Hire the right people for the right assignment | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

“Human development, if not nurtured, eventually leads to frustration and sadness. And those are not performance boosters.” —Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University

I am going to start today with a short true story. Back around spring 1992 I met one morning with a woman who had been recommended by one of our staff members for a position we needed filled.

What impressed me immediately was the energy she put into connecting with me during the conversation. She was not passive in the least, and her mood was enthusiastic. I found myself immediately captivated.

This lady had an energy that I thought would fit in well. I was certain she would blend well with the team we already had in place. The fact that she already knew one member of our small administrative staff was a plus.

Honestly, I was so enthralled by this lady in our conversation that I skipped a lot of the detail background questions and went right to asking what she needed to move from her current employer and join us. I knew that in her current position she was managing a retail operation, so I wanted to make sure our environment and the work we were going to ask her to do was going to be a good fit.

Her current salary was a good deal more than we were planning to pay, but she seemed to have so much more to offer that I felt the additional expense would be a good investment.

I thought we could work it all out and told her I just wanted to meet with our other employees before I made her an offer. I asked her to think it over, as well, and told her I’d call back the following morning.

After she left the office I convened other staff members who had also interviewed her and found they concurred with my view and agreed we should make an offer. So it was settled. We made the offer, she accepted and we prepared to move forward.

That proved to be one of the most significant hiring decisions I made during my 20 years of running the business.

Our new employee proved to be even more beneficial and talented than I had imagined. In the years that followed she became engaged with the primary offerings of our business, asked to be trained to deliver our programs and eventually became the highest billing of all our consultants. She now has her own business, as she grew to a point where we couldn’t offer her the development she was ready for.

As Paul Zak says in the opening quote, if what you are offering people as assignments does not keep pace with their developmental capacities, then you can pretty much count on dissatisfaction setting in.

Rather than that option, I always felt I needed to pay attention, and when people reached the point where their needs were greater than what we could offer, an arrangement would be made to transition them out of our business and set them up in something that worked for them—and us, as it turns out.

So I see now that my story has gone on longer than I had planned. Let me get back to the part I left out.

Shortly after we made this new hire, I found our new employee practicing typing on the computer. Not being sure what to think, I decided to take my office manager aside and ask the question I had.

To my surprise I found that my office manager had assumed that during my interview I had covered the fact that our new employee did not type and had in fact never used a computer, the basic tool of our administrative process! But, my office manager informed me, she was learning and it should not be too long before she was up to full speed.

At the conclusion of the conversation, I asked if our new hire was going to be successful. She said yes, she guaranteed it.

She was, as was I, so taken by our new employee’s attitude and enthusiasm that she knew things would work out. And, as I have already told you, they did and more.

I suppose you also want me to tell you this story was the exception in our hiring practices. Yes and no. More often than not, we hired for attitude and embraced the opportunity to teach the skills needed. No regrets!

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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