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I’m a founder hiring an exec with more experience. How do I avoid getting strong-armed?

In his weekly advice column, Maynard Webb recommends setting clear expectations and documenting everything.

I’m a founder hiring an exec with more experience. How do I avoid getting strong-armed?
[Source illustration: NatBasil/iStock]
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Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, offers candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I’m bringing on a new executive. I want this person to be successful, but I also don’t want to be strong-armed. I’m worried because this executive is older and has more experience, and I’m still learning how to be a leader. What do I do to maintain my authority while leveraging the newcomer’s wisdom so we may grow as a company?

—First time founder and CEO of a fast-growing company

Dear Founder, 

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I understand your conundrum. You want this person’s advice and experience, but you also want your team to honor and appreciate what you are trying to achieve. I will give you some tips below, but first I want to commend you on trying to figure this out. Learning how to do this early is important because you will ultimately have to do this a lot. The good news is that it gets easier the more you do it and the bigger the company gets. 

Remember, the reason you hired this exec is because you needed a change. Now everyone needs to be aligned about what the changes are. The current team needs to be forewarned about and accepting of the fact that some things might be done differently. If (or, more likely, when) people come to you to complain about the changes, you need to listen, but also route them back to have a transparent discussion with the new executive. 

The better you onboard and acclimate someone, the faster they will deliver impact and the faster you will all earn the results you are striving to achieve. A winning strategy includes a lot of dialogue around:

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  • What does success look like?
  • What is expected of the new executive?
  • What things are off limits? What authority level does the new executive have? (What authority does he or she have to hire or fire?)
  • What are the expected behaviors? What is the appropriate style for the culture?
  • What do the first ninety days look like?
  • What problems will you each want to tackle right away? What should be put on hold?
  • What is the cadence for check-ins? How often will you be meeting?

I suggest codifying the above in a document so that there’s something to go back to and check against. People interpret goals and expectations differently, so this exercise is especially important. I like to ask the new executive to take the lead and document what we’ve discussed, and then to let me edit it. We will both frequently check back on the document to see how things are progressing. I recommend having weekly one-on-ones. These meetings also offer an opportunity to provide advice and to solicit input on how you can help them become more successful. There’s a lot to be discussed and imparted, but don’t forget that listening goes a long way. 

I also feel compelled to tell you that the best piece of advice I have ever received is not to get managed into compliance. You may not yet have much experience leading, but you created this company—and you know what it should be. Remain open minded but follow your instincts and keep learning and keep growing.