Art of Managing—5 Big Lessons Learned from My Hiring Mistakes

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

Over an extended career, you will make more than one hiring mistake. I guarantee it.

No hiring manager escapes unscathed in this process. While a misfire is inevitable, this painful mistake (for you, your firm and the hire) is packed with some powerful life and career lessons. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.

While I’m incredibly proud of a track record hiring and cultivating talent during a career now entering its 4th decade, there have been some notable misfires. Each mistake offered a painful but much needed lesson in this most critical of managerial activities. While I regret the mistakes (they were controllable), the lessons learned helped me dramatically improve my batting average over time. Use these in good health and great hiring!

5 Big Lessons Learned From My Hiring Mistakes:

1. Haste always makes waste. My critical need for help drove at least two hires where I failed to properly assess character. Both individuals had seemingly great credentials and were excellent performers during the interview process. After the hire, excellent and performance weren’t used in the same sentence around them ever again.

I had failed to appropriately apply behavioral interviewing techniques and in one case, I violated my gut sense (more on this in the next example) that something just wasn’t right. I needed help to hit a critical product launch window and I let this pressure overrule the need for process and patience and thoroughness. One of the individuals put on a great public show for management while quietly asserting as the evil dictator with his team. The other was unable to back her talk with action. After offering feedback and coaching to no avail, I had to fire them both.

2. If you have to talk yourself into hiring the person, you’re probably making a mistake. With the recognition that I must be a slow learner, much like the examples above, I made this mistake twice as well. In both cases, an initial very good interview was followed by a series of discussions where I began to doubt the accuracy of the positive first impression. Others involved in the process had similar positive first impressions, however, I was the only one to meet with the individuals on multiple occasions, and after each meeting, I recall struggling with the sense that I had been wrong with that first impression. Nonetheless, I went ahead with the hires. One lasted 48 days and the other 8 painful months.

While hindsight is of course 20:20, I know now that the creeping sense that something wasn’t right should have prompted additional diligence or simple disqualification. However, at the time, I fought this feeling and anchored on the positive first impression. Instead of my blink reaction being right, it took multiple exposures for me to begin to question the accuracy of that first impression.

One individual was a carefully veiled megalomaniac and the other a charter member of the 70-Percent Club. (The 70-Percent Club is an exclusive organization where membership requires that you start a lot of good things and finish none of them. You bring them to 70-percent completion and then let them die.) If you have nagging doubts, they’re probably real. Don’t make the hire.

3. Intelligence doesn’t always translate into actions. I enjoy talking and working with people who are great critical thinkers…who are well read and who do something other than soak up the latest reality television shows in their time away from work. I’m also guilty of imputing that intelligence equates to ability. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Don’t become enamored by how smart and well rounded someone seemingly is. Assess their track record and ability to turn great ideas and insights into meaningful actions. The talk may be interesting, but it’s not going to move the meter unless it can be backed by actions.

4. Misjudging the stretch. It’s my nature to believe in the ability of people to stretch and grow. Nonetheless, people develop mostly on their own timetables and not at the rate that you might desire. In several instances, I’ve opted for people who I believed had “the right stuff” for stretch positions. These were roles that exceeded their prior roles in terms of responsibility, decision-making and leadership, but I perceived the stretch to be within reason for them. While this has worked in many instances, there were a few where it was too much too fast and I had to step-in and simplify the challenge while their brains and their self-confidence grew to match the larger challenges. Noble mistakes…but mistakes nonetheless that came with real costs to the team and organization and psychic costs to the individuals.

5. Don’t ignore reality. Beware the natural inclination to hide from a hiring mistake. While this is one I’ve not stepped in before, I’ve observed it with other managers who viewed it as too costly to admit to a mistake, and therefore, they ignored reality and compounded the problem by letting the poor hire become a long-term poor employee.

Yes, it’s embarrassing to recognize that your judgment call on your hire was wrong and yes, your boss won’t be happy with your mistake. However, no one will be happy with a lousy hire that turns into a long-term problem employee. Admit the mistake to yourself up front and plan on approaching your boss with the message and a plan. Just don’t hide from reality.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

No one gets out of the work of managing and leading with a perfect hiring score. Some managers are outstanding judges of talent. Others bolster their batting averages with external resources that assess fitand that purport to improve predictability. But every manager at some point slips and lets one through the net.

