I received an interesting question from an alumnus not too long ago that went something like this;
If you are the champion for hiring someone, how much of an obligation do you have to them once they are actually on board? What if they don’t perform as well as expected?
What an interesting and subtle question. This sort of reminds me of the old proverb that; If you save someone’s life then you are responsible for, and even indebted to, them! Seems a bit backwards for western ways of thinking but makes perfect sense if you think about the greater good or society in general. So what about the person you bring into the company? I like to go back to the fundamental question: “What would add the most value to the organization?” This is a lot harder to answer than it seems at first because long term value is hard to determine. Also, subtle things that seem to be harsh on an individual can sometimes be good for the organization but not if they cause a toxic environment for others or make it more difficult to hire the best people (thus, the value of the “Best Places to Work” list for example). But tough, fair decisions need to be made that are best for the group, not always for each individual. And organizations make the mistake in both directions – being too accommodating for the individual or being too focused on the short term benefit of the company.
So back to this situation, I would actually treat the person in a similar manner as any other employee in that position after they have been hired. That means I would mentor and coach them when I thought it would be of value (to the organization!), just like other individuals but I would not give them special treatment. I have made plenty of hiring decisions that did not work out. If it was not working out and I gave them “special” assistance to help them succeed that was not available to others (beyond what I would do to have any person succeed in the position) then there are several issues. It would not be fair to others (remember we do not want equal treatment, but we do want fair treatment) and it could be perceived by my managers as “stacking the deck” to get the outcome I wanted, protecting my own ego. This could ultimately hinder the person’s ability to perform. It would also be taking time away from the activities that the organizations needs accomplished. But if I thought the organization could gain value by me mentoring the person then I would do it (just like anyone else in that position). The “system” needs to be optimized – i.e., the entire organization. I should also make it clear to my managers that it was the same as what I would do for anyone, not just for the case where I had brought someone into the organization. It definitely takes a lot of communication and a history of trust to make all that work (I like the book “The Speed of Trust”). So the bottom line is to treat the person fairly regardless of how they got into the position and just as importantly treat the rest of the employees fairly – by not giving special help to someone just because you lobbied for them as a good hire when in fact you were wrong! And remember that fair is not equal. An employee that is performing well should be rewarded for that performance, and an employee that is underperforming should be told so (constructively), no matter how they came to the organization. We all have an obligation to try to hire the best and brightest people for our organizations. We SHOULD advocate for people we think will be a good addition. When they don’t work out, be fair to everyone in the organization and give them the coaching and mentorship that provides the most value to the organization, no more and no less.
This also reminds me of a typical mistake that many early career managers make in how they talk about positions. Quite often we have contractors or part time employees helping our organizations. This can include the numerous internships that organizations provide to our students (and for which we are very grateful!). When we want to bring those employees on full-time or change their status from a contractor to an employee, I often here inexperienced managers say they want to give the employee a permanent position. That makes an HR attorney, and thus an experienced manager, cringe! Of course, we all know that no job is permanent (OK, some get close, like tenured faculty, but that is a problem to discuss in a future post). So what we really mean is we want the person to have a “regular” position. Keep this in mind as you talk with potential employees. Don’t call it permanent because nothing is and certainly if they do not perform, to be fair, they need to be moved out of the organization. And when that needs to happen, it almost always turns out better for them in the long run. Most of us need to be valued and performing up to our potential to be happy. That is not guaranteed to happen in all positions.
In summary, treat people fairly not equally and remember that positions in your organizations are regular not permanent.