10 Years, 10 Lessons

Ten years. In business, a lot of things can—and, in fact, do—happen over the span of more than 3,600 days.  Companies in every industry gain and lose momentum and traction.  Consumer prices as well as interest rates rise and fall (and, in all likelihood, rise again), keeping us all out of our comfort zone. 

The past 10 years have certainly given us all the “normal” peaks and valleys we’ve come to expect, as well as one paradigm-shifting event none of us anticipated: the pandemic. Indeed, the crisis that gripped the globe for the better part of two years transformed the way every company does business, and its ripple effects will be felt for years to come.

So, as we at Kester Search Group prepare to celebrate our firm’s first decade in business, it seems like a fitting time for reflection.  I’ve briefly summarized our experiences into 10 lessons we hope will provide some insights or inspiration for any company that believes in the value of looking at the past with an eye to the future:

1. Define your why. When I launched my own executive search firm in 2013, I set out to provide better service to both clients and candidates. Today, my colleagues and I are committed to a simple mission: To improve lives, build great companies, and drive innovation. This shared objective motivates us to get out of bed each morning and ensures we are all working toward the same goals. It is, quite simply, our why.

2. Partner for progress. When you’re just starting out and even after you’re more established, resist the urge to go it alone for everything. Build relationships and lean on specialists in other areas of business to help you save time and money when performing tasks outside your areas of expertise. Finance, IT, marketing, recruiting, and taxes are a few of the areas it often makes sense to seek external guidance.  

3. Hire and scale methodically. Over the past 10 years, I’ve witnessed numerous companies hire too quickly when their business takes off, only to downsize when momentum slows. The most successful organizations, on the other hand, approach growth methodically, ensuring they have the right people and processes in place to achieve their goals and adapt to change.

4. Establish a winning culture. The term “company culture” may seem ambiguous, but the collection of values, beliefs, and behaviors that define your organization should underpin everything you do.  When your company takes on the personality of its team members, you can align purpose-driven objectives with strategic priorities all while attracting and retaining clients who share similar beliefs.

5. Build your brand. It’s easy to discount the power of branding, particularly when you’re a new company that’s trying to save money. However, we view branding as a strategic investment, and the resources we allocated early on to create our brand helped to differentiate our firm in a crowded marketplace. Today, we work with our marketing partner to continually refine our story, refresh our messaging, and reinforce the cornerstones of who we are and how we approach everything we do.

6. Keep compensation simple. In our experience, the highest-performing organizations keep the compensation plans of their senior sales executives and business development professionals simple and easy to understand. Paying a base salary with solid benefits plus uncapped bonuses and commissions can be far more motivating than setting up a complex and exotic performance package that requires them to consult their accountant just to fully understand how they will get paid. 

7. Trust your gut. Even though data should drive most of your decision-making, don’t abandon intuition when making choices about your business. If you’re facing a big decision and something doesn’t feel right or you feel pulled in a different direction, trust your instincts. Seek advice from others, gather additional information, and research the issue more deeply, but ultimately follow your gut instincts.

8. Balance new and old. Technology has transformed the way most companies operate, but digital tools shouldn’t completely replace the human element in all areas of business. For example, during the hiring process, you’re far better off combining the sophistication of technology with the practical experience of a seasoned human resources / talent manager when filling lower-level and seasonal positions. Then, you can partner with an external recruiting specialist for critically important roles such as leadership as well as sales and marketing. 

9. Train your talent. It’s a mistake we’ve seen made countless times: Companies spend substantial resources identifying, vetting, and hiring high-quality professionals, and then leave them to “sink or swim” once they start. The success of that new hire—and, by extension, that of your business—will be determined by how much you invest in them after they say “yes.”  Onboarding, periodic meetings, skills training, performance coaching, and team-building exercises are just a few of the resources you invest in your most valuable assets.

10. Adapt to survive. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that “business as usual” is an illusion. The pandemic forced us to rethink everything, from where and how people work to the systems and processes that we consider essential. We’ve entered a new era of business, and companies of every size and type face the same imperative: adapt and stay flexible or risk being left behind.  

The truth is it’s difficult to condense a decade’s worth of experiences into 10 tips. So, I’ll share a final lesson I’ve learned which may be the most important: enjoy the journey!

None of us know what the next week, month, or year truly have in store, so strive to grow and improve every day, driving a positive impact in the world and serving others. That is the type of lesson that can last a lifetime.

Lee Kester is the CEO and Founder of Kester Search Group LLC a consultative talent acquisition firm that specializes in executive search and commercial expansion projects for diagnostic, dental, medical device, oncology, and healthcare technology companies throughout the United States.  Lee can be contacted via email at lee@kestersearch.com