What is a "Pilot Hole" Hire?

A Fable: A growing family-managed firm had reached the point where it needed to hire its first non-family executive for a newly created role. Up to this time, family members had been able to share the many hats needed to run the business. After a diligent search and assessment, the new manager comes on board--excited about the prospects of bringing innovative ideas to the company. Within six months the executive is let go--the victim of another “pilot hole” hire.

The Relationship Between a Pilot Hole and Executive Hiring
A pilot hole serves as a guide. Drilling a pilot hole before using a screw or nail to join parts together makes for a tighter fit and prevents the wood, drywall or plaster from splitting. A pilot hole paves the way for transition.

The pilot hole analogy can be applied to executive search and management. Sometimes the first person entering a new job ends up being used to pave the way for an easier transition for this individual’s successor. Often, the problem isn’t entirely with the pilot hole hire.

Adjusting to Change
When a new function is introduced to an organization, the new executive hired to lead has a tough transition to make. Previously, the duties assigned will have been collected from among several people, who may feel that losing their newly transferred duties is not so much of a relief as it is a loss of power and status. Managers used to calling their own shots may resent the arrival of the new executive. As new rules, procedures and controls are introduced, managers can feel they have lost prerogatives.

Meanwhile, the new hire must adjust to an established setting, where there is ample opportunity for the “new kid on the block” to misread cues and traditions.

When inevitable chemistry, personality or philosophical differences come to light, people can begin to talk about the new team member as “not fitting in” and may start exhibiting behavior that undermines the new executive—often criticizing style rather than substance.

Same Hole. Different Person.
Most people are hired precisely because they are different and bring something new. But in newly created roles, it is all too common that the new pro turns out to be a short- term hire.

Ironically, the next person brought into the role often shares the same credentials and interpersonal style as did the predecessor; but is accepted into the organization much more easily because of the “pilot hole” drilled by the pioneer who paved the way.

Why the turnover? Part of the issue is that staff often want to keep things as they were. Meanwhile, the new hire takes to heart the boss’ phrase “we want you to make an impact” when given marching orders. Energetically, the new professional does a cannonball dive into what appeared to be a calm pool. The resulting impact on the rest of the people can be unsettling as the new hire makes a big splash within the organization.

Avoiding a Split
Is a “pilot hole hire” inevitable? Assuming the right person was hired during the executive search process, there are ways to help avoid troubles during the transition of this new hire into a new role. Here are some tips:

1. Make certain everyone on the management team is on the same page regarding goals, expectations and support of the new hire.

2. Provide solid orientation and make it a two-way process. In addition to orienting the new hire to the organization and its workforce, provide activities that help current staff to adjust to the new person in this new role.

3. The new executive should solicit counsel on how best to prepare to “enter the water” in order to build successful common alliances.

A wise entry plan can assure a solid and lasting fit.