The least credible HR Pro I know got that way because he hired bad leaders. Period. He recruited, screened, sold and pushed misfits. It’s a surefire way to lose all credibility. Matching culture, determining true capabilities, thoroughly capturing what the person has really done, seeing how quick leaders can learn on the fly—these are the hardest and most impactful decisions we make.
Quick story for context: I was in a meeting with an executive team, and the leader sat patiently while his directs each talked about how hard an upcoming decision was. Everyone pointed out the challenges and how there were no easy answers. Blame, finger pointing and some pity. He let each have their say, and then responded:
“Look, this (business issue) is rough. There a ton of moving parts, there’s significant uncertainty, human emotions are involved, and the decisions we make will impact real people and their families, all of whom we consider partners and friends. There is no quick or easy answer, and the consequences of the decisions could be far-ranging. It sucks. It’s going to cause you pain—but it’s our job.”
Hello, Player. Having the title is not all about a nicer office with a Keurig and directs laughing awkwardly at your lame jokes. It’s about tough calls and the emotional pain that rides shotgun.
For me, bringing this “toughest-decision” concept into executive interviewing is a key way to understand your candidate. The initial request is simple:
“Walk me through the hardest, most painful business decision you have made.”
In true FOT style, I’ll offer some profiles of what you’ll see once you dig in:
The Survivor: She’s the one who makes sure her group—or least herself—gets through safely. No appreciation of the widespread importance, she talks about the impact on her, but not about the larger biz.
The Eyewitness: The group made big decisions with a good process, but this kid watched. Imagine the neighbor in the bathrobe or Marlboro shirt who gets interviewed after the true hero does something great—that’s this guy.
The Victim: The lady who feels sorry for herself and wants others to join the pity party. Easy to spot, and you’ll hear things like “they, them, or management.” No action on her part, but lots of pain.
The Killer: Opposite of the victim. Faced a tough decision, closed the Muncie, IN office—but never talked about the people impacted. Made the right tough call, but he’d sell his mother for another quarter point of net income and a backstage pass to a One Direction show.
The Owner: Saw the business issue, faced it, gathered smart resources around her, weighed the alternatives, made the decisions and then owned it. No excuses, true accountability, with lots of talk about her partners and impact on employees. And the pain still shows.
And, jackpot, friends. It will take some good interviewing skills to figure out which actor you have in front of you. The owners understand the one thing that makes them priceless—no matter how much the decision is going to hurt, he or she has to make the call. The others might be in the room, but they’re just standing in the back, waiting for the Player to step up.
I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.