Undercover partner hiring hurts. Here’s why

Covert partner hiring is one of the “great ideas” of the very senior firm executives. They feel that a practice group could do much better if there just was a different leader.


There’s no one to benefit from knowing that the search is on, right? So it’s done undercover – interviewing external candidates for a role currently occupied.


I’ve seen it.


But, let me tell you: everyone knows you’re doing it!


You will look like a fool.


Problems with covert partner hiring


“Max, I don’t care if I look like a fool. We need external talent and want to keep it quiet until we find the right person.”


Well, you should care because you will be creating other problems in your firm:


1. No support from the current leader

They are usually totally frustrated and ready to quit when you inform them – usually by the way.


To make things worse, executive leadership often expects the current leader to onboard their successor professionally and with enthusiasm.


2. No buy-in from the wider team when it comes to partner hiring

Other partners in the group worry about a new boss who has just appeared from thin air.


Team members at immediately below partner level worry about their chances to make partner – now there’s one more to feed.


And slots are limited.


The lower-level team members are surprised how the firm conducts itself – lots of nice talk, but a harsh reality.


3. Hostile environment

Big surprise for the candidate when they realize that there is a whole practice group against them.


The extra stress and bad blood are not healthy for the candidate’s success or the firm’s future.


And, probably most importantly: staff and partners will view senior executives as weak leaders.


Apparently, they had not the guts to address the elephant in the room with the current practice leader.


It’s a guaranteed way to lose face and do long-term damage to a firm.


External hires are part of reality but don’t go undercover and end up looking like a fool.


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