My leadership dilemmas

Recruitment is my biggest headache, explains Neil Franklin, founder in 1994 of telecoms outsourcing business Dataworkforce.

One of the disastrous decisions I took as my business grew was to bring some big industry names on board.

You have an ambition to build a business, and you are selling your idea into an industry. I thought, who better to employ than those from within the industry, with good, solid experience. I had long chats with the relevant people, went through a formal interview process and we shared great ideas. But from day one the big corporate background was obvious, and it worried existing staff.

I expected someone from a large, corporate background to be able to work within a company that could change direction over the course of a lunch. If I had got, for example, Chris Gent on board, he might have made an impact. The ones I got didn’t! A corporate life, it seems, is disciplined and does not encourage entrepreneurial flair.

It’s your job to help them fit in

I’ve now realised that when you bring people from large corporations into an entrepreneurial environment, you have to be very careful of your expectations. The emphasis is on you rather than the new employees.

You have to help them fit in, but I didn’t. I threw people in at the deep end and let them adjust, and they did – but in their own way. The result was that I had my fingers burnt, but it was my own doing. I ask myself, ‘did I make the transition as easy as it could have been?’ and the answer is no.

There is no place for egos in business. When it came to hiring senior management, I used to want to hire people like me – but this is ridiculous – you can’t have the same people running the company.

Persuade them to adopt your culture

I have let people do too much, crowded them or completely abandoned them, and been left to wonder what went wrong. I am difficult to work for – enough people have told me that! A great phrase that springs to mind is ‘you hire people for what they know and fire them for who they are.’

You can’t fit round pegs into square holes. I learnt to be more appreciative of people. I used to automatically accept that when people decided to join, they would know how I work. But I’ve realised that you have to train people and get them to buy into your culture – you have a responsibility to the people you employ – but I’m certainly not shy of handing out a few choice words!

Train from the ground up

The result is that now, a lot of the staff I’ve employed are people who I have trained within the business – as an entrepreneur you need to keep in touch with your team. We also have a graduate programme in place. At present we have 30 employees, 15 active sales people, and 15 trainees, who are young, hungry and ambitious – the flipside is, you have to be careful they don’t develop egos!

Hiring people has been my biggest dilemma. I learnt that I can’t recruit on my own. I now try and give 80 per cent of the decision-making process to others, but ensure the final decision is always mine. At the end of the day, if the decision doesn’t work out, shoot yourself, but make sure you shoot the others first!’

See also: Qualities of great leaders – Some MDs and CEOs adopt a controlling style, others prefer a hands-off approach, and most of us fall somewhere between the two. Tony Price explores the differences.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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