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The Fallacy of the Messiah Hire

August 8, 2018

This article was originally published here on June 12, 2018.

“There is no Messiah in here!  There’s a mess alright, but no Messiah.” A memorable line spoken by Brian’s mother in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The truth is, I often think of this line when CEOs speak to me of the person they just hired or the new person who just started.

It is always the same – “this person is just what we need to”:

a)      Accelerate growth
b)      Perfect product market fit
c)      Solve our development quality issues
d)      Land the transformative partnership

Don’t get me wrong. Talent matters and every hire in a small company is critical. I encourage our leadership teams to focus on consistent hiring practices and to work extra hard to bring A+ talent in the door. But having too high expectations for a new hire creates a disservice not only for the incoming person but also for the people who are already in the organization.

Why is that?

Messiahs are expected to have almost immediate impact, and if this is not seen, it can be disappointing. This level of expectation can often be crippling for the new hire. For most roles in most companies, there is actually much to learn before a new hire can make changes, alter processes, or impact results. That learning process takes time. If a “playbook” really existed for the VP Sales or the Chief Product Officer, someone would have published it and made millions. B2B tech start-ups have similarities, but also have differences and you want to hire people who understand both. The “to a hammer, everything is a nail” hire can have a huge quick impact if your business is just like the one they came from. If it’s not, that hammer will not only be hitting nails, but it will also be breaking a lot of glass as well. Great hires listen, learn, and then adjust. Their impact grows with time and much of this impact is by making others around them even better at their jobs.

For the team in place, prior to the hiring of the Messiah, the positioning of this new hire can be demotivating. Was there really so little talent here before?  Was the team just following the wrong “playbook?” Is this person going to get all the credit for all the good things the team had been doing?  Over positioning the new hire can lead existing team members to either pull back and let the new person figure things out or cause them to undermine the efforts of the would-be Messiah, even making it harder for the new hire to succeed.

CEOs need to be very careful in talking about new members of the senior team and in the expectations that the CEO sets for the new hire. Strengthening an already strong team is a much better message than bringing in the next savior. Understanding that change takes time–and more time than one thinks–is a lesson CEOs are constantly relearning and one they must remember when setting new great hires up for success.

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