It’s what you do at that moment of truth and what you learn from this experience that either exacerbates the damage or stops the bleeding. Adding the right resources to your team is a sacred responsibility and owning up to and learning from your mistakes is a critical part of your growth as an effective manager.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

Art of Managing—Be Careful About Labeling Your Employees

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

There’s an interesting article at Harvard Business Review, entitled, “How to Manage a Team of B Players,” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. I appreciate the author’s attempt at describing the leadership challenge and approach to molding a group of “ordinary” individuals into a high performance team. He offers some compelling guidance. I am however, uncomfortable with his easy use of the term, “B-Players.”

And while I am absolutely guilty in the past of using the A, B, C, designation to characterize individuals and their level of skill/capability/potential, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the cavalier assignment of people to these categories. It’s a crutch that I gave up. In my experience, the labels are often misused or abused to mask managerial laziness. Now, when I see it in print, I flinch.

As mentioned in the article, Jack Welch popularized this designation during his tenure as Chairman and CEO of GE, with the notion of turning B-players into A-players, moving C players to B and letting the A-players stretch and run. And while Welch might have had some rigor in his assessment and categorization approaches (along with his forced ranking system), for the rest of us, the cavalier use of these labels is lazy and potentially destructive.

And yes, I get that every person comes to us with different skills, aptitudes and perspectives. I love challenging those ready to navigate big, hairy, ambiguous situations and I love watching others grow into their own by leveraging their skills and capabilities and inner drive. What I truly dislike however, is a categorization Back to Schoolsystem that in very simple fashion draws upon our lifetime of school grading (A=excellent, B=Very Good, C=Average) and mostly assigns people in an arbitrary manner to a particular group, thus altering their options, opportunities and futures. It’s just lazy management and in many cases, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for those being labeled.

Labeling a person a C-player is effectively sealing their fate on your team or in your organization. The connotation is some combination of not smart/not motivated/lousy attitude and managers are quick to write these people off instead of focusing on coaching behavior changes, providing training or varying assignments to better match the real skills of the individuals. Give someone the label of C-player, and you’re capitulating on your responsibility to manage and develop. It’s a way to fast-track a perceived “problem” out of your daily life.

The B designation is even trickier. When polling managers on what they interpret when they hear that someone is a B-player, I hear words such as solid, dependable, journeyman, along with some qualifiers that justify a label other than A or C. Again, this categorization paints a scarlet letter on the forehead of the individuals and dictates a certain, limited level of attention and support. In looping back with managers who had classified a number of their employees as B-players, I’ve rarely encountered a change in label, particularly from B to A. Once the view of someone is locked in as second-tier or second-class or B, it’s difficult for the individual to shake that label.

Every one of us is a work in process. There are indeed circumstances where someone’s combined attributes don’t fit our needs. There are mismatches between the environment and people. There are situations where you have to choose to invest more or cut. Just don’t take the easy way out by lumping someone in a category and then leaving them there to grow old. Your first job is to get the right people in the right roles. And yes, sometimes it takes creativity and effort.

Put your so-called B-player into the right role or a different environment and they may very well swim circles around your designated superheroes. Find the right combination of coaching and challenge and support and watch your so-called C player blossom into a remarkable performer.

And yes, I get that what I’m describing was the intent of the author in the article. His intent is positive. I simply rankled at the focus he placed on the label. It opens up too much potential for misuse and abuse.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Beware the easy and cavalier assignment of labels. It’s not that simple.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Art of Managing—In Negotiations, Focus on Interests, Not Positions

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

All of us are involved in negotiating for something on a fairly frequent basis, and over and over again, most of us make the same critical mistake. We reduce the negotiation to a battle of wills over positions (I want/You want) and we try and brute force our way to a conclusion. For many situations, there’s a better way.

While most negotiations start with some form of I want/Would you consider lead-off, (a position proposal), suppress your natural counter-position response and ask questions to better understand what the other party is truly trying to accomplish.

Consider Two Examples:

An educator is approached about switching classrooms and responds with, “No, I like my room” to the administrator making the request.

Two things have occurred as a result of this unfortunate opening dialog. The administrator now must navigate a miffed educator and the educator has most definitely not cultivated any political or negotiating capital with the overt rejection. The administrator’s true need is to bring two classes and teachers closer together to more easily enable team teaching and technology sharing.The educator should have probed for the reason behind the request, and armed with an understanding of the greater needs, might well have leveraged the situation to pursue interests of his own, included added technology, some flexibility on the curriculum or a leadership role on an important committee.

What could have been a productive, interest-focused discussion turned into a tug of wills over the room. It is likely that the next step will be a command to change rooms, leaving both parties worse off than if they had opted for a different negotiating path. In this very real scenario, there were missed opportunities on both sides!

