Late last year, I was on a leadership panel at the 2013 U-M StaffWorks Best Practices and Technology conference sponsored by VOICES of the Staff. After our prepared remarks, there was plenty of time for Q&A. In response to a question about how to deal with a challenging co-worker, I talked about the importance of hiring decisions. When I said that the hiring decision is one of the most important ones managers make, if not the most important, there was spontaneous applause. I was pleasantly surprised by that response. I truly believe what I said. I’m guessing that the applause was a reflection of the audience’s personal experiences — wondering why some of their co-workers were hired in the first place or why they are still there.
During my 30 years in management positions, I’ve hired many talented people. Hiring decisions can be exciting and rejuvenating for teams. I’ve successfully turned around performance issues with people who I inherited through re-organizations or when I’ve joined a new organization in a leadership position. Some of those people still keep in touch and thank me many years later. And yes, I’ve had to move people out when it was clear they weren’t right for the position and organization. These are important yet difficult decisions that no one enjoys making.
As I said that day on the panel, people in leadership can’t know everything that’s going on in their organization or department. It takes boldness for people to come forward and help leaders understand the issues and problems getting in the way, whether they are people or process related — someone not pulling their weight, someone who refuses to work with the team, or someone whose skills are not at the level needed to do their job.
Hiring someone based on a great resume, several hours of interviews by multiple people, and a few reference calls can be risky. That’s why we have probationary periods.
My philosophy on hiring is to first determine your needs, then proactively source for candidates and as long as you have viable candidates make a decision. There is no perfect person, so you don’t need to take months to figure that out.
I made one of those critical hiring decisions a few months ago. With my “no one is perfect” philosophy but being very clear on my needs and having viable candidates, I made the decision in a relatively short timeframe. Happy to say that what I believed was the right decision at the time has been reinforced many times over already.
Finding talent with the right experience, potential, and alignment with the rest of the team is no small task. Hiring people who you know can jump right in, learn what they need to, start making a contribution quickly, and be an effective team member is what we all look for.
I will continue to build our IT team with external hires and look for opportunities to grow people from within. I will be looking for talent that has been there and done that, has an eagerness to learn something new, demonstrates a potential and openness to take on new challenges and responsibilities, is not afraid to ask for help from others, willingly helps others, and brings new ideas and thinking into the team.
And of course I won’t take any of my hiring decisions lightly! My team will probably appreciate that even more than I realize.