Notes for an upcoming book on leadership from the desk of the tone-deaf leader: When hiring, way too much value is placed on values. (Ohh, that’s a great title! Man, I’m so clever!) This seems to be the new buzzword, but frankly, it’s completely overrated. My experience has been that people tell you things about their values but don’t really mean them. I mean, let’s get real, who among us hasn’t eaten the fruit and veggies at the grocery store, or not returned money when they undercharge you? It’s the grocery store, after all, and they make plenty of money. And I hate that ridiculous saying that your real values show up when no one is looking—if no one is looking, it absolutely doesn’t count. I counter that if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really happen? My point made.
However, because it’s the latest craze in hiring and “culture,” we have to at least pretend we’re paying attention to it. So figure out your value words, plaster them all over the place, and then hire based on some of these values but certainly don’t make it the top priority. It’s one of the surface things that you need to “show,” but doing anything about it is a completely different animal. Just slow your roll on that one.
To prove my point, we just hired this great guy for sales. He was the top producer at his last company, one of our competitors, and we scooped him up as soon as he was available. Not really sure why he had to leave that company, and quite frankly, don’t care because he’s so good. After I hired him, he told me he knew the other candidate that we had been considering, and he’d made an anonymous call to the guy’s wife to tell her bad things about our company. After my initial shock, he explained that he’d wanted the other candidate to drop out so he could get the job—I loved it! No wonder he was a winner. I love the creativity.
And creativity is one of our values, so score one for me on hiring this guy. Now, we also have a value of collaboration, which means he needs to work well with others, and that’s not going as well as I had hoped. However, he’s bringing in the numbers, so I don’t care much about everyone liking him. It’s not as important as getting those sales. Numbers trump everything in this business. I just need to work with him a little and teach him how to collaborate in a way that looks like he’s being a team player. Then no one will care what he’s doing behind the scenes to make the deals happen. Trying to collaborate is as good as I need to see.
UPDATE TO NOTES:
Unfortunately, I had to let my star sales guy go today. It was such a hard thing to do, but when the police showed up and shared with us that he had been selling some of our systems outside of the company, I really didn’t have a choice. I had initiated the investigation but certainly didn’t expect it to come back to Jack. He was such a superstar! He was doing so well, bringing the numbers in, and he was absolutely collaborating with the team; they even mentioned it to me. Of course, a couple of the other managers were questioning some of the sales tactics he was using and whether or not we really had signed sales orders for some of these products. Well, you can’t win ’em all!
I still won’t change my hiring practices, because deep down I know this guy was a winner. His only problem was the dumbass got caught. With just a little more time, I could have shown him how to win without getting into trouble. That requires just a little ingenuity and creativity like he showed by knocking off that other sales candidate. Hmm, I wonder if that guy is still available.
Of course, I guess I should be honest, and we did lose another really good salesperson and one inside person who tried to tell me what this guy was doing. But this is what happens when you hire superstars: the rest of the team gets jealous and tries to get you to fire them. Results over values every day!
LET’S GET REAL
Surprisingly, the above really did happen. And it happens more than you might imagine. Values are on display every day in a person’s behavior, and if we ignore it, it’s at our own peril. When it comes to hiring, it can be catastrophic for the organization to ignore.
The belief is that “just this once” we’ll make the exception to hire a person who really doesn’t exhibit a key value of the organization. However, it is never just this once. How many times do you take only one chip from a potato chip bag? You always go for a second. Behavior follows beliefs and beliefs follow values. You can change a behavior and train a skill as long as they are not tied to a deeply rooted value. It’s like trying to change a very religious person away from their faith—it won’t happen. So why do we often think we can do this in the workplace?
Because in the hiring phase we’re still on the honeymoon and it’s usually fun and games. We’re still filled with hope, the adrenaline is pumping, and there could be a full-on hurricane going on outside and we wouldn’t notice, let alone care. But we have to look to the marriage phase of having an employee; you won’t have fun every day—or even every week or month or year. Anyone can do something for a short period of time that might be against who they really are. Asking them to do it over a long stretch of time will ultimately reveal who that person is and what their values are.
“Just this once”—ignoring values in the hiring—will lead to another, and another, and before long you will have eaten a whole bag of chips and feel bloated and bad. The consequence to the organization is a bunch of cultural misfits that will simply operate as who they are, not who you want them to be.