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A Painful Hiring Lesson

January 24, 2018

The start-up ABC Indexing Company (a fictitious name) was in search of a business development professional to lead sales growth for their new, advanced data indexing and analytics group. Realizing the importance of filling the position, and having worked in analytics early in her career, the CEO and Owner, Chris, took a special interest in the hiring process. One year earlier, she had hired a top-notch team to create state-of-the-art artificial intelligence products to revolutionize the analytics business. Now, though, the team raced by her with their ability to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. She is highly intelligent but sometimes left AI development meetings feeling like her head was spinning. Half the information discussed flew by her.

Still, Chris had always been a star, outthinking and outpacing her colleagues. She routinely provided a wellspring of creative ideas. Some worked and some didn’t, but the ones that did not succeed were a small number. She made decisions quickly and intuitively often with little information. This would turn out to be a serious issue.

According to Jorge, the company’s Human Resources Director, there were several stellar candidates for the business development position. They were all graduates from top-tier universities -- Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT. Each candidate had experience with traditional analytics. Chris’ growth strategy included the new analytics program as a major income source, and early reviews told Chris ABC Indexing Company had a surefire winner. The new program could revolutionize the analytics market. Chris, who had initially worried she might not find the right candidate, felt her excitement growing.

“Let’s get these people in right away for interviews,” she told Jorge. “We can’t afford to waste any time.”

“I’ll get right on it,” responded Jorge, hearing the urgency in her voice. “I’ll also send a link to the top three candidates to do a DiSC so that we can understand a bit about their behavioral tendencies.”

Still, a small doubt lingered in Chris’ mind. Products this revolutionary require a different mindset on the part of customers -- a change in habit, something she knew the new business development person must overcome. The interview day couldn’t come soon enough.

On the big day, all of the business development candidates came at the same time, packing the day from early to late. Jorge scheduled himself, Chris, and several team leaders from the product analytics group to participate in the process.

The interviewing skills of his colleagues, particularly Chris, left Jorge with a sinking feeling that their skills were insufficient to select the right person. Although she had hired the AI development team, attrition among new hires was dangerously high. Jorge had authored several online interview courses for his colleagues which unfortunately were rarely used. Chris had once joked with Jorge that she had done so many interviews that she “could have written the course myself.” He laughed politely but said nothing. He hoped their hiring luck, beginning with the new business development person, would change.

The Decision

At the end of the day, the hiring team assembled to discuss their recommendations. Chris started off the discussion. “I really liked the guy from Carnegie Mellon. He has the right DiSC profile, too. Call it a gut feeling; I believe he can do the job and help us win the business. He’s our guy!”

For a moment, there was an uncomfortable silence. Jorge looked at Chris, then at the other members of the interview team. Some eyes looked down. Others glanced nervously around the room. It was obvious the team disagreed with Chris’ gut feeling.

Finally, Jorge spoke. “Chris, I think there might be other opinions in the room that you may want to hear.” Chris acknowledged Jorge, then leaned back in her chair, waiting for someone on her team to speak.

A few more uncomfortable moments passed. Finally, Ben, one of the development team members, spoke up. “The Carnegie Mellon candidate, James, who was a business major, has an outgoing personality. But he doesn’t know the detail behind AI. I’m not sure he could help customers understand how to use our product. Our customers ask tough and insightful questions, and I’m afraid we’ll lose all credibility.”

Chris replied, “It’s precisely his outgoing nature that will win customers. He scored as a high influencer on the DiSC which means he can turn people’s minds to make the sales. If he stumbles on any of the AI questions, we can always refer those customers to all of you to dazzle them with your brilliance. The other two candidates want significantly higher salaries. I realize they have a bit more experience and knowledge, but you all can train James.” The group knew that Chris made decisions quickly and intuitively, often with little information. It was clear she had made up her mind. They agreed, uncomfortably. It was time to go home.

Off to a Great Start

The new employee, James, took off from the starting gate like a man on fire. He set up appointment after appointment, exceeding expectations. In Chris’s mind, only time would stand in James’ way. He was doing everything right.

A year passed with only marginal sales increases. Chris was mildly worried, but because the software was sufficiently complex, ABC Indexing Company forecast a sales cycle of six months to one year. They were only at the year’s mark.  She consoled herself with what was slowly becoming a slightly out-of-conscious worry, thinking “We have to give the guy a chance.”

Another six months passed. Sales had still increased only marginally, not the accelerated growth that Chris knew should occur. Chris’ worries deepened. Her investment was failing to pay off. Now they were only six months to a year in front of the competition.

Chris called a meeting with the AI team. “I’m very concerned. What’s going on? Why don't we see the kind of growth in sales that we forecast?”

After a few moments and furtive looks exchanged, Jack, the AI team lead, spoke hesitantly. “Potential customers are asking very tough questions. I have friends in the industry. They are smart people who understand the analytics business. James just doesn’t have the experience and knowledge he needs to keep up with our customers. He can’t answer questions. Even when we accompany him on sales calls, he steps on his tail. I admit he feels driven to succeed and has made a lot of great appointments. I’m afraid these appointments have been wasted, however, because James doesn’t have what it takes to bring the business past the finish line.”

Chris’ face reddened. Then a puzzled look replaced the flush.  “Why haven’t you taught him what he needs to know?” she asked.

“We have,” explained Jack. “Over and over again. We’ve spent hours. He just isn’t smart enough to understand.”

Chris straightened up and with a worried look, asked, “Why didn’t you tell me he was failing?”

“Chris, we could tell you were passionate about this candidate, and your intuition is usually spot on. We thought maybe we were missing something,” admitted Jack.

With resolution in her voice, Chris said, “I guess it’s time to move on.”

Through coaching services, an organization like ABC Indexing Company is able to enhance its leadership team, increase their effectiveness, and raise employees’ capabilities. If you’d like to learn more about how the Center for Expert Performance can help your organization, please contact us.