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Why a Safe Pair of Hands Isn't Safe

Some time ago I was watching a programme about takeovers in which the UK head of Siemens (which employs 30,000 people worldwide in ‘innovation’ roles) made the comment that they frequently buy small companies in order to benefit from the innovative skills and products they don’t have in-house: apparently 30,000 innovators can’t do it all. He also alluded to the fact that once these people ‘settle in’ to the new corporate structure, the edge goes off their innovation capabilities.

 This got me thinking about a couple of hiring decisions I have come across made by local government-funded organisations. In both cases, the ‘talk’ was about dynamic entrepreneurial types who would challenge their thinking and help them give their organisations a real shake up. One of the ads sounded like they wanted Che Guevara’s more revolutionary brother. The appeals were so strident I decided to follow the process that led to the appointments several months ago.

 In the end, what did this recruitment process lead to? More ‘people like us’ – ex big-organisation people who represent ‘safe pairs of hands’.

 Ultimately, having revolutionaries at the table is uncomfortable. The new hires had not a shred of entrepreneurialism in their CVs.

 I found exactly the same when I was on the Audit committee at a leading local public organisation. When the chair retired, I expected (as the only person there who actually had an auditing background) to be offered it. However, as a dyed in the wool boat-rocker, I forgot the message that organisations don't like having boats rocked. It took only about a minute's conversation with the new chair to realise I'd be responsible for supplying too much of the expertise to make it worth continuing: and so back to a comfortable and undemanding life for all.

 No surprise to me then that the day I wrote the first draft of this, I heard a senior official at the sharp end of one of these organisations saying how much worse their problems had become in recent months.

 Why You Need an Unsafe Pair of Hands

 Then I started thinking about the three companies I have been associated with since I retired from professional practice). ALL of these have significantly re-engineered their businesses more than once in the past decade…and all have outperformed their markets.

 One reason is that they don’t buy the ‘safe pair of hands’ idea: in a rapidly changing world, ‘safe’ is simply too risky. Things change too fast. The sort of knowledge you need to be successful does too. They retain advisers from outside their own industries to bring different knowledge and skill sets into play.

 The same is true of legal practice. If you really want change and better performance, hiring in more of the same won’t work. You need people who don’t think like you, don’t act like you and probably don’t look like you either. Hire those and you really are taking too much of a risk..

Joe Reevy is a chartered accountant who has worked in law and dealt with law firms for more than 30 years  He is the managing director of LegalRSS.co.uk, which is built on the MyInfonet.com platform and supplies superior marketing capability for lawyers throughout England and Wales.


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