Friday, September 9, 2011

Hiring Business Improvement

Executive Summary:
Don’t underestimate the impact that personnel selection can have on business performance.  Be sure that, beyond selecting the right skill sets, that you select the right personality to match your business culture.

The Rest of the Story:
I’m not a Human Resources (HR) professional, and though I have worked with HR functions many times on performance improvement efforts, I won’t claim to be an expert on employment policy or employee selection.  However, as a business improvement analyst and manager, I have become keenly aware of the importance of Culture when it comes to business performance improvement.

Simply put, culture is a group’s collective behavior based on a common set of beliefs and values.  In terms of business improvement and business performance, the key word of the culture definition is behavior.

Often, the cause of business or process performance issues can be linked to behavior, even if it’s just the “that’s the way we always do it” attitude.  Almost always, the biggest roadblock to successful process or business improvement is behavior and the effort of changing it.

We often neglect to consider the impact that a new employee’s behavior or attitude can have on our business performance, especially if that new employee holds a leadership position of some kind.  We don’t think of the hiring process as a business improvement opportunity, but it is.

If you still aren’t convinced of the importance of behavior for business performance, consider that almost every HR function in the U.S., at least every one with which I have ever interfaced, will utilize one form or another of behavioral interviewing methodology.  Some large corporations have even outlined personality traits they prefer and make it policy not to hire someone who does not fit within those guidelines.  TargetÔ is one such company.

Yet, when it comes time to make our selection, particularly in technical functions like engineering or programming, we often focus almost entirely on skill set and experience instead of personality or behavior.  When we do, we miss an opportunity to preserve or improve our work environment and culture, and sometimes regret our decisions.

I suspect the reason that we of a technical mindset tend to focus so highly on skill and experience is because we have a habit of considering facts and data; it is not in our nature to concern ourselves with the “people” aspects of decisions.  Do yourself a favor and break this habit the next time you make or advise a new employee selection decision.

I worked in a business at a time when the business needed a new Director of Engineering.  The business made a decision to hire someone from outside instead of promote someone from within because the leadership felt that changes were required to drive better performance within the engineering function.

I can appreciate the decision to make some changes and to try to bring in some skills and experience from elsewhere to infuse the business with some new ideas.  However, when they selected their new director, it appears that they did not adequately evaluate or consider leadership style or behavior as part of the selection process.  The new director was a failure.

By way of example, I still remember his exact words when he introduced himself to our department.  “Whatever you guys are doing, it’s wrong.  I’m going to show you how to do this right.”  He didn’t even know what we were doing when he made the judgment statement.  He hadn’t been on board for a week yet.  Needless to say, he didn’t win any confidence from his personnel that day.  Things went down hill from there.

This new director had experience and credentials from another corporation with a strong reputation for product development prowess and business performance.  He boasted skills with the methods our business was trying to implement.  From a background and skill set standpoint, he made sense as a new leader for our group.

Unfortunately, his management skills were lacking and his leadership was, in my opinion, poor.  He tried to replicate his previous employer’s behaviors and methods in his new employer’s culture.  The two didn’t match.

In the end, he alienated his peers, disgruntled his personnel, and the performance of the engineering function dropped sharply.  I won’t say he was a bad guy, but I am absolutely saying that he was a poor fit for the role and the culture for which the leadership selected him.  He was terminated several months after he was hired.

I give you the above, profound example, but I’ve seen the same mistake cause problems at every level of a business, from the assembly floor to the top business leader.  Consider the impacts on the entire business when a team, function, or the entire business has to deal with a new player who simply can’t adjust to the game.

I’m a big fan of growing and promoting personnel who have performed well and fostered tenure.  However, I’m also keenly aware of the impact of behaviors that don’t fit well within new roles.

Don’t promote the technical genius of a senior engineer to the role of manager, if that technical genius simply doesn’t have any leadership acumen, or can’t make decisions.  If that’s the step that individual wants and needs to make, then you must groom his or her behavioral habits to enable success first.

I once was invited to help a retired business owner resurrect his family business because the corporate minded business expert he hired to replace him when he retired did not successfully lead the existing company culture and neither did the management personnel he hired.

A rift between management and the workforce manifested and the previously very successful business lost significant profitability and general business performance.  The owner fired the new executive after a small few years and left retirement to try and repair the damage.

Even if your next new hire isn’t a leader, and is an individual contributor, don’t underestimate the impact that an individual’s personality will have on a group.  Keep in mind that skills can be taught and experience can be shored up much easier than personality or behavior can be changed.

We are all much happier when we bring on personnel that just seem to fit right in with the incumbent group.  The transition happens more quickly, and the team’s performance hums when the team gets along happily.  Keep this in mind the next time you select a new employee, and choose wisely.

Stay wise, friends.


  1. I totally agree. The saying "one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch" really does apply to business environments.

  2. Business improvement require experience and skills, selecting a bad person for this job can bring about a lot of problems, you should be very careful when hiring for this purpose.