Bad Hiring Decisions Haunt Good People

Alex Pollock

Why do bad hiring decisions haunt good people? I’m involved in making an important leadership staffing decision as I write and I’ve researched some of the latest thinking to help minimize the potential for a poor staffing decision and thus prevent the long term damage that it causes.

I’ve been guided in the past by the timeless “3 C’s” of character, competency and chemistry, but I wonder if I can embellish this based on recent research. I found the work of Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran in the book, “Why are we Bad at Picking Good Leaders” (2011) most useful. They described what they feel are the essential attributes of effective leadership under the headings of:

  • Integrity: the foundational attribute, honest, ethical
  • Empathy: feel with people, social savvy, combined with integrity drives trust
  • Emotional Intelligence: evident self mastery skills: “know yourself, control yourself, and improve yourself.”
  • Vision: forward-thinking with a sense of possibility and wonder, innovative
  • Judgment: focus on the important while seeing the “big picture”, take decisive action
  • Courage: the ability to “act with grace under pressure”
  • Passion: the drive to achieve, learn and master

In hiring decisions I’ve been encouraged to do my homework by the axiom “ You will get what someone has already gotten…  no excuse for surprises.” I found the techniques that Cohn and Moran suggest, such as scenario discussions to be most useful for determining whether a candidate does indeed possess the desired attributes or not.

Help me out please. Have you ever made a poor hiring decision? What lessons can you share from the experience? What attributes do you view as important for leaders to possess and what techniques to you use to assess competency during the recruiting process?

About Alex Pollock

Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

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2 Comments
  1. Kristin Meek

    September 26, 2011

    I’ve been part of two poor hiring decisions that stand out. The common thread was that both were made under the rush need to fill a gap. Take the time after coming to a preliminary decision to bring your top two candidates in for an additional meeting. Have them meet other staff in different departments and get their feedback.
    The other issue is that too often the group mentality takes over and dissenting opinions on a candidate fall to the wayside. Those dissenting opinions are key. Use those to guide your process of onboarding and address them from the start.
    Good luck with your decision.

  2. Jim

    September 26, 2011

    Trust, but Verify…sometimes you’ll get recommendations from friends who will say “Person ABC has great computer skills. They’re just what you need.” After the hire you’ll find out the computer was a Commodore 64. No matter how close the friend and how good the reference, ask for examples of relevant, current skills. You’ll hire better, even if you get unfriended on Facebook a few times.

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