If you’ve been in business for long, I’m sure you’ve been in the unfortunate position of having a job in your company filled by the wrong person. In today’s new Business Success column, we have an article from James A. Cusumano Ph.D., author of BALANCE: The Business – Life Connection, that might help you avoid that problem next time.
An Entrepreneur’s Secrets For Hiring The Right People For The Right Positions At The Right Time
Hiring the right people for the right positions at the right time is a key ingredient in creating a successful company. This is not easy to do, and most companies falter in this area. At Catalytica, the clean energy and pharmaceutical public company I co-founded, we became known for our creative in-depth hiring techniques. We tried never to settle for a candidate, if it was not the right person for the position, even when we were growing at double digit rates. Under the pressures of rapid growth, it is easy to settle by filling a position with someone who may not be the best candidate. We put together multidisciplinary teams to interview each candidate, whether it was a receptionist or the vice president of sales.
A list of key open-ended questions was developed and each of the interview team members was assigned an area of focus for the candidate. Open-ended questions are very important as they assure you of a more truthful answer rather than what the candidate thinks you may want to hear. I wanted to hear the answers to such questions as, “What are your personal dreams and aspirations?” “What’s the most exciting thing that ever happened to you?” “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you, and how did you deal with it?” “What special skills do you believe you bring to our company and why would you want to work here?” We arranged at least one dinner with the candidate and then a dinner with the candidate and his or her significant other. Much can be gleaned from the candidate’s behavior under these circumstances, especially when asking the candidate the same or similar questions in both settings.
The interview team would then meet as a group and go over the answers to all questions and the candidate’s behavior in a social setting. The input of the significant other can also be quite telling. The interview team would then vote on whether or not to hire the candidate and the results of the decision, with detailed comments, would be presented to the senior manager in the department for which the candidate was interviewing. In the end it is still a risky process, but we found our approach minimized the number of mistakes. However, when a mistake is made and an ineffective candidate is hired, what then?
A good leader never finds it easy to fire an employee. It is difficult to do. But if necessary, it is almost always in the best interest of both the company and the employee. Allow me to share one example. Several years after Catalytica was sold, my wife and I developed a five-star castle hotel called Chateau Mcely near Prague in the Czech Republic. When we first hired waiters for our restaurant, one of our hires was an incredibly intelligent gentleman named Milan. It was only three weeks into his work with us when it became clear to our Food and Beverage Manager that Milan was not really passionate about his work and seemed to be distracted. Our Manager of Guest Relations told me that Milan seemed to spend a lot of time on the computer and in fact was able to solve some of our difficult software issues.
I had lunch with Milan and asked him what he thought of his capabilities as a waiter. After hemming and hawing and a few false starts to his answer, it was clear that he really didn’t love his job, and I pointed this out to him. He reluctantly agreed. I asked him if he ever thought about going into the computer business. Apparently not, though he had played with computers since childhood and could even repair them.
Although we were not legally required to do so because of the short duration of his tenure, we decided to give Milan four weeks’ notice of termination, and told him that he could take off work whenever necessary for job interviews. Compassion is an important attribute when dealing with employee termination. I personally advised him to look for employment in the computer industry. Today, Milan is a successful computer technical serviceman for a large multinational company. I usually get a call or e-mail from him once or twice a year, thanking me for the move.