Last time we looked at the ideal way to hire longer term employees. How let’s look at what to do if you forget!
What If You Forget Character at First?
It is bad enough to make a poor hiring decision. Any of us who have made this mistake (including yours truly) know about it within a short time after the new person begins work. However, it is worse to compound this large mistake by then trying to “reform” a person’s character through a competency lens. For instance, I once hired an individual who interviewed very well. He was articulate, respectful and knowledgeable. I thought we had a winner. Within the first 30 days of work, I knew I had blown the hiring decision. Here was the observed behavior.
- Low productivity and high social behavior (little work and much talking)
- Hit and miss customer service skills
- Excellent interactions with those in positions of high authority
- A need to do things other than in his job description
Since I was in a government system at the time, terminating this person would require a mountain of paperwork based on significant time in place to document any shortcomings. Sadly, I compounded my hiring decision by moving this person to another functional area thinking we had simply mismatched his skills with the area. At the time, I was frustrated that the behavior did not improve.
Soon after the first internal move, we started down that long road of performance review, standards communication and too much documentation. I brainstormed and coached with the supervisors in an effort to “diagnose.” In reality, I was in denial of the character problem we were facing and continued to try and salvage the employee all the while going down the government discipline road.
It was not until I could realize and communicate to the problem employee what were character problems. I eventually summed it up as, “you are unwilling to take direction and instruction.” I then followed with several clear examples to support the statement. Clearly, these were more character traits and not competency obstacles. They had little to do with his past job experience and knowledge because they were part of who he was as a person. While it is never wise to rush to judgment on a person’s character, it is still critical to go there at least in analysis.
Use Courage, Consideration and Wisdom
I can just hear all the HR people out there wringing their hands because this character discussion is what lawsuits can be made of (slander, liable, discrimination, etc.). Be smart about how you speak your thoughts during an interview discussion with other selecting members but do not dodge character issues. Focus on behavior, not on conclusions. “When you do A, B suffers” or “On such-and-such day, you did X and at this company we seek to makes decisions based on Y.” You could also use the opener from the previous paragraph as well.
If you think this person can be salvaged, you must tackle the character concerns and not dance around the issues through a competence mindset. You may want to ask your HR or legal sections for advice on how to say it but you must exercise courage and tackle this challenge. You are not putting the person down but are seeking better alignment with the values your section, division or company hold dear.
Make a Decision
You owe it to the entire company to work through these issues authentically yet compassionately. By doing so, you may create a long-term employee, increase morale and build your own credibility all at the same time. You may also discover in this process that value alignment is impossible. If this is the case, it is time to learn a lesson for next time and respectfully show the employee the door.
Character and competence. Both are essential traits to a highly effective team member but it is essential for a leader to understand both categories and how and when to apply them in any given situation. Otherwise, you can be sure your prescription will miss the mark and prolong problems within the organization.