A Leadership Horror Story

Every Saturday usually begins the same way for me. I get up, head to Starbucks and have a cup of coffee while reviewing the past week’s results and the next week’s goals. Debriefing the week and reflecting upon what changes I need to make is highly productive time for me. However, my regular routine this last Saturday was disrupted by a horrifying scenario playing out before me.

Leadership and TerminationTHE SCENARIO: “Good morning, you’re fired!”

I noticed a woman across from me that seemed to be waiting for someone, but otherwise enjoying her morning. Ten minutes later, the man wearing a tie arrives and motions for her to join him at a table rather than the more comfortable chairs in which she was already sitting. In an instant, I saw from his demeanor that something wasn’t right. I sensed a mismatch between her expectations and his actions.

With no coffee order of his own (Clue #1), he sat down across the table from this woman and spoke in a low voice (Clue #2), all the while averting eye contact with her (Clue #3). His questions were seemingly aimed at the table, since that was where he was looking. She gave explanations for each of the things he asked about. Explanations wouldn’t matter. His position was resolute. The outcome was predetermined. Her employment had just ended right in front of me at 7:43 am.

She did her best to hold it together in such a public setting, although a few defiant tears refused to be held captive. That first tear must have been the leader, because it led a number of others right down the side of her cheeks. She was completely caught off guard. Apart from her coffee, she had nothing to dab her eyes with. He continued to speak to the table to tell her no need to come back to work on Monday.

She was devastated. I was nauseated from the recklessness and thoughtlessness of this leader’s actions.

He grabbed his backpack and left without speaking another word. His job was done. It was at this point that I was able to articulate in my own mind my observations of his demeanor when he walked in. I concluded that what bothered him was not how the news would affect this woman. He appeared to be bothered more by how it affected his weekend.

As leaders, what can we learn from this example?

DEBRIEF: Lessons for Leaders Delivering Difficult Messages

  • Be Predictable. Staff members should never be surprised when it comes to their performance. Provide consistent feedback. Care enough to share.
  • Be Discrete. The old adage to ‘Praise in public and correct in private’ is good advice. With corrective actions or terminations, choose the location wisely as the discussion should never be on display for outsiders to observe.
  • Be Present. Regardless of circumstances, when having a conversation, be completely present and engaged in the conversation. Staff should expect that from leaders.
  • Be Professional. No matter how difficult the message is for you to deliver, it is worse for the person receiving the news. Don’t portray yourself as the victim.
  • Be Honoring. Treat people with dignity and look them squarely in the eyes when communicating. Averting eye contact is dishonoring and suggests there is something in which to be ashamed (e.g., Surprising a person with a termination for performance).
  • Be Thoughtful. When delivering any message that may evoke emotion, be thoughtful by being prepared. Have tissues on hand. You may also consider having your discussion in a different meeting room to avoid parading your upset staff member in front of their peers after the discussion.
  • Be Careful. Most of us are not immune to having our own leader, CEO, board members, etc. approach us with a difficult message. Therefore, remember the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated.

Terminations and disciplinary actions happen for legitimate reasons. They can…and should always be…constructive in nature, never destructive. Practicing these characteristics in our daily demonstrations of Leadership can help to ensure we are constructive in our approach. Let’s all make sure we avoid creating this destructive horror for others.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Can you guarantee your next hire is an ‘A’ player?

Hiring A-PlayersYour down a person and need to ensure you bring in a top-notch person to replace your exiting staff member. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing absolute certainty, what is your confidence level that your next hire will be an ‘A’ player? Have a number in mind? Good, what is it?

After asking this question of hiring managers for years, the responses I hear most often usually come in one of two forms:

  • They respond by saying, “It depends on the hiring pool…position…economy…time of year, etc.,” or
  • They provide a number between 6 and 9

To be candid, I only see an answer of ‘1’ or ’10’ as being acceptable, not a number in between, as I don’t subscribe to varying levels of confidence. You are either confident or you’re not.

