Your People Are Your Success - Choose Wisely

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Your organization is unique and so are the job requirements for each position. Most job descriptions end up being relatively generic and lack the very important, specific qualifications a person must have to be successful in that organization. I call these specific qualifications “unique success requirements”. Combined these make up a position’s “Unique Success Profile”.

I begin by asking the big question…what is specifically required here, right now, at this stage of our development, in this role, working for our individual leaders, etc… to be viewed as successful? These requirements are not just the job description, the job specification, nor abstract behavior or personality traits. Let's be honest, it takes hard and disciplined thinking outside your conventional wisdom to come up with these requirements. Once you have these practical requirements, the next step is to rate them (on a scale from 1-5, 1 being desired and 5 being completely mandatory) based on their how critically important they are. The applicants then get rated against these requirements and you’ll be able to see how they line up against the profile.

One CFO that I worked with several years ago was looking for a Director of Financial Planning and Analysis and asked for my help in finding the right fit. It was more urgent than usual because the previous two incumbents had been terminated. I started by asking him what the unique requirements were for this particular position that wouldn’t normally show up in a job description. He thought for a moment and then began to tell me about his 100 person Board of Directors who were all heavily involved. So involved, in fact, that the Finance department would get about 15-20 calls per day from Board members. The CFO usually handled these calls, but he was going to be spending half his time away from the office over the next year renegotiating bonds. He thought it critical that the new hire have the capability and good judgment to answer Board questions and give enough information to please Board members without giving away too much or saying the wrong thing. Upon reflection, he also thought that this issue was very heavily involved with the lack of success of the previous incumbents. The CFO then interviewed for that specific quality and found someone who had had experience and skills to deal with a very involved Board.

Unique success profiles are a great instrument not only for hiring, but for making sure you currently have the right people in the right positions. Sometimes we become enamored by people for the wrong reasons. We think they are superstars at some things, but when it comes down to it, those aren’t the things that are most important for that position. When lined up with the unique success profile, people can fall short of the most critical success criteria. Sometimes it is necessary to take a closer look every so often to make sure you have your people in the right place with the best chance of success.

I worked with a large hospital that was going through a merger integration following the acquisition of a major competitor. One of the unfortunate consequences of this combination was that there were 150 current managers for the 75 new leadership positions in the merged company. I suggested and they agreed that they were going to have to conduct interviews for all of them. 75 people were going to have to leave the organization. The senior executives used careful thought in creating the USPs for each position. They then let all applicants know ahead of time what the criteria were and that they would be interviewed for each of the unique success requirements. At the end of the hiring process several people who didn’t get the job they had interviewed for said that it was the fairest process they had ever been through. The Board chairman looked through the USP book and said that the process was unassailable. No lawsuits were brought against the organization.

Consider how different their experience was from conventional practice. Usually the managers of the acquiring organization are the ‘winners’ and the managers of the acquired organization are the ‘losers’. Usually selections are made based on comfort and relationship rather than necessary skills against a well thought out requirements list. Usually it is every man for himself rather than a process that put the good of the organization first and treated each candidate as fairly and as honestly as possible. In the end everyone agreed they had done the right things the right way for the right reasons. Most importantly, the process almost ensured that the participants would accept the outcome.

The value of this approach and tool are in direct proportion to the quality of the USP and your willingness and discipline to apply it. Considering how challenging it can be to remove a person from their job for being the wrong fit, it is worth putting in the time beforehand to make sure that your organization and your people have the highest probability of success.

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