In 1987, during my first few months as a fledgling executive, my new boss asked (no, ordered) me to read the book “The Peter Principle”, by Laurence J. Peter, and report back to him the next day about what I learned. Aiming to please, I dutifully purchased it that evening and read it into the wee hours. It was enlightening to read about the famous quote “Everyone rises to their level of incompetence”.
As I recited that back to my boss he looked at me sternly and said, “now young man, you’ll remember that, won’t you?” I had just received one of the best lessons I’d ever get as a leader, and better still, I got it early in my career. So that meant I would never make a hiring mistake, right?
Wrong. I made them anyway, and several times to boot.
Why? Because of something called hubris, an affliction that seems to lurk around nearly every leadership corner, mixed in with a fear of failure.
Especially when it comes to hiring. You get to a point where you believe your skills are so sharp, and so good, that you can actually overcome the Peter Principle, and change a person into something they are clearly not.
I succumbed to this thinking, and even compounded the error by hanging on too long with some hires and not cutting my losses – again, thinking I could “fix” the person, and avoid an embarrassing failure. Now 23 years on from that all-important 1st lesson I have realized something else – right hiring decisions go beyond core competencies. The personality profile also has to match. Because ultimately, that is what you really cannot change.
Consequently, in my candidate evaluations I now spend a lot more time on those “intangible” aspects of leadership – the soft skills that are not apparent by simply reading a resume and asking what used to be thought of as “probing” interview questions (i.e. those “where do you see yourself in 5 years” types of queries).
I’ve also found that it’s worth the effort and expense to invest in a good personality profile test. I like the Predictive Index – I knew it was a good tool when someone I had never met before described me to a “T” by simply interpreting the results of a PI test I had taken in 10 minutes the night before.
Lastly, if despite all these expanded interviews and tests we still make a bad hire, it is important to recognize it early and not compound the problem- we have to admit we erred, and move on.
Mr. Peter was right – you cannot put square pegs into round holes. Leaders are not genetic engineers, nor should they be. We can’t change personalities that were locked in long before they arrived at the interview. The sooner you come to that realization, and consequently expand your recruiting focus and approach, the better hires you will make.