Finding fit when hiring or promoting from within

If you want to improve your hiring, retention, and talent development efforts, you've got to think about fit. The number one cause of success or failure in a new hire or promotion is NOT skills, not work ethic, and not attitude; it is 'fit.' Peter Drucker famously said, "culture eats strategy for lunch." Fit is to talent as culture is to organizations.

An individual may be an amazing talent, may have killer skills, work harder than anybody else, and have a great attitude. But if that person is a bad 'fit' for the role, a bad 'fit' for the team, a bad 'fit' for the organization--no matter how otherwise qualified the person may be--the hire or promotion is NOT going to succeed. A whole bunch of time, energy and money will go into the hire/ or the promotion. And the person will not succeed if the person is a bad 'fit.'

Fit is crucial to success.

Fit is intangible, hard to evaluate, and hard to measure. And with talent in such great demand versus supply, it is very hard to convince hiring managers to take the time and invest the scrutiny to do a deep dive evaluation of 'fit' before making the hire or promotion. This is even though fit is ultimately the biggest overall factor in success of a new hire or internal promotion.


What are the dimensions of fit?

'Fit' is sufficiently elusive that most decision-makers are not even sure what criteria to use. In the attraction and selection process, we typically focus on evidence of skills, work ethic demonstrated through previous results, and whatever we can perceive about 'attitude.' And those are all definitely real elements of 'fit.' But how do you know if a person is going to 'fit' with a particular role on a particular team in a particular organization?

Everybody knows that fit matters but what most people do is hire based on other criteria and then either regret or fire based on a lack of fit, down the road. Few take a systematic approach to evaluating new-hires or promotions from within based on 'fit.'

Fit comes down to a strange chemistry between the role/team/organization and the individual's hard skills (and experience) and soft skills (and personality).


Hard skill competency doesn't always transfer

Just because someone is intelligent, capable, and highly-skilled in their current role doesn't necessarily mean they will find the same level of success elsewhere. It may seem obvious, but this is a pitfall I have seen smart and savvy business leaders fall into, particularly when promoting people into senior positions.

In one case, there was an analytics and finance leader who had all the "right stuff": an MBA, great people skills, a good attitude, and solid work ethic and track record. The only problem was, he was being put in charge of a complex operation include extensive manufacturing facilities. As smart and capable as he was, he simply didn't have the experience necessary to understand, much less meet, the needs of his new direct reports. It was a mistake that could have been avoided if more attention had been paid to hard skill fit.


Soft skills make or break career moves

I often say that hard skills get you hired, but soft skills get you fired. This is most apparent in highly technical roles such as nursing, or entry-level customer service positions. But it also applies to roles where soft skills may never enter the conversation, such as C-level leadership positions.

I've seen entrepreneurial leaders and leaders with complex organizational experience both fail in new roles, and it all came down to their soft skills. Super entrepreneurial leaders often find their tactics don't gain traction in the bureaucracy of a large, complex organization. On the other side of the coin, leaders who have success in complex organizations may come to a more entrepreneurial enterprise and sit around waiting for the bureaucracy to kick in.


Don't shy away from assessing personality fit

Sometimes people shy away from evaluating personality when assessing fit. It makes sense: nobody wants to be discriminatory or overlook someone because of a personal bias. Of course, the reality is that personality--or at least attitude--really matters in some roles.

I once encountered a situation in an organization where someone was promoted to a management position, based on his great work and high level of skill. But he was not a people-person, and so disrespectful to his team members it became immediately clear there was never any hope he would be successful in leadership.


Are they a culture mix or match?

Of course, the downside of looking for culture fit is that you run the risk of developing a homogenous organization and stifling diversity. The key to striking the balance is evaluating whether the person will be a good culture mix or a good culture match.

For example, bringing an accomplished military leader into the private sector may be a good way to add some more defined structure to collaborative relationships up and down the chain-of-command. But it may also be setting up that new leader for disaster, should they find they struggle with pushback from direct reports.

There will always be people who are neither a mix nor a match. They are simply not a good fit. I once witnessed someone join the team at Morton's Steakhouse--a lifelong vegetarian disgusted by eating meat. No one should have been surprised when that person later complained about the conditions and left.


Make the intangible more tangible

Part of fit is about mission, vision, and values. But the really hard part of fit is that it's about so many intangibles. The primary question you have to ask is which combination of hard and soft skills will really matter here: in this role on this team in this organization?

The five competency models (broad transferable skills, twelve missing basics, the go-to person formula, the strong manager index, and executive leadership) included in our Talent Assessments eBook can help you jumpstart the process by serving as tools for profiling roles for talent fit --what do we have? what do we need? which competencies are critical in this role? -- and then driving assessment for fit.



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Bruce Tulgan: Founder of RainmakerThinking, Inc. and Top Expert on Leadership Development and Generational Issues in the Workplace

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