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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Biggest Mistake Employers Make When Filling a Top Job

Job Opening: Looking for an Executive Director. Must have minimum of 5 years top management experience. Prefer candidate be aprox. 5’7” 155 lbs. with dark red hair and a deep, throaty laugh. Send resume to: Blah, blah, blah.

Would anyone really place an ad like this in the Jobs Section? No. But they might just as well, because subconsciously that’s what they want.

There’s a mistake made by employers nearly 100% of the time when looking for a new hire. They seldom think of themselves as hiring a new employee. Instead, they seek to “replace” the old employee with a clone. They do this because:

1. That’s the way we’ve always done it (official company motto: “Live and Don’t Learn.”)

2. It’s easier that way.

3. If things go badly, the responsibility is easily diffused.

But I disagree with this philosophy. (You knew that I would.) And here’s my rationale: When an employee leaves, for whatever reason, if the employer just thinks in terms of replacing that employee they deprive themselves of an chance to wipe the state clean and begin anew. Perhaps, 12 years ago, when that position was first created, there was an excellent job description written. In fact, I’ll bet that they are still working from an updated version of that same job description to this day! Maybe that’s swell. I doubt it.

Nonprofits are particularly bad about this, by the way. Small staffs and volunteer board members who can’t afford to “waste their valuable time” tend to think in terms of the immediate problem rather than the big picture.

We all know the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. During this current lousy economy, everybody has to start thinking outside the box. What worked in 2007 probably won’t work in 2010. When a person leaves, it creates a remarkable opportunity to re-think the job with something that is more appropriate with the changing world of doing business.

By the way, this same axiom is true with Board members as well. There are a startling array of lousy practices that are used when replacing an exiting board member. But one of the worst (and most popular) among female-heavy boards is to let the person who is leaving nominate her friend or co-worker to replace her slot. That would work well if this were a sewing circle, but with a Board of Directors, not so much. Men do this to some extent, too, but with men the nominee is more likely to be someone that the outgoing member has worked with on another board. Men are more incestuous; women more friend-driven.

Frankly, ladies, it’s just this sort of thing that is holding us back in business. A Board of Directors isn’t about “friends.” It’s about who can do the job. A vacancy on the board is an opportunity to look at where the organization is at that moment and define what is required to take it where it needs to go. If an organization is having governance problems, then maybe a strong HR person is needed. If funding is the overriding issue, then the board needs to understand that each member has a responsibility to give or raise a certain amount each year. (This is a very common procedure in nonprofit boards.) If the organization is having branding and image difficulties, then you need to pack the board with high profile, heavy-hitters to create credibility within the community.

Whether it is an employee or a board member, the company must have a really clear picture of what it needs today, as opposed to what was needed three years ago; because the likelihood of them being the same is very low. And what better opportunity to reassess that situation than when an opening occurs.

Now where did I put that dark red hair dye?