Q. I’m very disappointed. In the past six months, I’ve hired and subsequently fired two customer service people. Both looked good on paper. Both had all of the skills to succeed. Neither turned out to be a good fit for the role. How can I avoid these problems in the future?
A. We empathize. Hiring the right person for the job is one of the most difficult thing to do in business. We’ve seen many companies struggle with this.
We talked one of our clients through terminating an employee recently. The employee had been with the small construction firm for less than a year. The firm had hired him as a site superintendent. He had prior construction experience. He fit the company culture. However, he failed in his position. A large part of his job was to wrangle subcontractors. In other words, to make sure the subcontractors showed up on the right day and time and did what they were supposed to do. The employee failed because he was not assertive and avoided conflict. The subcontractors knew they could work whenever they wanted and at their own pace without fear of reprisal. Frankly, this employee was too nice. Unfortunately, his lack of assertiveness and inability to deal with conflict made him completely ineffective in his position.
In another situation, a part-time employee of a service firm was a star in his position working directly with the public. His charm and wit gained him high praise from the company’s clients. When he lost his full-time job with another employer, the service firm offered to bring him on in a full-time office job. In this role, the employee would spend much of his day reviewing records, filling out forms and entering data into the computer. However, instead of quietly working at his desk, the employee wandered around the office chatting with and distracting his colleagues. He was constantly behind in his paperwork. The work he did do was often incomplete and had errors. The owner and general manager had several stern conversations with the employee explaining that he really needed to behave differently in the office. The employee resigned after less than a year.
While each of the above employees had skills and experience, they did not have the right behavior profile for the job. As Polly said to the owner of the service firm, “You can ask a chicken to fly like an eagle; you can even push it off of the cliff. It doesn’t mean the chicken will fly.” We all have our behavioral strengths and weaknesses. When you put an employee into a job that isn’t a good fit for his/her personality, you are setting him/her up for failure. You will end up firing the employee or he/she will quit. Either way, you have wasted precious resources. We’ve found that the following three tips will help you get the right person in the right role.
Know what you need: When you develop the description or profile for a new position, you should go beyond the education, skills, experience and capabilities needed. You should think deeply about what kind of person would be successful in the job. Do they need to be outgoing and gregarious or do you need someone who will put his/her head down and work in silence for most of the day? Do you want someone who is caring and relationship oriented or a driver who is all about the task and getting things done?
Develop a behavioral profile: If you already have employees working in this position you have an easier job. Describe the behaviors that make them successful and look for these same behaviors in others. In addition, identify the behaviors that keep your current employees from doing their job as well as they might and avoid these characteristics in your future hires. If this is a new position, look at the key responsibilities and write down what behaviors the candidates will need to thrive in the role. Write these behaviors into the job description.
Profile the applicants: Develop interview questions that will help you to discern if the applicant has the right behaviors for the job. Don’t accept surface answers. Ask follow up questions until you believe you are seeing their true self. Take the applicant to lunch and share a meal and a conversation. Watch body language. Talk to the applicant’s former employers and colleagues. Again, ask questions that will help you to discover if the role and the person you are considering would be a good match. Finally, if you want to take your job profile to the next level, there are many “validated” assessments that render a behavioral type. Make sure you use a validated instrument and that you have someone knowledgeable to help you interpret the results. These instruments can help you to gain a more robust picture of the individual.
We have always taught our clients to hire behaviors and train skills. If you have to compromise when making a hiring decision, lower the bar on experience or education, but not on behaviors. We all know that you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. When it comes to people, don’t try.