Breaking Up the Band: The Value of Hiring Outside Your Comfort Zone

A few years ago, I worked with a really successful CCO. When he was looking for an ECD, I noticed that, anytime people were presented to him that were not within or tied to his network, every conversation began with why that person wouldn’t work. The negatives came into greater focus than the positives, driven by fear of the unknown. In the end, the firm hired someone inside the CCO’s network.

Finding people you like to work with is hard, so, when you do, it makes sense that you want to cling onto that community as best you can. A few months into a new position, it might feel tempting to bring in your former Chief Communications Officer or EVP, Client Relations. After all, you know that person can get the job done, you work well together, and you like them to boot. But you might be prioritizing the comfort that comes with knowing that person’s background over the specific skills the role requires. I see this situation play out on the creative side frequently; a leader will hire a known entity, someone with proven intelligence or competence, without assessing the specific skills required to move the needle in the open position. 

To create a growth-focused environment, avoid getting the band back together. Reaching beyond your known network might mean taking a risk, but that risk could yield a high reward. For instance, take a look at what GUT Global CEO Andrea Diquez did during her tenure at DDB Chicago. Over the course of 18 months, she completely rebuilt the agency’s leadership team, hiring folks across a variety of different backgrounds. Her approach had a trickle-down effect, with 100 new hires joining the agency’s total headcount of 240 as of last May. For instance, newly appointed Head of Integrated Production Matt Blitz brought on a team of 95% new employees, a metric that necessitated not only internal promotion, but also hiring beyond pre-existing networks. 

The result? DDB Chicago became unrecognizable – in the best way. Blitz told The Drum: ”I was there during the dark days. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with DDB to be honest.” What happened was DDB Chicago became a force within the industry – thanks to Diquez’s innovative approach to hiring. In the same article, Chief Strategy Officer Sandra Alfaro, another Diquez appointment, said:  ”I think we might be the most diverse leadership team in the industry right now…and I don’t just say ‘diversity’ in the way most people think about it – in terms of ethnicity. We have diversity of experience, on all different kinds of businesses. Diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences, diverse points of view – that’s what we bring to the table.” 

Diversity comes in various forms, spanning everything from gender, sexual orientation, age and religion – and it leads to better business results. According to Harvard Business Review, more diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture more markets, reaching a wider audience and turning a greater profit. When you’re hiring inside your network, you’re more likely to attract people with similar schooling, career experiences, and worldviews as yourself. This cycle leads to repeated replication instead of growth, while also perpetuating what LinkedIn Executive Chairman Jeff Weiner calls “the Network Gap.” According to LinkedIn data, “a single connection makes a huge difference and can change the trajectory of a career. Having at least one connection at a company makes you six more likely to get a job there and having a formal referral from that connection makes you nine more likely to get the job,” as reported by Axios in 2019. 

Hiring inside your network stunts potential. Looking beyond that limited pool helps level the playing field, opening up the potential for a more eclectic mix of perspectives. So, find someone on your team who can hold you accountable when it comes to keeping pre-existing biases or preferences in check. A multiplicity of backgrounds leads to challenging conversations born from difference. Tapping into that has the potential to yield strategic and creative benefits that take your company – and, by extension, your industry – to new heights.  

By Sasha Martens