Thoughts from the Field - Issue #21 - Focusing on Fit
By Debbie Ellisen
November 2014

What do you do when you get that familiar pit in your stomach, as you're about to meet with someone you've been working with integrating into your team because you just know it's not going to work out? You've probably even known it for a while.

Most leaders have been there; the question is how do you avoid it?

Here's what I mean; let me tell you about Bob, a client of mine. Bob was an excellent director of sales. He was detail-oriented, knew how to get things done for customers within the organization, and had the respect of his team. But then the CEO promoted him to the vice president of sales role. The VP spot required evangelizing new solutions in front of clients, something Bob had real trouble with.

The CEO was so committed to making him successful that she worked with Bob month after month, often doing the job herself or relying on other executive team members to do it. She spent time and money training Bob; she even hired the Table Group to do some organizational health work with Bob and his team. Bob still wasn't a great fit - both the smart and the healthy sides were misaligned. Eventually, Bob lost so much credibility within the organization that it was impossible to move him into another position, and the CEO let him go. It was painful for the CEO and hard on Bob, who was blindsided by the move.

Hindsight provides so much clarity. Today, the CEO says that she knew within a few months that Bob was not in the right role, but Bob was loyal to the company and the CEO wanted to make him successful. This was a mix of hubris and optimism. She thought time would help solve the issue. In fact, time hurt. Bob could have recovered if he had been moved to a role that took advantage of his unique talents before his long, slow decline undermined the trust the team had in him. Instead, he agonized, the team withered, and the company suffered.

Consider this more desirable outcome from another client. The CEO of a 100-year-old business thought that he had identified his successor in an internal, long-term operations executive who embodied the values of the company. He and the operations guy, Dennis, met weekly to discuss the needs of the role. They focused on Dennis' progress from operational to strategic thinking, an area that they had both agreed was a potential trouble spot in his ability to lead the company through imminent international expansion. The CEO and Dennis had difficult discussions over several months about poorly defined strategies and, after some time, the CEO and Dennis agreed that he was more valuable (and happy) becoming COO and they needed to find an altogether different CEO.

The company has since hired a CEO who is successfully leading it into new markets, with Dennis playing a critical role in setting up state-of-the-art operations abroad. While there were many difficult discussions along the way, the outcome couldn't be better.

The point here is that while letting our existing employees off easy might seem like the respectful thing to do, it actually reduces the probability of a good fit. Keep the memory of that pit in your stomach and the blind-sided employee in your mind as you have those important, early conversations.

Here are a few things to focus on as you transition and integrate employees:

  • When hiring, interview forcultural fit. This willallow you to reinforce your core values as well as to ensure that the employee is emotionally on board as they climb the ladder.
  • Make your promotion and transition process as rigorous as your hiring process.
  • Understand the unique strengths and weaknesses of your people.
  • Be clear about the skill requirements and key responsibilities and discuss areas for development before the promotion.
  • Continuously monitor goals and the plan for success.

Helping employees find roles for their true talents might be the most rewarding role of leaders. You just have to be brave enough to have the tough conversations to reap the rewards.

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