Understanding team dynamics before hiring

While interviewing Mark Kurtz for a programming position, Debra Tobin, the head of HR had a smile on her face. The moment that she saw Mark’s resume, she knew that Mark was the high potential talent that Johnson & Company had been searching for to solidify the team. Mark was a recent Stanford graduate with a long list of impressive projects, including working with Oracle on a special integration project with the Malaysian government. Two days after the interview, Mark received an offer letter, and he started work the following week. One month later Mark handed in his resignation.

During his one month at Johnson & Company, Mark reported to Liam Watts, who was the CTO. Liam was very different from Mark, he grew up in Brooklyn, barely made it through college, and worked his way up into the management position over the last 16 years. Liam was risk averse, and his strategies were conservative.

As you might have guessed already, Mark’s short lived career at Johnson & Company was due to a clash of personalities and philosophies. That said, the biggest loser was Johnson & Company who is now in search of a replacement. The wrong hire cost the company a total of 53 hours ($60/hr - the interviewers' time) in interview time to fill the position, 12 hours ($45/hr - the line managers' time) in orientation time, $2,500 in relocation cost, and $12,000 in compensation expenses. This brings the total to approximately $18,220.

A repeat of this expensive experience can be avoided by analyzing the recent mishap. The key component to understand during hiring is that Johnson & Company is reliant on Liam’s ability to deliver effectively. Mark was overly ambitious in the eyes of Liam, and did not respect Liam’s authority and tenure and hence decided to move.

Before making the next hire, Debra and her HR department should take team dynamics into account. Liam, the leader of the pack, needs to be provided talent whose personality will complement Liam’s personality, or else productivity will become a victim of egos and emotions.

Further investigation into Liam’s personality indicates that he is a perfectionist, overprotective toward his work, and skeptical to any radical approach. Liam’s tenure gives credence to his long term vision for his division, however his personality also runs the risk of overlooking an alternative strategy.

The personality type that would work best with Liam is someone who has:
1. Commitment towards work
2. Outstanding research skills
3. Excellent monitoring capabilities
4. Social perceptiveness

Let us investigate how these traits would play into team dynamics and enhance productivity:
1. Having commitment towards work will put the new hire in line with Liam perfectionist work ethic.
2. Having outstanding research skills will position the new hire to stay abreast to changing trends and educate Liam.
3. Having a monitoring personality will allow the new hire to pick up on any problem areas in the current vision point them out to Liam
4. Having social perceptive behavior will allow the new hire to approach a situation effectively, thereby adding value to Liam’s decision making ability.

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Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on August 26, 2009 at 2:00pm
Um, if Liam did a better job during the interview process AND Mark did his due diligence as the candidate, I'd bet he would have never taken the job in the first place. Hiring someone like ourselves is NOT a very good suggestion. Differences and the ability to work with different styles and as a manager then guide your team appropriately is the success factor, not hiring within your personality range!

It appears that Johnson & Company has a lot of work to do in and around the recruiting process, training those involved in the interview process HOW to interview and assess and provide deep and meaningful feedback, and they also need coaching & training for people like Liam who obviously have interpersonal skill issues and at the end of the day no matter how valuable he is to the company, is he really? I'd bet not!
Comment by Saleem Qureshi on August 26, 2009 at 4:20pm
Peter you are right, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to fix things at Johnson & Company. But not all companies are receptive to change. So the way the we (HireLabs) work with our clients is that we suggest 'change' that is 'digestible'.

Liam may need a lesson in intrapersonal skills, but what is the likelihood of a C level exec, who knows the company inside out, to be open to criticism about his personality, especially if he has been a part of building the company for 16 years. If one would look at the status quo, it would not be realistically to change the behavior and personality of the management, or replace the CTO. Furthermore it would not be realistic to bring immediate change to the hiring process - it would ideal, but it would just not be practical. I am sure that you would agree that the change is a slow process. Having said this, one way to increase productivity is to adjust the hiring strategy.

In this case the suggested hiring strategy is not to bring in a clone of Liam, rather, bring in someone who "has Liam’s back"... like a Watson to Sherlock. Liam has been delivering thus far, so he needs to be provided the relevant resources to continue delivering.

Mark turned out to be Liam's headache, and Liam was Mark's obstacle to growth. Unfortunately a lot of this cannot be picked up in an interview until and unless a proper behavioral and skill assessment is conducted - thats where we come, but unfortunately, we are usually brought in after the storm.

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