Ever Screw Up and Hire a Good One?

I ask that question because it is a combination of two others that are much harder than they appear:

  • ever have an applicant who ticked every box but six months later, you are convinced someone switched that person out for the employee you have? You likely have a specific name in mind.
  • ever have an applicant who ticked every box and six months later, is even better than expected? You can probably name that person, too.

Those two questions lead to the obvious follow-up: what did you different in those two instances? In all likelihood, nothing. You followed a hiring script and took your chances. Next time, just put the resumes of the finalists on the wall and toss a dart; you have the same expectation of making a good choice. And until and unless you figure out how to tap into the occupational DNA of both applicants and existing employees, the preceding questions will dog you.

In a past professional life, during the technological Dark Ages (about 1998), I was interviewing the CEO and CMO of a locally-based web hosting company for a television program. The hosting company was on the cusp of a period of explosive growth – and I mean two-time Inc500 growth – as the web went from nebulous concept to business necessity. At one point, the CMO asked me: “what would be the product on your web site?” The instant answer was information since I was in the news business and planned to be stay in it for a while.

Fast forward nearly two decades and the world is a markedly differently place. There is virtually no end to the data that can be assembled, dissected, collated, and interpreted for any organizational function. This includes personnel. Everything you need to know about maximizing the odds of success for employees and/or applicants is within easy reach, but you have to make the effort. Too many companies don’t, and the results are not hard to figure out.

My newest poster child for this phenomenon is a young man I recently met at a networking event who works in the mortgage arm of a major financial institution. As we talked, I asked about his career path. “I want to be in marketing,” he said. Marketing. Is it possible to be any further removed from mortgages? Two questions came to mind: does his employer know and, given its size, would the company even care? My guess is no, probably to both questions, which means he is either looking for another job or he will be.

He’s what a colleague of mine would call an “at-leaster”, someone doing at least enough to meet whatever goals were set out for him in order to retain his job and, quite likely, not one scintilla more. He is the opposite of the current happy word “engagement.” It’s a term that works both ways. A lack of engagement is not just employees who are unhappy, unmotivated, or unproductive, it’s also employers putting people into positions for which they are poorly suited. Go back to the questions at the beginning of this piece. All that money spent to recruit, hire, and train someone when, in reality, all that has been done it to set that person up for failure.

Finding good people is difficult and some of this is due to factors you cannot control. It is also true that the workplace is radically different from the era of forty years and a gold watch. But human nature is relatively constant – even the happiest company in America would be a drag for someone who is in a job that is ill-suited to their interests. When you like doing something, you not only do more of it, you do it with greater focus, increased effort, and heightened intensity. It’s not rocket surgery. If it were, the question in the title would be one nobody asked.


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