From H1N1 to Q2H2

As we begin to see the first signs of recovery in our economy, and the first signs of recovering from the H1N1 virus, our elected and appointed officials from President Obama to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke are saying that the economic slowdown is starting to "slow down". With that, we can expect an increase in demand for goods and services, and companies once again will begin to hire new employees…albeit slowly.

With the shift away from layoffs, another "virus" rears its pathogenic head: most people do not really understand what it takes to make a successful hire. A virus replicates itself within the cells of a living host, much like the bad habits perpetuated within organizations. Poor hires are continually made because people are mostly weak when it comes to interviewing, assessing and hiring individuals, teams and leaders.

So how should you gauge whether a hiring decision was successful? It is definitely NOT whether the hired employee remains for one year - the typical and laughable guarantee offered by the executive search industry. Pretty much anyone can last a year in a company, and many do. In fact, at larger companies, it is often the case that a bad hire gets transferred and becomes someone else’s problem. Or, in the case of a senior level hire who really doesn’t work out, the company defaults to lowering the bar and accepting mediocrity, often taking several years to get out of the ditch, if it does at all.

I propose two very clear measurements of a successful hire, and a boost to your hiring immune system: Q2H2 – 2 Questions to ask yourself before Hiring another employee.

First, do you enjoy working with the person? Are you excited about the prospect of tackling projects and tasks with him or her? When you think about working with this person, do you have a high level of confidence that you will be able to achieve your goals? All of us know what it is like to have this experience, or its’ opposite.

The second clear measurement is more objective. Have this person’s responsibilities stayed the same, grown or diminished over time? The answer to this question truly brings it home. Think about it. If you’re a successful leader, you’re developing your direct reports, and as their capabilities grow, their responsibilities will as well, and you end up delegating more. Your purview becomes more strategic, and your daily activities become less tactical. If you’re a successful employee, your capacities expand and you take on additional responsibilities. The nature of the universe and of life is to change, either for better or worse, and your decisions impact this. It’s pretty clear cut.

The answers to these two questions takes the mystery out of whether or not someone is a successful hire and leaves no room for fudging a response. When you honestly look at your personal track record of hiring people, and ask yourself these two questions, I’m pretty sure you will most likely see that your track record at making a successful hire is 50/50 at best. In other words, it’s a coin toss.

Yes, I still assert that the model of executive search is broken, something I have been saying consistently for the past 7 years, (see The Model Has Been Broken.) But the quality of executive search firms are only one of the mitigating factors keeping most company’s talent and culture steeped in mediocrity. Regardless of whether or not an executive search firm is used, the model of interviewing and assessing candidates is broken. I don’t care if you’re a small business owner, a manager in a mid-sized company, or a CEO of a multi-billion global corporation; hiring decisions depend on your ability to interview and assess people, and mostly, people do a poor job of this.

So as we get closer to moving into a period of economic and flu recovery, it makes sense to examine how you interview, assess and hire people, and begin to change your approach. It is more important than ever to allocate resources where they will make the biggest difference, and it’s about time to stop spreading the "bad hire" virus that seems to infect all sizes and kinds of businesses and begin to seriously talk about what it takes to interview and assess people in a way that informs the decision process and guides a successful hire. And remember to wash your hands.

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