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