I wear a surprising number of hats in my life these days, but perhaps none of them are as ill fitting as the boss hat. It’s not that I don’t like being in charge, I have logged enough hours in the self-discovery testing environment to know that I like things my way. It’s not that I don’t have a clear sense of what I want my team to accomplish, one of my main jobs is to share a vision of where we are headed and lead our team in getting there. In a slightly unhealthy way I like being referred to as the boss, it puffs me up and makes me feel a bit self important, certainly this is part of the problem. The major struggle with being the boss though is deciding who gets to join, and who needs to leave the team. The stakes are high, and having the right people on the team is vital to success. Having the wrong people on the team can be even worse, creating a toxic environment that can undo the whole thing.Hiring and Firing has caused me more difficulty than any other task that I have as a boss.
The first time that I was charged with leading a team I had no experience doing so. To be sure, I got lucky. I inherited a team of high capacity people who all got along well, all shared the vision and goals of where we were going, and all knew how to operate in their area of responsibility. Shortly after being tapped to lead this team I got to make my first hire. One of the team members was moved to another department (the main reason that I was hired) and I got to bring in a new person. I got lucky, again. The guy that I hired was the only person that I interviewed, he had actually interviewed for the job that I had received, he had been passed on in favor of me. In spite of this, he turned out to be perfect for our team. He was made for the job that we asked him to take. He was also the perfect mix of humility and competence and held no ill will whatsoever for not having my job, the best thing about this hire though was that we became good friends. There was an instant chemistry match to our team.
Unfortunately this special team that I got to lead didn’t last very long. We were one team amid a much larger organization, and in large part due to some poor hiring and accountability issues the organization fell on hard times. Many of us were forced to look elsewhere for employment, the fallout was substantial. As is often the case in ministry work changing jobs means changing cities, and our team was scattered to the winds. I was more than a little bit angry about how all of this unfolded, and it has taken considerable distance and time for me to be able to evaluate what exactly happened. I am convinced looking back that much of what went wrong had to do with hiring and firing the wrong people. As a leader that is not a mistake that I’d like to repeat.
I’ve heard all of the rules about hiring. I’ve read the articles and consulted the experts. It seems to me that there are some good guidelines, maybe none more helpful than the 3 C’s, Character, Chemistry, and Competence. What I think is often understated in this process is the order in which to consider these traits. I’ll attempt to share some insights here about hiring wins and losses that I’ve experienced, and some red flags to watch for and avoid.
*A few caveats to consider at the beginning of the process; the most frustrating and helpful advice is to hire slow. Finding the right person is always worth the wait. The heartache you will save in the long run is well worth the difficulty of being patient. There is a very real temptation to fill an empty spot because there is stuff to get done, and if you are as prone to instant gratification as I am waiting will prove difficult.
Character first, period. You should NEVER hire someone who doesn’t display solid character. I didn’t say that you can only hire perfect people, they don’t exist, but you must look for someone who strives to be have integrity in all they do. Someone who has a solid work ethic and follows through on commitments. You also want someone who displays humility and a teachable spirit. It doesn’t matter if they have impeccable morality, but are so legalistic about it they make everyone around them fell judged and condescended to. This is not character, it is false pride masquerading as piety. It also doesn’t matter if you love hanging out with this person or if they are the best at the job you need to fill, if they don’t pass the character test, you must move on. A major mistake that I have oft seen repeated is someone hiring their friend in spite of their reservations about their character, only to see the whole thing end in disaster, and often the friendship is over too. You cannot overestimate the importance of character.
Character Red Flag: The potential candidate has 5 beers during your after-interview dinner and makes inappropriate comments to the waitress. (These are obviously exaggerations, although if this occurs you definitely should not hire that person.)
Chemistry next. This is where getting these steps in order is often overlooked, and I think that is a huge mistake. My basic argument is this; competence can be acquired, character and chemistry are largely there or not. It may seem childish on it’s face to hire based on whether or not you get along with someone, but you have to be honest when answering a few questions. Can I see myself spending lots of time with this person? Will I look forward to hearing their stories from the weekend? Would I like to do non-work stuff with them? Do I like their family and would I bring them around my family? Do we have similar interests?
It’s not that you want a homogenous staff team, certainly there will be differences, but you don’t want to create unnecessary drama either. We can all relate to the experience of pulling into work and seeing that one car in the lot that makes us dread heading inside. If you have ever had difficulty with someone at work you know how this goes. Whenever there is a major task to be accomplished wouldn’t you rather work with someone who you like, than someone you would prefer to avoid? A toxic relationship can poison even the best of work environments.
Chemistry Red Flag: The potential candidate’s email address is email@example.com and they have season tickets to NASCAR.
Competence last. Clearly it is important for the potential candidate to have some of the skills necessary to do the job for which they are interviewing, but if we are honest, all most every job is best learned by actually doing the job. It stands to reason that competence will increase with experience. This is almost certainly the case when hiring someone who has just graduated from school. How competent can they be if they have never had the job you are hiring them for? I think many churches over value the competence factor, and move it near the top of the list, choosing to hire the “rock star” of the position that needs to be filled and ignoring some major red flags in the other two areas. It doesn’t matter if the person you are hiring is God’s gift to the task, if no one wants to work with them, or if they are only successful because the cut corners and have lousy ethics. Instead of looking for specific skills or accolades, look for the general qualities that are required in a position. Rock stars generally don’t get the “team thing,” choosing often to operate in a silo of their expertise. It is possible to be really good at your job, and also understand your part in the bigger picture. It is also possible to get rock-star-quality out of regular folks who are properly supported and equipped.
Competence Red Flag: The potential candidate sends along a rider describing their ideal office setting and threatens to walk if they see even one green M&M.
Some general tips that I have found helpful:
1. Trust your gut. If you get a weird feeling you should pay attention to that.
2. Hire slow, fire fast. If someone is in the wrong space, cut ties and move them along as soon as possible.
3. Get creative with the interview process. I once invited a candidate along on a trip we were taking with our staff to see how the interacted with the team, and to see if we liked him. The trip was to Las Vegas, this helped a bit.
4. Include other people in the process. Whether you use some sort of assessment tool or not, make sure to follow up with references and actually listen to what they have to say. (You’d be amazed how many churches don’t check references)
5. Remember that before you were the boss you were an employee, try to put yourselves in the shoes of the potential candidate.
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