Losing a key employee can be as challenging as a divorce. Anyone who has ever been divorced, or even had a serious relationship break-up, knows the pain of that separation. Perhaps you really loved the person, and thought they were ideal for you, but they are gone anyway. At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you grew to dislike the person or were hurt by them, and thought they were toxic for you. You might be glad they are gone, but there is still pain.
The same thing happens in hiring. The employer who lost the superior person is forever on a quest to find an equal. If a poor performer leaves or is let go, management fears they may make the same mistake again. In such cases, there is a hidden job description.
Case example: A small manufacturer hired a CFO who was stepping up into the role. He was extremely personable, articulate, upbeat, and seemed to be capable. The new hire was even given extra operational responsibility. He was immediately in over his head. 12 months later, operational responsibilities were taken away. 18 months later, financials were still late, inaccurate, and unsupported at times. He couldn’t truly partner with the CEO to help propel the company’s growth. The CFO’s performance was holding the company back, and he had to be let go. In replacing the candidate, the employer sought to cover every base, so as not to make the same mistake again. Their legitimate fears caused them to test the candidates’ capabilities with a detailed technical exam. They drilled into each business story in depth to find cracks. They wanted to make sure the chosen candidate had every element. They tried to look for gilt-edged education (as a possible predictor of success). This extra-arduous approach caused them to look at triple the usual number of prospects before they were comfortable with a decision. It took 5 months to make the hire.
Were they right to take the extremely cautious approach? Time will tell. Fear, based on their negative experience with the previous CFO, certainly colored the process and caused the unusually high level of scrutiny.
We have seen many employers take this approach. We always ask, “what is it about the predecessor you would want to have be better or different in this new hire?” The answers are often fear-motivated. Employers often hesitate on a new hire, hoping some magical revelation will happen to allay their fear. Single people go through much the same process, and their friends tell them they have “Fear of commitment.”
We think that new hires require a clean slate. We recommend that employers develop a detailed spec of what they affirmatively need and want in the new hire, without emotion or fear, and then evaluate candidates in the present moment, without an undue burden of filters that come from the past. This will ensure that good, capable people are hired when they can do the job.