Staff are everything
Years ago, I was the general manager for a mid-sized business. Part of this role involved the hiring of staff.
I think most business owners would agree that having the right people in your business is crucial. Some business owners might even argue that an organisation’s USP is possibly their staff.
We all know that having the wrong person in the business or in the wrong role is extremely negative and can have an exponential adverse effect on others and on the operation of the business.
I made that mistake, and it was entirely my fault.
Under pressure to fill the role
For a couple of months, we were under pressure to hire somebody to fill a role. This role wasn’t at a particularly high level, but it was causing others to be dragged into an element of fire-fighting and deflecting them from their own work. The position was available for a candidate from outside the business and initially I was hoping for someone who would be conscientious, professional and could grow, over time, into a more senior position. When I couldn’t find anyone to who meet these criteria, I decided I would have to settle. First mistake – never settle when it comes to staff.
I interviewed ‘Nikita’. Not her real name but allow me to use James Bond villain imagery here. Immediately I got a sense that although she may have been suitable for the position, she wasn’t necessary suitable for the company. I ignored my ‘sense’ and gave her the benefit of the doubt on this and also on a couple of other reservations that I had.
The interview itself was testy and she demonstrated what could be best described as ‘attitude’. I am open to be challenged on my views, but this was different. She demonstrated that she was able for the role, she had high aspirations which is commendable, but her ambition far outweighed her experience and competencies. She made it subtly clear that the role was probably beneath her, but she was willing to take it. Ideally another person might have accepted a similar position and treat it as a stepping-stone, instead Nikita accepted this on the basis that she had no other offers.
I ignored the signals
I on the other hand was more culpable in hiring her. I just wanted to fill the position. There was plenty of signals that this was the wrong move for both her and the company and on reflection I saw them at the time, but I chose to ignore them. Second mistake.
Nikita commenced work and for a short period the atmosphere was fine as she learned what was involved and was happy to take any guidance and instruction. However, after not too long, things started to get a little choppy. Nothing too dramatic but just some pushback and maybe a gentle unwillingness on her part to take well-meaning advice.
Luckily for me I wasn’t her immediate contact so someone else was getting the brunt of the bad vibes (how gallant am I). Gradually this bad attitude from her was communicated to me by her co-workers. I tried to manage the situation to see if we could shape Nikita to better fit our culture; our culture being reasonably relaxed once people got their tasks completed. What ended up happening was that we were slightly changing our behaviour to suit her humour. An aunt of mine once warned me to never work for someone when the enjoyment of your day is predicated on the mood of your boss’s humour. She never warned me about worrying about an employee’s humour.
Over time the situation deteriorated badly and was becoming untenable. Nikita was impacting on her colleagues in a detrimental way. At this stage I was getting more directly involved in resolving issues. This position which initially had been vacant and caused additional work for others had turned into a position which was filled but was leading to an atmosphere that was bordering on toxic and causing additional work for me.
Eventually I decided that this had to be resolved and my resolution wouldn’t have been to Nikita’s liking. To give her credit she had the wit to recognise the situation and what was imminent. At this point she put in a defensive manoeuvre. This involved making a complaint against one of her colleagues. This was new ground to me (at least I was learning something along the way) so I had to take legal advice on this. This manoeuvre unfortunately slowed down the process of moving her on, but I was determined to resolve the issue which I did after a concentrated effort.
Whatever is right for you
This was not a pleasant experience however it proved to be a valuable lesson. I have interviewed others since then and have concluded that although a person might be very valuable in their own right and for other organisations but if they do not fit the role or the culture of your business they are just not ‘right’. You probably can’t make them ‘right’ (whatever ‘right’ is for you).
Years later a client of mine, let’s call him Rory (because his name is Rory) gave me some great advice in relation to employees/ colleagues which I have followed since. Ultimately, he concluded, employees are your business, and the selection of a candidate should not be rushed or even farmed out. It should be treated as one of the most important part of your duties.