New-business hires often promise much and change little – is snow-blindness around job specs holding you back?

Find The Right New-Business Person

I once went into an important internal meeting as a newly-joined New-Business Director and was met with confused faces from my new colleagues. Soon, one of them, with the kind of embarrassed reticence we Brits excel at, asked why I was in the room. I explained that the meeting topic was a fundamental pillar of my job description. This, it turned out, was news to them.


The fact that I‘d been through a whole bunch of job spec iterations with the CEO before I joined – which he apparently hadn’t shared with anyone else – is actually beside the point. The reality is that unlike, say, a creative director, client service lead or head of strategy, there isn’t a generally accepted beginning and end to what a new-business person does.

The territory is fairly clear – helping win stuff. Pitching, marketing, lead generation. RFPs, awards, events etc. The level of responsibility is guided by experience, so people soon unpick what they lead vs. manage. It does get a bit murkier when you look at genuine decision-making authority, for instance over branding, pitch strategy or developing existing clients.

But the bigger issue is about fit. I’ve met hundreds of new-business people from a wide range of agency, consulting, and technology businesses, from global networks to start-ups and independents getting ready to sell. We come in all shapes and sizes, with different skills, backgrounds and perspectives.

More to the point, although we’ve moved on from the bad old days of “welcome aboard, here’s your phone, now piss off and make the magic happen”, new-business folk plug different gaps, solve different problems, and gel with different groups.

So why do 99% of new-business job specs look basically the same – even if you’ve got a decent headhunter in the mix?

Because CEOs don’t know what they need.

  • Do you need a lifelong new-business pro or T-shaped practitioner in your agency’s discipline?
  • Re-inventor of your model or spinner of existing plates?
  • Creative marketer or super-connected PR whizz?
  • Hungry lead generator or thoughtful new-business strategist?
  • Behind-the-scenes RFI engine or front-of-house client charmer?
  • Meticulous completer-finisher or get-shit-done force of nature?

And that’s just personality and skill-set. What about business maturity, immediate priorities, or level of seniority? Or new-business model. Or different remuneration models. Or outsourcing options.

No wonder it’s hard to get right. Hiring becomes a ‘journey’ and chemistry – important though it is – tends to trump meaningful fit. Or you find a silver-bullet ‘unicorn’ who soon disappoints.

Defining new-business hires involves asking yourself soul-searching questions – not least about what skills already exist in your business, what other senior people want to do less of, and whether you’re prepared to give real authority.

You have a fighting chance if you try to decide all this after they join. But if you never have that conversation at all, you’re doomed to repeat the whole costly, credibility-sapping cycle again soon.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid all this

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