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“I am Tired of Firing My Employees!”: The Single Most Important Reason Why Employees Don’t Work Out

When I looked at the caller ID on the ringing phone, I knew it was something important. It was from a client who almost never called. Outside of our weekly coaching sessions, she preferred emails and texts. I checked my watch: 20 minutes before my next meeting. “I can do this,” I thought, and answered the call. 

She plunged right into it. “Do you realize how many employees I have fired in my career?” she asked. I admitted that I didn’t have a clue. “16,” she said. “I would not admit this to anyone for the fear that they might think I am cold and heartless. I am not. Each and every time I had to let someone go, it was very, very painful.” 

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“You know what?” she said, with a tone of finality in her voice, “I am done. I am done with having to let people go. Isn’t there a way to stop this madness?”

It’s not unusual, I assured her. Many, if not most, presidents of growing and mid-size businesses face this challenge. They know that they have to let some people go. But they also find it agonizingly painful, not just because it’s an unpleasant experience at a personal level, but also because letting people go often carries a significant amount of risk to their businesses.


There Once Lived a Consultant…

One of the great American success stories was a Japanese success story - at first. 

There once lived a consultant named Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming proposed a very simple idea to the American manufacturers: The majority of defects in a finished product could be traced back to the beginning phases of its development. During the customer’s requirements clarification, for example. So the idea of factories making their products first and testing them later was flawed. The better thing to do, according to Dr. Deming, was to make sure that the defects don’t get introduced in the products in the first place.

It was a simple idea. The health-care industry had talked about it for centuries. Preventing a disease is much more effective than having the disease and treating it later. Nothing new there. 

But Dr. Deming’s idea appeared quite revolutionary to the American manufacturing industry. So revolutionary, in fact, that the American manufacturing industry did to Dr. Deming the only thing that’s worse than ridiculing him: They ignored him. 

Dr. Deming took his ideas of quality assurance to Japan where they were enthusiastically accepted. These ideas brought about a revolution in Japanese manufacturing. Japanese products became synonymous with quality. Honda motorcycles, reputed for dripping oil onto the showroom floors, slowly morphed into some of the best-selling-ever Japanese cars in the American market. Their electronic gadgets ruled the world markets for decades. Their “quality culture” became a benchmark for the rest of the world to aspire to. Ultimately, a tiny nation with an acute shortage of land and natural resources cemented its status on the world stage as one of the top economic superpowers. 

Dr. Deming was invited back to the American factories with the respect and adoration he deserved. Till his last days, into his 90’s, he imparted his wisdom to those who were willing to listen and ultimately helped bring about a “Quality Revolution” in American manufacturing.


What Would Dr. Deming Do?: The Statistical Science of Proactive Hiring

Over the course of my career, as I have worked with over a hundred businesses in helping them hire the right employees, one thing has gradually became quite clear to me: Dr. Deming’s ideas about quality manufacturing apply equally well to the hiring processes used by most businesses. 

The corollary of Dr. Deming’s basic idea, when applied to the hiring process, is this: Most of our employee problems could be traced back to the time we hired them. 

In other words, most of our employee problems stem from the fact that we had hired the wrong employee in the first place.

So why is it that we hire wrong employees in the first place?


To Be/Do/Have or Not to Be/Do/Have?

The single most important reason why we end up hiring wrong employees is this: We pay too much attention to “Do” and “Have” and little attention to “Be.” 

Let me explain. 

You can see a person in a job from three angles: 1) What that person has (Have), 2) What that person does (Do), and 3) what that person is (Be).

Most hiring practices revolve around the candidates’ experience, skills and educational accomplishments (Have) and what they are expected to carry out on a day-to-day basis (Do). But seldom do we look at what the candidate is naturally inclined to do: their talents, gifts and tendencies. In other words, what they are “hard-wired” to do. 

For the reasons unknown, it’s a bit of a touchy subject for many business owners I talk to. 

They would accept that if they were coaching a tennis team, they would not dare hire a tennis player who is not gifted in playing tennis. 

If they were putting together a musical production, they would not work with a singer who can’t carry a tune or a dancer who can’t move with the rhythm.

