By: Jon White
New trends are constantly emerging in the C-suite. One moment it is the drive for gender diversity at board level, the next a coup d’état by the so called Millennial generation. The latest trend is an increasing appetite for British companies to hire US West Coast talent. Some of the leading lights behind Silicon Valley’s success stories are attracted to Europe, curious to experience corporate life and eager to engineer radical change in a different sector. But a high proportion of new arrivals from the Golden State quickly lose their shine when immersed in UK plc.
Getting over ‘stock shock’
The failure rate of these Californian converts is disturbingly high, possibly as high as a third, and there are some harsh lessons to be learned. The first is the cost of hiring: most of Silicon Valley’s tech titans tie in their key staff with eye watering stock buy-out clauses, escalating the total cost of hire. Once the hiring company has bitten the bullet, the bar is raised even higher in terms of expectation. The arriving prodigy is regarded more as a messiah than a change agent.
Securing the target candidate is only half the battle
There is no doubting the talent of these West Coast wizards, but success in a West Coast tech business does not simply translate into corporate success on the other side of the pond. The new hire will be used to an unstructured culture with plenty of freedom, where trial and error is accepted as a way of life, often with large experimental budgets. The recipe for success is the individual’s outstanding ability, coupled with the tech start-up mentality and the support of like-minded colleagues. When transplanted into a totally different environment, there is a risk of tissue rejection.
Disruption can be good or bad
Many corporates are grappling with ‘big data’ issues and need transformation to keep up with or stay one step ahead of the competition. They want to invoke the power of positive disruption. But it is wishful thinking to expect these maverick newcomers to slot neatly into a different culture and play the role of pied piper, with existing management blindly following their lead. Unfortunately, many hiring companies fail to do their due diligence. They invest heavily in acquiring West Coast talent, but do not cultivate the right environment to enable success. Upsetting the status quo without being ready for the consequences inevitably results in negative disruption.
Real ROI demands preparation
UK corporates hiring West Coast talent should be careful what they wish for. An expensive derailment is not worth it just for a PR ploy. If they genuinely want a strategic shift, then they need to build the foundations and prepare the board and wider enterprise for what is coming in terms of cost, pace and scale of change. West Coast talent does not do incremental change and it takes proper planning to ensure that the rest of the business is in tune with wholesale reinvention.
Operational cost also demands forethought
The new arrival will no doubt ruffle feathers, resulting in loss of staff and further substantial hiring fees. West Coast hires think big and tend to have a ‘build instead of buy’ approach, resulting in a costly army of in-house developers. Part of the battle plan is managing internal expectations on resource management, ROI timeframes and total cost of ownership.
Mentoring can make all the difference
Since many West Coast tech-cos have cemented their no. 1 players with binding stock options, UK corporates often go for the no.2. That means that, in addition to being in a foreign environment, they may not possess the level of leadership and general management skills required for their new role. HR functions need to play their part in supporting the new arrival and championing their cause. The right mentor can aid the assimilation process, removing obstacles and influencing people to put their weight behind, rather than against, the West Coast intruder.
UK plc hiring West Coast talent is not a mistake. On the contrary, it can help bring in the sweeping change necessary to stay relevant in digital business. The key point is that a high IQ in itself is not enough. Corporates need to put the right framework in place - possibly with the help of an external advisory partner - if they are to avoid the pitfalls. If they fail to do so, the expected sprinkling of West Coast stardust can turn into an unwelcome burst of pepper spray.