Nevertheless, I have continued to ask the question intentionally in scale form because the answers serve as good indicators on how a person sees their role in the process. What I have found is that answering in either of the two aforementioned ways can suggest that they are unintentionally relegating themselves to a victim of circumstance in the hiring process.

So back to the question, what was your gut response to your confidence level? If less than 10, do you understand what created that seed of doubt? Perhaps it’s a history of mixed results in your hiring. If that’s the case, it is certainly understandable. Consider the results of two significant studies that had been conducted on success rates in hiring.

One study by John Hunter, Ph.D., at Michigan State University, showed that the interview is only 14% accurate in predicting a successful hire. Another study conducted by Harvard University concludes that nearly 80% of turnover is due to mistakes made in hiring.

With the odds against you, it stands to reason that to beat the odds, we need to be intentional in how we go about the process of creating repeatable successes in the hiring process.

To be clear, there is a lot that goes into excellent hiring, and I do not intend to cover all facets. Instead, I want to provide one specific area that can give you a quick start to immediately beating the odds.

The Problem…

Following are the three areas I most commonly see at the root of the problem:

  1. You don’t have interview questions prepared in advance for the position to be filled
  2. You have questions prepared, but they are not tied into the business processes that lead to excellent results
  3. You have questions and they are tied to your processes, but you don’t have specific responses that you are looking for

Further Diagnosis…

  1. No prepared questions in advance. This can suggest more of an ad hoc hiring process and approach and can leave hiring the right candidate to the luck of the draw. For people at this stage, you are likely to find that there is a lot of pressure and stress on you as you are not only scrambling to find a replacement for the exiting staff member, but you have a lot of administrative responsibilities added in addition to opening a job requisition, recruiting, screening, thinking up ‘good interview questions,’ etc.
  2. Questions not tied to known business processes.For the person in this second category, this most typically describes the hiring manager who has taken the time to prepare questions in advance. The problem that arises in this category is that while the questions are prepared in advance, they often times are developed with the filter of whatever the exiting person’s inadequacies were. For example, if the person that exited your organization was weak in reporting, the new interview questions will tend to be aimed at screening for reporting. This can distract from the larger issue of whether ‘reporting’ is central to the success of the role or a secondary issue. Another trait for this category is that questions are often crafted from the hiring manager’s perspective of what “good interview questions” are. You may like to ask, “What books have you read lately?” This may be interesting to know, but how does it tie to known processes that you are screening for to get the results you are after?
  3. Questions without answers. In this third category, this describes the person that has prepared questions in advance and has even drafted them in such a way that carefully asks about skills in areas known to contribute directly to the results you seek. So where is the problem? The most common problem I see for hiring managers in this area is that while they have specific questions they want to ask, they don’t have specific responses they are looking for. What ends up happening in an interview is a carefully scripted question gets asked of the candidate, and without knowing what a great response would be in advance, all you can do is decide based on a gut feel, if you like their answer and the way they answered. The problem with that is too often style trumps substance, since there was no sense of what the best answer should have been.

The Solution…

As you may have guessed, the answer to producing more intentional, repeatable hiring successes is to do the following:

  • Write down the business processes for the position that, when consistently followed, lead to excellent results
  • Identify the specific skills necessary for the position that map directly to the business processes
  • Develop situations or at a minimum, situational questions (e.g., “Tell about a specific time when…”) that provide you with direct demonstrations of the candidate’s level of competency in the skills you seek
  • Finally, predetermine what good responses would be to the questions asked, so you recognize a successful response when it comes

A final word of encouragement…While the process described above is simple, it is not easy to just whip this out if none of this has been identified. My encouragement is to invest the time now before it’s time to hire. Doing this process simultaneous with trying to rehire for a position is really tough. Perhaps that is the situation for some of you. Be diligent. Most opt out and just stick with the status quo of how they have always screened, interviewed and hired. I have seen this prove costly time and time again for many, highly competent leaders that didn’t invest the time up front to fortify their team with ‘A’ players.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.