If they were a professional basketball coach, they would not bet their coaching career on a basketball player who can’t dribble the ball, much less get it through the hoop.

If they were conducting an orchestra, they would not work with a violinist who breaks out in hives when she sees a violin.
But they will happily pay big bucks to someone who looks good on the resume without having a clue as to whether they are a natural fit for the job they will be doing day in and day out. 


Why We Don’t See People’s Hard-wired-ness

A part of the reason why we don’t look at “Be” when we hire people is because we really have no training in doing it - or in doing it well. Except for a gifted few who seem to have the knack for always hiring the right talent, most of us really don’t know how to look for people’s hard-wired-ness for a given job.

The whole industry of personality tests was created for this specific reason: To help managers identify people’s inherent tendencies. But turns out that, in and of themselves, most personality tests are not any real help in choosing people.

The biggest problem with personality tests is that they are computerized tests that pretend to take away human intelligence from the process of choosing the right employee. 

But, ultimately, the best judgment is made not by computers but by people. 

A better way to use personality tests is to get to the most basic of the fundamentals of personality testing and use those fundamentals in helping us make the right hiring decisions.


Back to the Basics of “Be”

The easiest way to include the “Be” in a job description is to go to the very basics of the modern “personality testing” but remove all the fluff. The ancient knowledge that started out with the Chinese system of I-Ching provided three basic scales of human tendencies. These three scales form the basis of most of the modern personality assessments such as DISC, Myers-Briggs and Enneagram.

These three scales define how we interact with our world and make decisions and judgments about life and living. 

These three basic scales are: 

1) Intuitive vs Sensing

On one end of this spectrum are people who view the world from their “internal compass,” sometimes referred to as intuition. On the other end of the spectrum are those who interact with the world around them through their five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Intuitive people seem confident and self-assured. Sensing people often are analytical and reflective.

2) Thinking vs Feeling 

On one end of the spectrum are those who think through life. They seem preoccupied with things, objects, data and other such “dead” things. (No wonder they often seem “cold” to the other extreme of the spectrum.) On the other extreme are those whose world is made of feelings. They seem preoccupied with people, feelings and relationships.  

3) Introvert vs Extrovert

Introverts are those who find their life energy through their own internal resource. They don’t need an external source of energy to move through life. In fact, they often perceive their internal source of energy as a finite quantity and protect it from others. That’s why, they seem internally tuned and, in extreme cases, aloof and dismissive. Extroverts are those who seek energy from external sources, both from other people and other things. They are more expressive and up-front with others than introverts. 


A Simple Template for a “Be”-centered Job Description

With that as a background, the rest becomes simple. Think of a position you are trying to fill in your organization and answer the following questions as best as you can:

1) Does this position require more of an intuitive person or a sensing person? 

2) Does this position mostly require the person to behave based on their feelings or their thoughts?

3) Does this position require the person to be able to energize more through their interaction with other people or by being to themselves?

As you answer these questions, you will begin to get some clarity about what kind of person will most likely succeed in the position. 

You can include these qualities in your job description, describing them in everyday words and make that description a part of the job posting. You can also develop your interview process around a series of questions to “test” the candidates on whether they have these qualities. One of the best things you can do is give these questions to each of the interviewers who will interview the candidate. After each interview, you can get together and compare your notes on whether these qualities exist in the candidate.

Once you develop the basic skills to look for hard-wired-ness in candidates and employees, you can build on them and develop finer skills and observations. As you become more confident in thinking in these terms, personality tests take on a whole new meaning. Now they are a tool to help you make the decisions, not making the decisions for you.

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Copyright 2014 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.
Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.

How to Fail at Assessing People

Assessment tools that help us assess our people’s strengths and weaknesses can be helpful. They help us gain valuable insights about the people we lead, work with and report to. Such insights can lead to better relationships, higher productivity and happier workplace. But when they are not used properly, they can lead to misunderstanding, frayed relationships and a demoralizing work environment.

In 15 years of working with businesses, I have witnessed many assessment initiatives, many of them quite successful but quite a few of them that were not so successful. The good news is that it’s not too difficult to spot, right at the beginning, which ones would succeed at getting the desired results, and which ones would fail.  Following are some ways in which assessment initiatives fail with some ideas on how to correct them.

