Good Manager, Bad Hires

Good Manager Bad Hire

How to Avoid the Hiring Mistakes that Hurt Team Performance

And Undermine Your Brand

Here’s a story you’ve heard before.  Once upon a time, there was a midlevel manager, a superstar from Day One.  This up-and-comer didn’t just have the skills, values and attitudes of a high potential manager. She brought them.  Every day.

So you knew you were making the right call when you promoted her, first from team leader to supervisor, then from supervisor to department manager.  And at first, everything was going so well.  Her team’s numbers kept climbing.  Her direct reports loved her.  But then, somewhere along the line, things started to go sideways.  Deadlines were getting missed.  Work was getting messy.  And you started to get wind of unrest, sniping, and complaints.  The happy, high performing team was slowly… getting… ugly.

When did it all go so wrong?

Was it maybe just after she went from being the manager of an inherited team to a manager in charge of hiring new people?  Was it after you unleashed her into the world of recruiting, hiring and onboarding – without doing any training, coaching or assessment of the skills she needed in order to hire well?

I’ve seen this story play itself out more times than I care to count.  And too often, it ends badly.  When teams fall apart, we (rightly) hold the manager accountable.  But are we correctly diagnosing the problem – or just assigning blame, wholesale, sometimes assuming that this poor manager just got Peter Principled?

Consider this:  Tony Hsieh, Zappo’s highly innovative CEO and corporate-culture guru, once famously stated that his own hiring blunders probably cost Zappos well over $100 million.  Did Hsieh’s hiring failures make him a bad leader?  Hardly.  But his honest self-assessment should serve as a warning to us all:  without the right tools, training and support, even great leaders can pick the wrong people.  And when they do, the whole team suffers.

Recruiting and hiring skills take time to develop and honestly, the only way to great at them is to just keep practicing.  But start now.  Before you – or any of your hiring managers – post another job description, make sure you have the skills and resources to smoothly navigate these key phases of successful hiring process.

Write a job description that attracts the character, values, skills and potential you need.

Yes, you want people who can perform the requirements of the job.  But most skills are trainable.  Aptitude, character and values are not.   To find the people who will boost your brand instead of undermining it, lead with the character of values of your organization.  Let applicants know what they can expect of your company, you as a manager, and level of satisfaction from the job itself.  Don’t exclude core skills and experiences that are non-negotiable.  Just don’t lead with them.  Once you have the posting written, put it sites where your ideal candidates are likely spending some time.  By writing and posting jobs this way, you do more than lure in the right talent for your open job.  You start to build up a pool of high-potential hires for other – or future – open positions within your company.

Screen candidates appropriately

How do you effectively screen applicants, anyway?  Ask ten people.  You’ll hear ten different answers.  Why?  Because the real answer is: it depends.  It depends on the size of applicant pool, the unique challenges of the job itself, and the quality of your application systems.   In other words, if you have a tough job to fill and only two highly skilled candidates apply for it, screening them probably won’t involve much more than scanning their resumes for scary errors, researching their online presence for anything unacceptable, and bringing them on in for a face-to-face interview.  Conversely, if you’re looking for a data analyst in your marketing department and receive 78 resumes that meet the minimum requirements, do not make the rookie mistake of simply granting interviews to the five candidates with the most years of experience.  You’ll inevitably end up overlooking great talent.  If your application management systems allow you to build in pre-screening questions, load in questions that help you gauge cultural and values fit, enthusiasm for the job, and motivation. If your systems are not that robust, consider email your questions to those 78 candidates. Yes, you will still have to weed through the responses before choosing interviewees.  But it’s an investment of time you’ll appreciate in the long run.

It’s interview time:  send help.

Don’t let new or unproven hiring managers go it alone.  Buddy up seasoned interviewing managers or H.R. recruiters with your newbies and make sure they have a carefully crafted agenda before any candidates walk through that door.  Arm rookies with a list of solid behavioral and values based questions.  Make sure interviewers do more listening than speaking.  And be sure that answers are documented and followed-up on. Be sure these teams debrief, honestly and thoroughly, on what went well and what interviewing skills need a tweak (or an overhaul).

Look beyond the interview for a complete picture of a candidate.

Great first impressions, well-spoken answers and insightful questions can be very convincing – and sometimes, misleading. Sure, it’s great to meet someone with a great personality.  But personality alone does not a successful new hire make.  Try exposing the candidate to as many real-life on-the-job experiences as you can.  Take them on a tour of the workplace.  Introduce them to potential coworkers.  Pay attention to how they respond in each situation.  Consider assigning a sample project or team collaboration exercise with current employees before making any final decisions. And never extend an offer without speaking with references.