The Not-So-Secret Weapon of Cross-Industry Experience

Cross-Industry Experience

A foundational aspect of our search process at Acumen Executive Search is to spend time talking to key stakeholders at the hiring company. During these interviews, we get a front-row seat to a company’s vision, culture, and operation strategy. We launched “Hiring for Good” to share these types of conversations with a broader audience. We believe anyone interested in business would enjoy and learn from them, just as we have. Although each interview on the podcast is a little bit different, we try to touch on the same topics each week, hypothesizing that over time we would be able to identify commonalities successful leaders share.

Our theory has already been proven to hold water. We began recording podcast sessions in October, and it has been interesting to note the many similarities successful leaders exemplify. Without exception, our podcast guests trust the people they hire to do their jobs and do them well. They believe in the ability and vision of their team members, and they care about empowering them. We have also noticed that strong leaders are humble. They freely admit that they may not know the best way and are open to learning from others and their own mistakes. It has been inspiring to hear our guests’ stories and identify these shared qualities. What we did not expect to find is that every single podcast guest we have interviewed thus far has gone through at least one major pivot over the course of their professional career.

When a developing or established leader from one industry transitions to another, the benefits to both the organization they are joining and to the leader themselves are multi-faceted. This may contradict the idea that making a switch is a liability, as a new enterprise poses an enormous learning curve. While this is certainly true, there is another way of viewing leaders who have cross-industry experience. Those who are trained to know and understand one marketplace and make the move to a new one possess valuable tools that can bring tremendous value to their new role. In the process of getting the job done, it is easy for companies to effectively put their heads down and power through the work in the same way it has always been done. A smart new leader must be willing to learn and understand what has traditionally worked for an organization, and why the systems in place have been successful, but those who come from different spaces bring fresh perspectives to their roles and can often catapult their companies to growth through the implementation of novel programs or approaches. They offer creative insight and innovative ideas to their organizations and are less afraid to examine and challenge dominant systems because they are not encumbered by the status quo.

At Acumen, we work across industries to place exceptional and impactful leaders with organizations looking to build their leadership teams. It is not uncommon for potential clients to question if we can effectively work in a specific industry if we place across many. Our traditional response is to reference our experience within that space, but our podcast conversations with these leaders are transforming the way we think. While we will always seek out impactful and experienced industry leaders when conducting a search, encouraging company executives to entertain the idea of bringing in a “rock star” leader from another space is important. A fresh perspective and a proven track record of success are valuable benefits that should not be disregarded. An outsider’s ability to examine and question the way things are being done can be the catalyst for new approaches, revenue streams, and industry thought leadership. Here are just a few of the ways leaders with cross-industry experience can benefit their new organization:

  1. Innovation – Leaders who have navigated other sectors bring with them novel approaches to addressing challenges. Viewing their new organization with fresh eyes, they commonly provide creative and powerful insight, supporting success in the continuously evolving business landscape.
  2. Adaptability – In a 2011 Harvard Business Review Article Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler emphasized the tremendous impact adaptability plays in the success of a company, explaining that traditional approaches to strategy assume a stable and predictable world. With the entire world still reeling from the impact of the events that have transpired in the year since this article was written, their words carry even more weight. They say, “ Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.”33[1] Leaders with a diversity of experience have strengthened their adaptability muscles, and are ready to put them to work in new ways.
  3. Heightened Organizational Resilience – Leaders and companies become stronger when they are confronted with challenges and adapt accordingly. When a seasoned executive joins a new industry or team, they bring with them experiences that cultivate resiliency and tools that worked elsewhere, which bolster their team’s ability to weather the storms that come.

Organizations are constantly evolving, and the importance of visionary, innovative leadership cannot be overstated. It is a privilege to bring impactful leaders to the companies we serve, and we are committed to honoring their work and vision by connecting them with executives who will perform in their roles and bring value on a variety of levels.  Hiring a proven leader with cross-industry experience increases your organization’s ability to strategize and operate with innovation, agility, and resilience, three of the most pivotal markers for success in the modern business landscape.

[1] Deimler, Mike and Reeves, Martin.”Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage” Harvard Business Review, July/August 2021.