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Til Death Do Us Part August 17, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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It is said that many marriages run aground on the rocks of unrealistic expectations.  The old saw claims that every bride looks at her groom and thinks, “I can change him!”  Each groom gazes at his bride and thinks, “I hope she never changes!”  If a woman is seeking a project and a man is seeking a prize, both will be sorely disappointed.

Hiring someone is like getting married.  After a brief courtship, employee and employer embark on a (hopefully) long-term relationship, seeking mutual benefit and collective success.  Sometimes it works out, but all too often it does not.  A lot of that has to do with how we hire, and if we are acting like the apocryphal brides and grooms.

There are aspects of a new hire that should never change.  In that sense, a hiring manager must think like a groom.  Ethics, attitude, enthusiasm, and personality are ingrained in a person long before they reach your door.  You need to make sure that these parts of a candidate align with your company culture.  It is absolutely unrealistic to think that you are going to change core aspects of a person’s personality once they join your team.  If there isn’t a strong alignment with your needs in these areas, call off the wedding before it’s too late.

Conversely, there are parts of a person that you can change once they are on board.  In particular, some technical skills can be taught or expanded.  Certainly, understanding of your specific business processes can only happen once the job begins.  We often reject candidates because they do not have the exact list of technical skills we seek, when in fact we could teach some of those skills to an otherwise qualified candidate after they start.  The trick, of course, is to know which skills are required at the beginning and which can be learned later.  You need to think like a bride, but be a discerning one.

Often, in the excitement of courtship, we make bad decisions.  A technically qualified candidate is a lousy fit, culture-wise, but we think we can change him.  A delightful person with all the right social skills turns out to be untrainable.  Someone who seems great during the interviews winds up being dramatically different a few months later; if only we had paid closer attention while we were dating!

Like a bad marriage, these bad hiring decisions hurt the candidate, the company, and everyone surrounding them.  Parting ways can be expensive, litigious, and hurtful.

An approach that borrows from both the bride and groom will serve us all best in the long run.  Know what to change, accept what you cannot, and you’ll have a much better chance of a productive relationship.  Be patient and wait for the right candidate, because your Mom’s advice holds true as well: there are plenty of fish in the sea.  Catch the right one!

The ABCs of Hiring July 1, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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Few of us get to assemble our teams from scratch.  Most likely, we acquire a team as we move into a new position.  Much like a college football coach that inherits players recruited by his predecessor, we have to play the game with the team with have.

Over time, we get to reshape the team to our liking.  As folks move on to new opportunities, or as you “assist” folks in moving on to new opportunities, you’ll get the chance to bring new people to your team.  This is a big test for any leader.  People understand that you are not fully responsible for the team you inherit, but they won’t be as compassionate when someone you brought to the team drops the ball.

There’s a simple rule for hiring that should shape these decisions:

A people hire other A people.  B people hire C people.

When asked, every leader will insist that they hire only the best, brightest candidates.  But do they?

The best leaders surround themselves with people smarter than they are.  The best teams to lead are those where you are the dumbest person in the room.  If you are the smartest person in the room, your team has a serious problem. Find experts in the pertinent domains, create a culture that supports their efforts, and get out of the way.

Sadly, not every leader is the best leader.  Lesser leaders hire lesser people, intended to make themselves look good.  The result is a team of people that collectively rank just below the skills of the leader.  Given that any leader following this strategy is less than stellar, the entire team winds up being mediocre at best.

Few leaders will admit that they are intentionally hiring sub-standard candidates to make themselves look good.  Where, then, is this rule being applied? By everyone around you, that’s where.

People will closely scrutinize your every hiring decision.  Their assessment of each new candidate will reflect on you.  If you make good hiring decisions, people will notice.  If you make bad hiring decisions, people will notice and talk about it.  You may claim (and even believe) that you are hiring A players, but every C player you bring aboard knocks you further down the scale to becoming a B leader.

This ABC rule goes beyond technical ability.  It’s even more important when people consider the fit of your candidates into the current culture.  The ease with which your new team members integrate into the culture says a lot about how much you respect that culture.  If you diminish the importance of culture in your hiring decisions, you can lose the support of your existing team.  You may also make it much harder for your new people to succeed in their new role.

No one wants to be thought of as a B or C leader.  Seek out the A candidates while hiring, and you’ll go a long way to ensuring your own success as an A leader.