Dani Robbins

Hiring Lessons Learned the Hard Way

In Leadership, Organizational Development on April 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

The most important lessons I have learned in my career I have learned the hard way.  How to hire was among the most difficult lessons.

When I first started out as a manager I hired people like me, or what I perceived myself to be – young, smart, idealistic.  As you might imagine, an entire team of young, smart, idealists may be missing a few qualities – experience among them.

My job became a lot easier the day I learned to the stop hiring like that.  I learned how to create the process needed to ensure I hired the people who had the values and experience to take my agency where we wanted to go.

What a difference that made! Not only was my agency stronger because I learned to hire better, but it was an opportunity to note my own professional development.

Here’s what happened:

I was interviewing to fill a program position that coordinated a drug, alcohol and premature sexual activity prevention program.  The interviewee, who worked at a sister agency in a neighboring community in the (exact!!) same position I was seeking to fill, said he was fine with the drug and alcohol part but that he thought that sex was a topic best left to the parents.  Whoa Nelly!

I stopped the interview and explained that the position required the coordination of all of the aspects of the program.  I asked if he was willing to fulfill the position duties.  He said no. I ended the interview.

Several days later, he sent me a note thanking me for my time and noting that we had a difference of opinion.  Now, normally, I wouldn’t have responded, but you know I cannot resist a teach-able moment!

I immediately called him and explained that we didn’t have a difference of opinion; that, in fact, he didn’t even know my opinion.  What we had was a position to fill and a candidate that wasn’t willing to fulfill all the aspects of the position.

Now ten years prior, I wouldn’t have been able to make that distinction.  In fact, I might have been the one that sent the note in the first place.

What happened in those intervening years?  Experience.  Lessons learned. Failures.

The distinction is the difference between objective and subjective.  It’s the distance traveled between an opinion and a performance requirement.  It’s the lesson learned in hiring the wrong person and having to fire them later – and the political capital spent every time it happens.  It’s the experience that comes with not trusting your gut and the price you pay when you realize your mistake.  It’s the take away from ignoring that little voice that tells you not to do something even though you can’t communicate why.

The thing about lessons learned the hard way is that they usually only take one time to stick.  Life, after all, is about making new mistakes.

What lessons have you learned the hard way?  What advice can you share?

As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

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