One of the toughest jobs a manager has is to find and hire the right people. A top recruiter once told me that if you're right half the time in hiring decisions, you are way ahead of the game. I have never checked into that statistic, but the person I got it from has been in the executive search game for a long time. It sure isn't the kind of thing search firms advertise.
I've made many wonderful hires and my share of misfortunes. Sometimes gilded resumes combined with perfect interviews equal big mistakes. One that always springs to mind happened to me long before my affiliation with this magazine. I was looking for a good salesman and a young man came in to visit me one day whose name seemed familiar. After we chatted for a while and the fellow told me about his career, I remembered that his father had been the top person at one of the more successful advertising agencies in New York.
I was impressed with the young man. He had gone to a fine Ivy League school, he had a firm handshake, looked me in the eye throughout the interview and seemed to be full of enthusiasm and energy. He had worked at another magazine for a couple of years, apparently had done well. He had a certain charm about him.
I would go on to interview other candidates for the job opening and though some of them were impressive, I was still enamored with this son of a sales legend. So I made him an offer, he accepted and a start date was set.
On that date, I was excited get this young man on our team. After 9 a.m. anticipation started to turn to mystification. After 10 a.m. my colleagues and I became worried about the safety of our new colleague. I called his residence, but there was no answer.
Later in the day a special delivery letter arrived from the young man saying he was having some personal problems and could not be a part of our team. The whole thing was puzzling and after reaching him, I told him we could wait a little while longer for him to report if that would help. He turned our offer down, saying he needed to find himself. Hopefully, somewhere down the line he did.
These can be embarrassing situations for a manager, but all you can do is act on the evidence you gather; after that you have to trust it will work out. Sometimes it doesn't.
These thoughts came to me while reading an article in the Chicago Tribune. The piece has relevance for any organization. This first-person account by Chicago ad agency owner Jim Signorelli recounts his "biggest mistake," which was a very bad hire that looked good at first glance.
His agency was launched with great hope amid an economic downturn some years ago. Everyone worked hard and the agency was a go, but Signorelli wanted a quick kill to get the firm jump-started. He was approached by an experienced pro in the agency business who had been servicing some major accounts for a number of years. Further checking showed that the accounts the woman had under her control also paid their bills. So the idea of bringing this star on board really felt and looked good.
The announcement of her hiring was met with reserved glances by the staff. He should have known the fit wasn't right and stopped everything right there, but he went ahead. Here's what happened: "Upon her arrival, our new employee immediately staked out her turf and made certain that everyone knew where she stood," Signorelli writes. "She immediately declared her copy machine too old, our IT capabilities inadequate, our secretarial support inefficient and our kitchen hand soap too little. No kidding. My office soon became a vent room for the frustrated. I had created Vietnam."
A year later the agency boss was relieved when his star recruit came in and resigned. She had found the agency not good enough for her skills and took her attitude elsewhere.
"Despite the lure of financial gain, if the price is angst and bad morale, there is far more to lose. I did check her out. But I didn't assess the potential effect she could have on our staff."
I like what Signorelli writes about the lesson he learned. "There is one common, abiding belief to which everyone must subscribe. Through breakthroughs and breakdowns, our people must all share the common belief that mutual respect, acceptance and cooperation will forever help us bear the load."
So the lesson is basically this: Be patient when hiring new people and bringing them into your culture. Make sure they fit no matter what their resume tells you. Too often we get so mesmerized by the glitter of a star-studded individual that we forget the basic things that are so critical, like someone who has the humility to get along with other team members, who treats colleagues with dignity and respect and has common-sense values.
Sometimes there are already stars among us. They are just waiting for a chance to show us what they can do.
Hire for a team.