Investing in the Future of Food: Three essential steps to successfully build a leadership team

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Investing in the Future of Food

While most entrepreneurs expect to carry a heavy load the first few years after a company or brand launches, many underestimate the difficulty of eventually letting go of responsibility as the business scales – no matter how exhausted or desperate for help they are.

This can lead to entrepreneurs either delaying the hunt for executives or becoming trapped in a drawn-out power struggle with new hires, both of which could stunt a company’s growth or cause it to fail completely, warns master career coach Hugh Shields of Shields Meneley Partners.

He explains in this episode of Investing in the Future of Food​ that to reduce the risk of burnout and ensure a timely, smooth transition from flying solo as a founder to being a team player with a newly hired executive, entrepreneurs must first ensure they have sufficient funding and infrastructure to support a new executive, second thoroughly catalog their personal and business needs and third set clear expectations for success with​ their new teammate for the first 100 days and beyond.

Step 1: Build a supportive infrastructure

Often founders focus on their needs when hiring, but at the executive level it is also important to consider what a newcomer will need to succeed, argues Shields.

He explains that to best leverage a new executive’s potential, a company needs to have in place the necessary infrastructure for to direct and support a new hire. This likely includes clear lines of reporting, necessary training and tools and other resources.

If a startup onboards and executive without this in place, the newcomer may become discouraged or second guess their decision to join the team, warns Shields. He adds this is even more important if a small company is bringing in someone who has worked at larger firms and are accustomed to a certain level of support.

Step 2: Clearly define needs and expectations

If, upon review, a founder realizes that the company isn’t sufficiently scaffolded to hire an experienced c-suite level executive, Shields recommends they consider someone with similar skills but at a lower tier. For example, instead of a CFO, maybe a company can get away with certified public accountant while they continue to build the support necessary for a more experienced – and expensive – executive.

To help make this call, as well as align a new hire for success, Shields says entrepreneurs need to clearly identify what they have to offer a potential new teammate and what they need in return.

An executive assessment firm can help companies evaluate whether a candidate has the optimal hard skills or competencies needed for the position, said Shields. But, he added, companies also should consider candidate’s soft skills, including how they perform under stress, how they motivate others, how they are best motivated and what their core values are.

Step 3: Outline expectations before signing an agreement

Once a potential match has been found, Shields recommends companies work with potential new hires to outline expectations – before anyone officially signs on the dotted line.

“I’m a strong believer in when you bring someone in like that, you need to have that individual and [other leaders] work with them on a 100-day plan. So, they need to come in with the expectations are in the first 100 days, the activities that need to happen for that person to drive success in the organization,”​ Shields said.

To do this successfully, Shields said that companies must be honest with candidates in the recruitment and interviewing processes. Even though they likely want to woo the best candidate, they shouldn’t sugar coat or omit the company’s challenges, but rather lay them out clearly so that together they can brainstorm solutions.

Ultimately, if founders and new executives are on the same page they should be able to efficiently execute against their shared goals without drawing negative attention or creating internal turmoil. But to fully shore against this risk, Shields recommends companies bring on an executive coach – if they can afford it – to help streamline the transition and identify any additional bumps in the road well before a collision could happen.

And, if and when hiccups occur and goals are missed, Shields says executive teams need to be honest with themselves about why they were missed and how to get back on track together.

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