Hire Right or Don't Blame Your Team

I’ve worked for many years in the event and hospitality business, and no matter how many times company leaders talked about transformational design or impeccable food quality or super-high thread counts on the linens it doesn’t come close to how important the people are in what you’re trying to achieve.  Getting the right person for the job is crucial to every team’s success.

So why do we not spend enough time getting the right person in the right position for our team?  Company leaders may talk about how important the people on the team are, but what are they really doing to address it?  I have worked on lots of teams with lots of amazing people.  Most of the time the persons are individually wonderful to be around: fun, funny, caring, committed, engaged, and they usually bring some good experience to the table.  However, I see more often than not that a sizable portion of the team has not been organized properly, which leads to systemic failure on too many projects. 

Here are a couple of quick examples from teams you may recognize.  A person may be whip-smart and ambitious, but he approaches things in a process-driven way and is in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants position.  When they move slowly, you get upset because growth is stalled.  Or maybe she is excellent at keeping relationships but shy as a bug, and is in a sales position that requires lots of warm-calling without referral introduction.  When new bookings are slower than hoped for because new clients aren’t signing up, isn’t it the boss’ fault for putting an account manager in a sales persons’ role?  How could you expect that any real success is possible with great people in the wrong position.

How does this happen? 

First, employers don’t use skilled recruiters to hire employees.  Most small businesses and all solopreneurs don’t have an HR department.  They might have someone who helps with compliance and workforce safety, for instance, but not anyone with real HR background.  The daily duties of HR, including recruiting, screening, interviewing, on-boarding and training are left to the department managers or direct supervisors.  Middle-manager Molly has a hole on her team, and she needs to fill it fast.

Second, employers – or, rather, the department managers – look to what they know: themselves.  We all learn from our own experiences and from those around us to learn.  When we’re faced with a new challenge, say, marriage, parenting, vacationing, cooking, or hiring, we are going to go with what’s familiar (literally, derived from “family”).  Many department managers have less than five years’ experience in what they’re doing.  The thing they know best is themselves, so they look for someone like themselves, because, hey, if I can do it the newbie can do it, too!  The issue with this is that the hiring manager is very likely not filling a position that’s identical to their own, and so does not want someone who is going to have the same skills and interests and experience and ambition.    

Third, these same department managers, if they are savvy enough to look elsewhere besides themselves for inspiration, may look to the person who they are replacing as the model – especially if the employee who left did so on his own rather than being terminated.  They think to themselves, Tom was pretty good at most of the things I asked him to do and I sure wish he’d stayed rather than left, so I’m going to find The Next Tom to come in and replace him and hope he sticks around longer.  Rarely do we sit down and wonder why Tom left in the first place, to see if it was the position or system or culture or team fit that made it an impossible situation for Tom to stick it out in. 

In short, many small businesses have inexperienced and unskilled leaders making decisions with out any training and doing what comes naturally, which is to do what they know and what they learned while on the job.  The issue is that these are usually bad habits and need to be broken, or your team will continue to suffer because of it.  In small business, especially, where the stage of growth that a company is in might be changing every six months or less, teams need to be reassessed frequently for current needs and objectives.

Here are some simple questions you can ask to see if your teams are designed well.

1.     Do you have current job functions listed out clearly?

2.     Do you have a recruiting team and are they trained on techniques to hire great people for the right position?

3.     Have you identified the kind of communication style (direct or indirect, collaborative or independent) that is best suited for each function?

4.     Have you identified behavioral-, competency- and personality-driven characteristics to match each position with potential team members?

5.     Does each position have a clear advancement path laid out?

6.     Does every person on the team have a growth or development plan created for them?

7.     Do you update these needs every time there’s a change in the development stage or reorg in your business?

8.     Have you communicated to everyone on the team everyone else’s role and goals?

9.     Have you dumped every toxic employee from the team, regardless of skillset or contribution?

10.  Do you reward the team rather than the individual?

11.  Do you meet regularly (quarterly/semi-annually) with every team member to discuss their growth-plan progress?

If you answered Yes to most of these, you’re on the right track.  If you stumbled on more than a couple, you should reconsider how you are indirectly impacting the team’s success by not setting them up as well as you should in your role as team leader.  And if you think to yourself, it’s not that big of a deal to make changes, we grew our sales by 23% last year, how do you know with the right team you couldn’t have grown sales by 44%?