strategy of the firm as much as about the financial package, so that they can assess how they can make a difference. They will be happy to coach others within the firm to share knowledge and generally to develop the gene pool. Leave them on their own in a corner at your peril as if they don’t feel part of the action, they can have a negative effect on the morale of those around them.  They will be results driven and reward is very important but so too is engagement and a pat on the back when success happens. If they move on to pastures new, then you will at least have ‘assimilated’ their knowledge into your business and can continue to develop without them from a stronger position than before.

For those for whom integration isn’t a motivator:

Being able to achieve the best results they can is what will drive them.  It is a mistake to assume that they are not sociable people though, because they are.  This is why they win work.  However, being sociable doesn’t translate into needing to integrate or be part of a new team. They may come to you on their own, or bring an established team with them.  They will want to network internally to maximise new work opportunities, but this is very different to wanting to transfer their skills to your existing team.  If they are leaders in their field, they could bring significant results to your practice, but if they decide to move on, then there is no legacy and they can leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

If you compare these two descriptions closely, you will see there are significant similarities which make it hard to know exactly what you are getting. Both types are results driven, both types are sociable. Both could bring great results to your business, both could be an expensive mistake for either side.

If your firm is strong on culture, then the first type will work better for you.  If your firm is more corporate in nature and has an ‘eat what you kill’ approach, then you are probably better with one of the second type. In either case, what is critical for success is an understanding of how to manage them.