[Blog 34] The Chief Guru Chronicles 109: Life’s Like A Movie. Write Your Own Ending

Looking for the perfect candidate for a new team member can be a lengthy, time-consuming ordeal.

Under ideal circumstances, you select the perfect candidate who is compatible for the job and fits seamlessly into the corporate culture. On the other hand of the spectrum, however, a flawed hiring decision can trigger a whole series of negative consequences – not only will it cost you money, but also taints your company’s reputation, erodes team morale and causes time loss. It doesn’t help that failed hires can be challenging to spot at times. While most companies engage HR and the business units in the hiring process, the final decision often lies in the hands of the CEO or founder, especially in smaller set ups. Some companies on the other hand tend to adopt a more business-centric culture where business leaders have the final say. Whichever the situation may be, a poor recruitment strategy can ultimately incite damaging consequences to the company and all those involved.

In my relatively long history of consulting senior management over the years, three particular cases of hiring the wrong HR heads stand out. First was a case of a classic Peter’s Principle situation, where the selection of a candidate for a key position was based on the candidate’s performance in his current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Specifically, a President of a large public listed entity was seeking someone to take on the role as Group Head of HR and decided to disregard all the experienced and well-qualified external candidates proposed by the Board of Directors. Why? Because he was instead very persistent on promoting one of his own trusted employee for the job. Following the promotion, the newly-appointed Group Head of HR wasted no time to take action and impress his boss by picking the low-hanging fruit of dismantling time-tested systems and processes – which were very crucial to the organization – as a step to manage his department’s budget and headcount. As someone who lacked the depth, experience and know-how of strategic HR management, it was clear that none of the company’s performance objectives were of his priority and his decisions for the company were merely personal agenda driven. A year later, a serious industrial action broke out within the company as a direct result of the system dismantling, costing the jobs of both the Group Head of HR as well as the President!

While some potential employees might come into the company highly recommended, it is still important to ensure that they are being put through the due process of hiring and ascertain that they have what it takes to carry out what is expected of them and the job to avoid any performance issues later. The second case involves a hotel in a developing ASEAN country where a favoured expatriate HR director was immediately hired by the hotel’s general manager for only one reason – that they have worked together in different parts of Asia together. In an effort to impress the corporate bosses during the operation review meeting which was held at regular intervals towards the hotel opening, the HR director decided to take a short cut with regards to the preparation of the HR policies and procedures manual. Using a manual belonging to another Singapore hotel property shared by the general manager, the HR director mindlessly lifted and plagiarised contents of the manual for his own operation review without adapting any of the information appropriately. It came as little surprise that the entire review discussion backfired after the corporate honchos discovered in the manual statements of a Skills Development fund (SDF) mechanism with funding support and a Skills Development Levy system that was time-inappropriate. The HR director naturally lost his job following the incident.

Cultural awareness is another important factor when it comes to recruitment processes that involve cross-cultural working environments. The third case involves a young and aspiring HR manager who was employed by a Middle-East subsidiary manufacturing plant of a multi-national company. Having never worked outside the proximity of his home country, initial concerns arose relating to the HR manager cultural sensitivity. Nevertheless, the decision to move him to the Middle East was administered based on cost, his youth and immediate availability. The transfer took place during a time when the subsidiary plant was experiencing major disruptions and massive structural changes taking place. The circumstances and environment were hence rather tense and it didn’t help when the local craft union constantly tormented the HR manager up to a point where a heated argument broke out between him and a union representative who threatened to take industrial actions if the management still refused to relent on his demands. The HR manager’s lack of understanding and empathy eventually led to a fit of anger during which he accused the union representative of possessing a personal agenda built on sentiments that were not shared by the rest of the workforce. Thereupon, the union representative stormed out of his office and returned less than five minutes later with approximately 500 employees in tow. What followed was a week-long strike that involved all 5000 employees of the manufacturing plant and the HR manager was consequently sacked and extradited out of the country.

Every business makes hiring mistakes. Acknowledging that you have made a bad hire is a painful realisation. But it will not be a loss if you learn from them and use the knowledge gained to make better hiring decisions moving forward. Take savvy steps to recover from a bad hire and rethink your recruitment strategies. Like looking at the new hires with a different lens; evaluate and leverage various technologies that are available; or just slow down the hiring process and carry out more thorough screenings and assessments to identify qualified candidates who are capable of succeeding in accomplishing their tasks. As the above incidents have illustrated, an employer’s unconscious bias can get in the way of a great hiring decision. Other factors like performance indicators or behavioural aptitudes may also render useless if they do not align with the core requirements of the job. There needs to be more objectivity in the hiring process with no place for any cultural misfits; more so in an unfamiliar place where there are cultural differences at play.

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This article is part of a series of accounts of The Chief Guru Chronicles, a monthly column which recounts our Founder & Chief Guru Tommy Ng’s experience and encounters in HR management across various countries and industries. The purpose of this column is to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed, and to educate readers through challenges experienced. It should not be perceived and used as a professional advice. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, races, ethnic group, organisation, company, individual or country. In addition, we do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of the information. As a disclosure, some names, information and situations were intentionally concealed or edited in order to protect the identity of the involved parties. Except as expressly consented, the contents may not be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without HR Guru Pte Ltd permission.