Monday, April 2, 2007

Hiring & Firing

TCS Daily has a review of the book "The Science of Success" in which the author (of the review) summarizes some of the book's views on personnel, thusly:

"By virtue and talents, [The Science of Success] means focusing on personnel. It advocates a sort of triage. High-quality employees need to be cultivated, nourished, and retained. Decent employees should be encouraged to develop, but need not absorb management focus. Employees who do not contribute need to be turned around quickly or fired. As [The Science of Success] puts it (p. 91), 'any employee who is not creating value does not have a real job...their performance puts other team members and the entire organization at risk.'

"I agree strongly with this point. It is easier for a manager to work around a troublesome or ineffective employee than it is for the employee's co-workers. My sense is that most managers are too slow to pull the trigger. You feel like having to fire an employee represents a failure on your part. Maybe it does. Fire him anyway.

"However, in real life, personnel issues are not always clear-cut. Employees are neither all-round winners nor all-round losers. The great problem-solver may lack self-discipline. The creative innovator may say things that hurt others' feelings. The reliable, well-organized project manager may be hung-up on issues of perks and status. It is these imperfect packages that managers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis."
(Emphasis added)

Throughout my experience in various companies, one of the things that has struck me as being critical to the success or failure of the company is the personnel, so the above resonates pretty well with me. I particularly agree with the observations that I have emphasized in the original text.

In one company for which I worked, management would obstinately refuse to fire anyone for virtually any reason - chronic lateness, sloppy work, costing the company thousands of dollars in materials and man-hours due to screw ups, outright theft, etc. Beyond the drag that the employee(s) in question had on the company, performance throughout the company - even with the best, veteran employees suffered because of the drastic effect this had on (a) morale, (b) confidence in management, and (c) the stress and aggravation up with which the better employees had to put on a day-to-day basis. There were quite a few days when, even though we were swamped with work, we would hope that the lazier/irresponsible/just generally troublesome employees would just not show up (as they often did) because we knew that half as many people could get more done if they were the right half of the people.

Of course, as I should mention, the fact that management wouldn't fire anyone wouldn't have been so bad if their hiring process/results weren't soooooo bad. I've heard it said that executives should spend 40% of their time on the hiring/interviewing/recruiting process. While at first this sounds extreme, the more experience I have in my career, the more I think that the statement is accurate.

In subsequent organizations with which I have been involved, the hiring process was/is taken much more seriously and, thus, the plethora of problems I enumerated above simply has not existed. I consider this one of the "big lessons" I have learned regarding the business world so far. I would go so far as to offer the following advice to anyone seeking a position with a new organization: if the hiring process isn't rigorous to the point that you are concerned you simply won't make the cut, the company's hiring process probably isn't good enough, meaning, if you get the position, you might regret it.


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