In another example, an aggressive and competent professional consistently nagged his boss about a promotion incorporating a bigger title and more responsibility and compensation. His focus in the discussion was all on position(s), and what should have been a productive and on-going career development dialog turned into one that the boss quickly grew frustrated with when the issue was raised. The employee considered looking for another job and the boss ran the other way every time he sensed this conversation was surfacing yet again. Both responses were highly unproductive to the best interests of the parties and the firm.

The employee failed to build value for how he could better support the company at a new level with broader responsibilities, and the boss failed to focus on the real opportunity to develop and help the firm with this individual. Once interests were surfaced, the discussion resumed, a way forward was designed that satisfied both parties and the day was saved for the firm, manager and employee.

I can extend this discussion to pricing negotiations between suppliers and distributors or sales representatives and clients; debates over process changes between functions in organizations, and arguments over feature inclusions or scope changes on project teams. The position-focused debate is prevalent in almost every area of our professional and personal lives and the parties haggling over the specifics are leaving incredible value on the table with this approach.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

For some reason, many people are uncomfortable exposing their real needs in the opening stages of a negotiation. Arm yourself with the knowledge that something important is lurking behind the individual’s opening request. Strive to understand the real needs behind their position and you’ll be better armed to both address these needs and gain support for your own interests. Use the same technique when you are the initiator. Frame your interest to offer valuable context and to defuse early tension and then pursue a way forward that focuses on achieving respective interests without making the situation a giant tug-of-wills.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Leadership Caffeine™—Is Leadership Changing?

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

There’s an interesting interview at McKinsey, with Heidreck & Struggles CEO, Tracy Wolstencroft, that explores what they describe as the changing nature of leadership in this era of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The interview prompted my own consideration of some of the changing leadership behaviors I’m observing in firms who are succeeding in navigating the fog of these times.

Warren Bennis once suggested that “leaders manage the context,” and for those firms I’ve observed and have worked with, who are effectively reinventing themselves in this era of complexity, there are a number of emerging new themes in how leadership is practiced and deployed. They are indeed managing the context.

Command and control is giving way to a style that reflects more serve and support and form and frame. The serve component reflects an increased focus by those in leadership roles on answering the question for teams of, “What can I do to best help you succeed?” The form and frame perspective emphasizes the leader’s role in creating an environment where individuals and groups are both challenged and enabled to excel.

And while I use the word “serve” in the description, serve and support, don’t construe that to mean “soft.” The leaders  who have shifted their focus to helping find the answers versus dictating the approaches are anything but soft. They set expectations high and demand a great deal not only of their teams, but of themselves. They are fierce in pursuit of results through groups…and fierce in their support and defense of the work of their groups. There’s a mutual accountability and transparency between leaders and teams that is…refreshing and even invigorating.

Position in the hierarchy is less relevant, with emphasis placed on the ability of these leaders to span functional boundaries in pursuit of solving problems through temporary teams. The strongest, most effective leaders…people leading groups to get things done, are in my opinion, the emerging “integrator” leaders who span boundaries and operate without authority but with huge accountability for delivery. And thank goodness, because the work of navigating structural uncertainties in the marketplace isn’t the work of any one function, it is the work of people with diverse skills coming together to solve problems. (Might this mean that silo walls are finally coming down?)

Supporting the development of high performance teams is more of today’s focal point for leaders, as we begin to recognize the potential for groups to lead innovation and strategy execution. Most of the work that propels organizations into new markets with new strategies and technologies comes about via teams and today’s leaders are tired of the results described in headline grabbing studies on  how miserable we are at succeeding with these groups. They are committed to realizing the true potential from teams.

Leadership is much more of a temporary mantle, with individuals moving from a leadership role one day to a team member role on another initiative the next day. I like this…it reinforces the need to understand what it takes to be a great team member…critical context for learning to be a great team leader. Leader selection is more about who has the right skills for the situation and much less about title or seniority.

For those of us who grew up in a world where command and control was the style, much of how leadership is being deployed in some organizations looks and feels different. Yet, underlying the behavior and style differences are the foundations of effective leadership, which remain unchanged over the millennia. From setting direction to selecting talent to both earning and giving respect to motivating and inspiring and standing up and fighting for the group and the right issues, these attributes of leadership thankfully remain and are perhaps more important then ever.

