One of my sons has his first crush. My son is a scrawny small-for-his-age middle schooler that I find adorable, but he is not attracting much attention from girls just yet. He is part of the ensemble cast of a local youth production of Beauty and the Beast and has his eye set on the show’s star, the gorgeous, charming high school senior cast as Belle (aka Beauty). I have every confidence that someday, my son will be quite a catch, but for now, as cute as he is to his mother, he does not stand a chance with Belle.
I will not discourage my son from aiming high. However, if he was a client approaching hiring from this same mismatched perspective, I might caution him.
This is a hard thing for me to say because I believe in reaching as high as possible. If I am conducting a search on behalf of a company, I want to find the best person the company can possibly hire and sometimes this means hiring someone based on what the company will become rather than what it is today. But that’s a fine line to walk and must be done carefully.
One of the most critical factors in hiring the right person is having a clear understanding of the company. This is so basic that it almost seems patronizing to say it, but I cannot tell you how many times I have been able to recruit someone away from a company because the company had been misrepresented in the interview. The betrayal that the employee feels is not easily overcome, if ever.
I have witnessed many hires go wrong not because the candidate did not measure up to the standards set for the position, but because the company had been described inaccurately and therefore, the person ended up not being a fit. Invariably it is a culture issue. Not necessarily in terms of personality but in terms of things like values, priorities, management styles within the company and relationships. The misrepresentation was not intentional. The principal players really did not know critical things about their own company and culture.
Often, it has to do with companies not knowing their dysfunctional patterns and the new person unwittingly threatens to expose the dysfunction, causing discomfort. It’s easy to target the new person as the problem rather than to address the dysfunction. This is one of the reasons why companies sometimes become revolving doors.
I think a lot about how to find the right person for a startup team. In startups or small businesses, a ton hinges on the CEO. The right fit will largely be determined by the CEO’s personality, leadership style, abilities, weaknesses, quirks. There is NO way around this.
Some of the smartest CEOs that I know hire people to compensate for their weaknesses. In order for this to happen the CEO must be self-aware and have a healthy ego.
In helping a client CEO review her hiring process for a key team member, the CEO described the type of person that she wanted to hire: innovative, driven, a high level of initiative, self-motivated, creative. But the way the job was set up, there would be very little latitude for making decisions or determining how to approach a vital aspect of performing the job. The CEO no longer wanted to manage this particular area of the company, but she didn’t want to give up control over how it was run and had created very tight parameters within which the person would function. It was clear that this otherwise brilliant CEO was not truly ready to hire the type of teammate that she described and was having a very difficult time finding candidates as a result. Eventually, she decided to hire a much lower level person with the hope that the person would grow into the job as she learned to trust the new team member and could hand over more responsibility. Fortunately, before it was too late, the CEO recognized that she was not as ready to relinquish control as she thought she was.
Hires are much more prone to go wrong when the CEO is not self-aware. It is hard to be self-aware without feedback. In this particular case, I was able to help the CEO see the mismatch between the description of the person she wanted to hire and the job she was ready to have the person perform. In this case, I believe that the discrepancy between the job and the requirements would have prevented the CEO from hiring someone for the job as initially described, but this self-awareness saved her from beating her head against the wall in making the attempt.
If you are a CEO, what are your sources of feedback, both personally and about the company? Are the people on your team allowed to be brutally honest with you about their impressions without fear of repercussion? Do you have a source of candid and accurate feedback concerning your strengths and weaknesses from people that are aware of how you work? Do the priorities and values that you think you operate with match how your priorities and values play out in reality? Do you have a handle on your company’s culture and any discrepancy between the current reality and your vision for the type of culture you want to create? Do you have ways of measuring company performance beyond the financial statements? Do you know how your company is perceived externally?
If you want to hire successfully – and by hiring successfully I mean that the people that you hire thrive while helping you to build a great company – then one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is to make sure that you know really know yourself and your company. Have feedback mechanisms and reality checks in place. Be fearless in knowing the truth. It is not what you know that hurts you. It is what you don’t know.