We all know of someone who might have been appointed on a whim, based on someone’s gut-feel or because of their connections, just to discover that they do not fit the job description – or the organisation.
What are the consequences of this? Why should we care about recruiting the correct people for the correct positions? Simply put, the negative consequences of poor appointments can drain money and energy and have long-lasting effects on the organisation. In fact, I believe this to be one of the fundamental dysfunctions that negatively impacts leading purposefully. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, expresses the same sentiment advising to rather keep the position vacant than appoint inappropriately.
Consider the case of James who happens to meet the required qualifications for the post as advertised for Financial Manager at Company ABC. He is interviewed and seems to know his stuff. James is appointed in the position and starts with great enthusiasm. However, it soon comes to light that, despite his qualifications on paper, James does not fit into the company culture at all. He also seems to divulge a bit too much. A few weeks after having started, someone overhears him openly sharing information that is considered highly confidential.
He is approached about this by Company ABC’s Financial Director who explains that it is completely unacceptable for him to betray confidences and that there will be a formal disciplinary process if he does this again. James feels threatened and defaults to “water cooler talk” about his boss, belittling him and saying that the organisation obviously doesn’t recognise his worth, all while trying to justify his actions.
Needless to say, not too long thereafter – following a few more incidents – James leaves Company ABC. He also leaves a mess that now needs to be cleaned up.
Let’s consider the consequences and impact of poor appointments such as that of James:
- Severed relationships: in the case of James, team members have now become privy to information which they should never have known about. Leaked information can cause great discomfort within the team and impact relationships between leaders and teams negatively. This needs to be managed very carefully with all to move forward and regain trust.
- Lack of trust: those who appointed individuals such as James may be second-guessed if they are ever to appoint others in future. It might also impact the level of trust the team has in their other decisions, even if not linked to any appointments.
- Frustration: if the person who has been appointed simply cannot do the job, there is a huge risk for the organisation. Not only do others need to step up to guide the new team member (consequently taking time away from their own work), but it causes irritation and possibly resentment amongst those involved.
- Lost traction: we often appoint hastily because we can’t afford to lose time, but we don’t realise that by appointing inappropriately, we lose even more time. While the role is vacant, the work that needs to be done will most probably take a backseat or not get the amount of focus it requires. Also, if you appointed the wrong person the first time, you will have to do damage control on top of that. This causes a backlog which affects not only the organisation, but the team and the person who will fill the role in due course.
- Cost of re-appointing: once the person has left the organisation, it could take months before someone new is appointed. More than that, it takes a few months at least for the next new person to be brought up to speed and on track to fill the role effectively. Don’t forget the bottom-line costs of recruitment which could include a fee for finding a new placement, or opportunity costs of HR now having to spend time on filling this role at the cost of other roles that need to be filled.
While it is easy to think that the only cost of a team member leaving is that the work is less likely to get done, the above shows that it can also have dire impacts on culture and bottom-line. While most of us are aware of these consequences, we still fall into this trap. But there are a few ways to apply ourselves and avoid appointing poorly – although there are, of course, no guarantees:
- Hold panel interviews: even if doing this prolongs the recruitment process, it can be hugely beneficial to have more people involved in the selection process. It is important to make sure that everyone’s opinions count. If possible and appropriate, have the person who is leaving the organisation be part of the interview panel as well.
- Assess functionally: have the potential candidate/s complete a practical exercise or even give them the opportunity to spend a few hours in the office to see and experience ways of working. This will also give them the opportunity to see whether they feel comfortable in the environment.
- Assess psychometrically: have them complete suitable psychometric tests to gauge their suitability for the organisation and the role from a personality and aptitude point of view. Culture fit is vital.
- Interview references: it is important to ask the questions that really matter i.e. did the person welcome constructive feedback? Would you re-appoint this person if you had the opportunity? Are they self-driven or do they work better in a team environment? Which three words would you use to summarise this person’s work ethic?
While you can never be truly sure about a candidate, and chances are that you could appoint inappropriately despite your best efforts, it is vital to be as thorough as possible during the process. Don’t appoint on a whim or out of desperation to fill an empty position. Spending more time to make a well-considered appointment will serve all organisations and teams well. And if you realise that you have made a mistake, act quickly before too much damage is done.