And while I’ll stop short of suggesting a causal relationship between an organization embracing new styles of leadership and gaining financial and market success in today’s world, the differences are at least part of the answer. Conversely, firms I’m observing that struggle to navigate our world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, tend to be tethered to the hierarchical, command and control style of a bygone era, with the employees waiting to be told where to go.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It makes sense that the skills necessary to lead in today’s environment are different than those that were emphasized in quieter times. Leaders aren’t defined by title, they are defined by behavior, and the behaviors necessary for success in today’s world suggest that we best be supporting the development of emerging leaders at all levels and in all roles of our organizations.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Art of Managing—There’s No Substitute for the Right Tools

Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe Art of Managing series is dedicated to exploring the critical issues we face in guiding our firms and teams to success in today’s volatile world.

My Dad often reminds me during our various build or fix projects that, “There’s no substitute for the right tool.”

While I’m comfortable with my typical selection of the Big-3 (hammer, screwdriver and adjustable wrench) for most projects, Dad travels with a well-stocked toolbox filled with all manner of shiny, unique tools designed for very specific challenges. He takes particular pride in going to just the perfect tool for a sticky project situation and then applying it skillfully to solve the problem.

He’s right of course. He can fix or build anything and the workmanship is great. My improvement projects are a bit more “triage-like” in their appearance and function.

Dad’s constant reminder of the right tool for the situation fits in management as well.

Too often, managers trot out their own variation of their “Big 3” with approaches such as S.W.O.T analysis, template-type strategy frameworks, multi-year forecasting models, cascading goal planning, a project team or 360-degree feedback and others (insert your firm’s standard issue tools here), when the situation calls for something very different.

Most of the tools of management were conceived in an era characterized by a great deal of consistency and predictability…two attributes in short supply today. We’re living and working in an era of complexity…characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity and we need new tools to help us successfully navigate through the fog and around the many unknown risks lurking just out of sight.

In addition to the tactical templates and instruments referenced above that offer little help in making sense out of complexity born by constant change, much of our larger workplace environment…our superstructure (think hierarchical, siloed organizational structure) seems and feels anachronistic in a world where speed and adaptability are much more important than top-down driven efficiency.

Zappos has been in the news recently for their attempt to eliminate all managers from their organization. Coverage of their experimentation with holacracy seems to end up more on the negative/scoffing/it’s doomed side, and while this reductionist technique doesn’t “feel quite right” to me, it’s an interesting attempt to re-think the organizational superstructure and supporting tools. This experiment bears watching. (As I’m reading McCullough’s excellent new book, The Wright Brothers, it serves us all to remember that most of the people experimenting with flight were widely lampooned in the press and in society during that era.)

Whether holacracy becomes a useful tool or not, there are less revolutionary but potentially effective approaches for structuring and teaming in our organizations. Managers are well-served to study McChrystal’s “Team of Teams” content in his recent book. Sadly, the experience gained in today’s form of combat is highly applicable to our approach to managing and structuring and leading in a complex, fast-changing world.

The article, “Strategy Under Uncertainty,” at McKinsey, does a great job of describing why various tools and management approaches work or do not apply depending upon the level of complexity you are experiencing in your industry. I see the logic suggested in this article violated regularly as executives and management teams attempt to corral complexity into their world-view…which is of course based on experience gained in a different era. The most common violation is the attempt to plot an “Escape Velocity” strategy…a move into new markets or businesses by leveraging the same multi-year planning model used for the very mature businesses. While there are few certainties in life or business, this approach is certain to fail.

My encouragement is to diversify your toolkit with new approaches and ideas for translating external noise and complexity into ideas, insights and intelligent experiments. It’s likely you will need to craft some of your own tools in the process.

Teams and firms winning in this world are creating approaches that emphasize translation of external noise into relentless focus on simple but not simplistic questions such as: what does this mean for us/our customers/our competitors? How might this disrupt our business model? How can we innovate with more than just technology? How can we move faster from experimentation to monetization?  And many others.

Effective managers are pushing the development of perceptual acuity…attempting to see around corners, with their teams. They’re inviting customers to the team…crossing boundaries within their organizations to develop a broader perspective and going outside of their firms and even their customer groups to see what’s happening in environments radically different…but where they are tackling analogous issues.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Yes, I know…these are big, lofty and abstract thoughts that seem easy to write and that don’t fit with your need to prepare that next 3-year plan …or get ready for the once per year strategy offsite (a convention that must die…strategy is an all-the-time activity). Yet, the warning signs of creative destruction are all around us with the daily changing fortunes of long-standing and new firms. Outgoing Cisco CEO, John Chambers, stared at his customers at their annual conference the other day and suggested that 40% of them wouldn’t exist in a material way in 10 years.

It’s time to rethink everything, including the tools we use to manage and plan for our very uncertain futures. There is no substitute for the right tool. Sometimes, you simply have to create that tool.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.