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I Made a Bad Hire

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Dear Sally
Weekly Advice Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.

Dear Sally,

I need some help! Last year I was promoted to a senior level in my organization. As part of my promotion, I was tasked with creating a new department and hiring someone to lead it. The stakes were high, and I vetted the candidates carefully. I hired someone who came highly recommended, who interviewed really well, and who has had quite a lot of experience leading the types of initiative this department is going to handle. I was thrilled when she agreed to come and work for us.

Problem is, she’s been here for 6 months now, and I’m not so sure she’s the right fit. She and I have very different management styles. Her pace also seems so different from mine I’m not sure what to think about it. So far her direct reports like her, but her true test is about to come. The project she is leading is about to roll out. I’m panicking because I’m not sure she has what it takes. And if she doesn’t, I worry that this is going to reflect badly on me. I mean, I hired her!! The stakes feel super high, and so does my anxiety. I’m fighting the urge to try to jump in and just do her work for her. I l know that’s not the right choice, but this project CANNOT fail.

Sincerely, I Made a Bad Hire

Dear Bad Hire(r),

I can feel your anxiety right through this page. It seems like you are in a big mess and there’s no way out. Or is there? Like everything else we talk about here, I’d really like to suggest you start with yourself. I know it’s tantalizing to lay the blame at the feet of this new hire, and spend all your time working on how to get her up and running in a suitable way. But if you take this level of anxiety you have going on and try to get things moving with your new hire, you’re likely to either paralyze her, or get into some serious conflict. Not only that, but you run the risk of undermining her in the eyes of her team, which is something a new leader may never recover from.

First things first. Take a deep breath, and a step back. Before you assume this person can’t get the job done, I suggest taking a very analytical look at what’s really happening. Seek information from her peers, from her direct reports, and MOST importantly, from her. Find out what’s going well and what she’s struggling with. Things are much more likely to improve if she sees you as an advisor rather than an adversary.

Second, let’s take a look at your own panic. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with the fact that you feel like you’ll be judged for choosing to hire this person. You have a belief system that your hire reflects directly on you. This is why I strongly encourage organizations to hire people through a panel instead of having one person responsible for the decision. However, it’s too late for that. So instead of feeling fear about judgement, is it possible for you to really step into a better mentoring role of this new hire. Take her to meetings with you, introduce her to the higher ups, get her a mentor or a coach. In addition to being important for her, it will also send the message that you’re serious about helping her integrate into her new community. When we don’t support this type of integration, and the new hire fails, we will almost certainly be judged. And maybe rightfully so. With support however, most people will acknowledge that you gave her a super strong effort, attempted to help in all manners, and it just didn’t work out. No harm no foul.

Finally, is it possible that she’s actually doing just fine? Is it possible that she just has a completely different style from you? This can feel really challenging to manage. When someone leads in a way that feels so far from our own comfort zone we really have to keep checking in with them (and ourselves) so that we can be reminded that things really are under control, and even though her style looks different, it doesn’t make it wrong.

Keep us posted on how this is going!

Warmly, Sally