V IE WPOIN TS
ASK PM NETWORK
Beware the lure of the outside hire. BY BUD BAKER, PhD, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
My company tends to go outside to hire managers for big
projects, and it has me wondering: Why do companies do
this? Why should I have to leave to get ahead? Otherwise,
I really like this company.
In my previous column (“The Human Touch,” March), I
addressed the travails of a project team suffering at the
hands of a solely task-oriented leader. He had taken steps
that minimized team member interaction, leaving his
people feeling isolated and vulnerable. It seemed an
unfortunate but hardly unique case, and I never intended
to return to it.
Until about a month ago, that is.
That’s when the whole project exploded amid spectacular fireworks and acrimony, leaving the team leaderless
and the leader jobless.
The reasons for this catastrophe are many and varied,
but the root cause was put in place two years ago, when
the project manager was hired from outside the organization. At the time, recruiting him seemed like a coup. Yet
everyone realizes now that despite a stellar résumé and
great interviewing skills, he was the wrong man for the
job, and the company never really knew him all that well.
Something Shiny and New
Organizations often have an abiding belief in the benefits of
hiring from outside. I’ve heard all sorts of catchy phrases to
describe the advantages of external candidates: greater diver-
sity, fresh perspective, world-class experience. And it’s true that
we can point to plenty of outside-hire success stories.
One of the great books on management was written 40 years ago by Robert Townsend, former CEO of Avis Rent-a-Car. In Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits [Robert
Townsend, 1970], he lays out 97 blurbs of wisdom that still hold up pretty well today.
Let me refer you to number 71. You might argue with his 50 percent number—even I would—and there’s a glibness
to his words, but his underlying theme is clear: “I use the rule of 50 percent,” he writes. “Try to find somebody inside
the company with a record of success … and with an appetite for the job. If he [or she—remember, Mr. Townsend was
writing four decades ago] looks like 50 percent of what you need, give him the job. In six months, he’ll have grown the
other 50 percent and everybody will be satisfied.”