The HireBetter Journey, Part 2

Kurt Wilkin

Read about how I learned I needed to take action to change the course of my business in Part 1 of The HireBetter Journey — my own real-life case study.


We decided that the solution was to bring on an operating partner, and that Abbie, a HireBetter Engagement Director, would lead the way. While that may sound like a no-brainer, because we are in the recruiting business, it’s not that easy to recruit your new boss. I needed Abbie to work with me much like she would a client CEO, and to keep me from getting in my own way. Abbie had to make sure we ran a consistent search that would allow me to compare apples to apples.

As fate would have it, at the beginning of the search, I had been meeting with a prospective COO candidate on a fairly regular basis, and I was confident that she was the right one. I asked Mike, who had originally helped me identify our operational issues, to meet with her. I wanted him to move quickly. Like most of our clients, I was very anxious to get help in here yesterday!

Mike had concerns about her previous roles, but more important, he said, “I haven’t seen anyone else. You haven’t run a search so you have no one else for me to compare her to. Until you run a full search you’re just guessing.”

As usual, Mike was right. We didn’t hire her and we’re glad we didn’t.

Let me offer some words of advice based on my own experience: You may want to ask an advisor or mentor to help you screen, and you may want your team to meet them before you make the hire official, but don’t let them take over the process. This is your hire! Your team may not want anyone to upset the status quo, and they probably will not like the ones who make them a little uncomfortable. Nothing against your team; it’s human nature!

Once you identify the right candidate, court them. Get to know them well. Get deep, whiteboard ideas and concepts together, see how you work with each other. You need to trust each other and develop a relationship. What happens when you disagree?

I vividly remember a few times that I frustrated Tammie (whom we ultimately hired) during this process, and she pushed back. Of course, I didn’t do it on purpose, but I smiled when I saw her visceral reaction. This is exactly what I needed: someone to challenge me, to get in my grill. We’re here to build a company, not Kurt’s ego.

Tammie came on as my partner and COO with full autonomy from Day One. But we both wanted her to be patient. She didn’t want to make any changes for at least 30 days, because she wanted to make sure she fully understood the business and the team before she started fixing things. She had wisdom and experience, and I knew enough to get the hell out of the way.

Over the next few months she got to know our organization, our clients, our people, our assets, our liabilities. We decided we needed to streamline operations. Tammie restructured our client service team to be more efficient, and eliminated some duplicate roles. She addressed our lack of accountability. She restructured contracts with our clients to be more consistent, and she mandated standard fees. She determined that we needed to terminate some of our employees who were either under-performing or simply weren’t needed anymore. Finally, she opened up our financials to the team, and initiated a consistent communication cadence.

Later in the year, we began adding to the team — rebuilding the house, so to speak. We maintained a rigorous focus on key initiatives and key metrics. The results have been a significant improvement in profitability (20+% to the bottom line!), even after adding Tammie’s market rate compensation. We are building a great team and great company, and I am having fun again.

So that’s the HireBetter story, up until now. I’ll keep you in the loop as I continue my journey. I hope my real-life case study has shown you what a difference the right person in the right role can make to your company’s bottom line.

All of us who run high-growth companies deal with similar entrepreneurial challenges — talent may be the key you need to make success happen for you. It’s amazing what you can accomplish by adding proven talent to your team; leveraging the experiences, the Rolodexes, the lessons learned of folks who have done it before. Contact me to talk more about it!

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