1) Address only one or two of the human dimensions.

Human beings are fascinating creatures. They have many facets. One could argue that they have infinite number of facets. I believe that people are impossible to “figure out” with computer based tools. And yet, I also believe that such tools can be enormously helpful in effectively working with them.

As far as assessments are concerned, human development consists of three phases: 1) Nature, 2) Nurture and 3) Applied.

The Nature dimension addresses those traits that we are born with or genetically predisposed to at birth. The Nurture dimension addresses traits that are a result of our social and parental conditioning, most of which happens after birth through our formative years. The Applied dimension is what’s consciously developed by a person on her own volition.

Most assessments address only one of these three primary dimensions and do not tell a full story. In my observation, most assessments in the marketplace address only the first and the third dimensions, Nature and Applied, largely ignoring the second dimension, Nurture, which has tremendous impact on the behaviors of a person. Such fragmented assessments lead to improper labeling, poor judgements and incorrect use of people’s skills, gifts and talents.

Awayre’s assessment tools cover the full gamut of these three phases of human development. That way, you are assured that you are not using fragmented, incomplete or one- or two-dimensional data in assessing your people. Visit us at http://www.awayre.com for more information.


Training Does Not Work

This is my compilation of 11 of the most severe mistakes businesses make in training their people. 

4. Training is Conducted to Fix Hiring Mistakes

We hire someone because she looks great on the resume and interviews well. But later, we find out that she is not what she seemed to be. We thought we were hiring a star, but we got a dud!

And here’s the mistake we often make: we decide to give her some training to “fix” her weaknesses and turn her into a star that we thought she was. 

In most cases, I would guarantee that you will be disappointed with the results of such training. You see, there are things that often do not show on the resume or in the interview: talent, behavioral traits, emotional predisposition, intellectual leanings and other intangible qualities. A few of these things could be “trained into” people; for the most part it can’t be done. These traits already need to be there, for the given situation, position and job function. 

If a coach is looking for a great tennis player, he would first find someone with a raw talent first and then give her coaching and training. Imagine trying to train someone with no natural talent at playing tennis. That’s what we do when we send the wrong hire to the training program.
And sometimes we make the same mistake with people who have been with us for a while but need to perform better than they have been performing. Which brings me to…

5. Wrong Training is Delivered to Wrong Peopl

Before investing in training, we need to make sure that we have the right people in the right slots, doing the right things. Once that’s in place, giving them appropriate training could take them from mediocre performance to great performance.

There are also those that have become comfortable in their roles and are at a point where they are not willing to change. In such cases, “management mandate” can overcome the lack of will to show up at the training class but won’t convert a non-learner into a learner.

They will give the training lip-service and later claim that it did not work, just as they said it would not. 

6. Putting an Under-Performer in Training and Hoping that He will Outperform Your Top Producer

While this can certainly happen, expecting it to happen is a mistake. Many things have to be in place before training actually results in learning and ultimately a change in behavior. A better strategy is to hire (or find from another department) a better candidate in the first place and then giving them some training. 

One solution to all of the above mistakes is to make sure that you have the right raw talent with the right intangible qualities doing the right things in the first place. Some of the leaders have the talent to spot the such talent. But most don’t. How do you know if you, as a leader, have such a telent? look at the folks you have hired and placed in the past. How did they work out? Be honest with yourself, now. 

If you find out that you don’t have the talent to find and place the right people in your organization, don’t despair. Most leaders don’t. In such case, you need to seek outside help. It’s part of what we do at AMBICA Training. 

Here’s the full list of training mistakes, those that we covered in the past and those that we will soon cover. 

4. Training is Conducted to Fix Hiring Mistakes.

5. Wrong Training is Delivered to Wrong People.

6. Putting an Underperformer in Training and Hoping that She will Outperform Your Top Producer.

7. Expecting a “Graduation Date” for Your Training Efforts: Certificate Mentality Versus Learning Mentality.

8. Putting All Your Money in Technical or Skills Training Versus Human Side of Training.

9. Ignoring Doing a Return On Analysis on the Training Program You Invest In.

10. Viewing Training as a Commodity.

11. Expecting Training to be Easy and Comfortable