One of the most important decisions leaders must make on a continuing basis is hiring the right people. How do we define “right” in this context?

Does that mean the smartest people? The hardest-working people? The most flexible people? The most inquisitive people?

Long ago someone explained to me: “It’s not sufficient to merely get the right people on the bus. You have to make sure you have the right people in the right seats on the bus.” That means we must always check to see that there is a match between a particular team member’s aptitudes and skills and what is needed in the job for which the person is being hired or into which he or she is being promoted.

Sometimes that match exists for a certain length of time, but the match dissipates as the requirements of the job evolve.

I was reminded of this lesson several days ago as I was coaching a smart and experienced leader. She admitted to me that she had hired a young woman about a year ago who showed great promise and who possessed a very positive attitude. She was convinced she could help bring her along and gradually mentor her until she could do the job independently and become a true asset to the organization.

Now a year had passed and this teammate had not made the progress the leader had projected. She still found herself spending considerable time reviewing her work, catching errors and making recommendations.

She had put her on a performance plan, as many leaders do when they wish to help a teammate grow in an accountable manner. Unfortunately, she still struggled.

At a recent weekly meeting, this employee confided in the leader that “I know I need to get my act together.” This was an aha moment for the employee but also an aha moment for the leader.

She realized that what she once considered a good hire had, a year later, turned into an unfortunate hire. She was debating what to do. Part of her felt guilty for not helping this teammate out as much as she thought she could. Another part of her was feeling angry – angry at herself for making what was turning out to be a poor hiring decision and angry at this employee for not getting her “act together.”

As leaders, we will never make 100% wise hiring decisions. We make the best decisions we can based on information we collect from applicants, past employers, past colleagues and other references.

When we hire people to join our team, we have to remember several things:

-We are going to make errors in hiring decisions

-We need to acknowledge that a strong work ethic and good intentions are not enough if there is a poor fit between an employee and the position description

-We need to learn from those hiring errors so we can make smarter decisions in the future

-No one benefits when the wrong candidate is hired – our teammates or the employee

-Wishing things will improve without creating a performance plan does not work

-We need to know when to cut the chord and have that tough conversation with an underperforming teammate

-Our team members are always watching and they will respect us for making the tough separation decisions

-Our job as a leader is to train, not teach – new teammates should be able to perform their jobs after a strong training regimen

-After training concludes, we must always follow up with questions to let new teammates know we are invested in their success

-Those questions should promote self-awareness: Instead of saying “You’re doing well,” ask questions like: How do you think you are doing? What are you most interested in learning? How can I best help you grow?

Hiring and firing decisions carry tremendous responsibility. Make these decisions carefully.

Reflect upon your mistakes and learn from them. Share your lessons learned with others with whom you work so they can benefit from your wisdom.

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