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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sometimes "None of the Above" is the Best Candidate

As the recession begins to thaw and companies begin to rehire, supervisors and HR departments nation wide are dusting off their recruiting tools and trying to remember how to hire people. In the midst of this two university sports teams in this region have had similar coaching debacles that I believe reinforce a simple but elegant recruiting lesson. Sometimes the best solution is not to select a candidate and keep looking.

A couple of years ago the University of Kentucky lost its embattled basketball coach Tubby Smith, a quality human being and great coach who won about 17 - 18 games a season. This of course was not sufficient for Big Blue Nation which thinks under 30 wins and not making it to the Final Four is a disastrous season. Smith decided to go to Minnesota where he can win 17 games and have a field house named after him.

So when Smith finally had enough, UK needed a coach. Here is where college Athletic Directors are at a disadvantage. Season tickets have been purchased, games have been scheduled, and you have to hire the best person available. In this case it was Billy Gillispie, a hard-drinking professional bachelor who built a solid basketball program at a traditional football school, my alma mater Texas A&M. Gillispie's exploits are well-known, and the teams he built in College Station were street fighters. If your team's players had tattoos, his had brands. He built the program by getting kids too rough to play at more genteel schools like UK. His teams won by bringing a gun to a knife fight. He's a good coach but UK was not the place for him.

Living in Tennessee I can't escape UT football. Unless you're living on the other side of the country, or the world, you know the saga of Lane Kiffin. A self-serving, biding-his-time until he could get back to USC mercenary, he came to UT, committed a string of minor NCAA rules violations, helped the team up to a 7-5 record, and went back to USC about 10 seconds after they offered him the head coaching job. He goes with most of his coaching staff, and prior to signing day for next year's freshman class. UT will not only have to scramble for a coach, but also a coaching staff and will likely lose some of its better recruits.

Kiffin was available when Big Orange Nation threatened a revolt unless then-head coach Phillp Fulmer was fired. Kiffin was available in-part because he'd been fired by the Oakland Raiders in an equally ugly departure (see a pattern here?). Here's a hint for UT's Athletic Director: when Al Davis questions a man's character you should probably look elsewhere.

Both of these cases illustrate that the best person available at the time isn't always a wise choice. In business we don't have to make "a" pick when a position comes available, not if we plan well. When you have an opening, here are a few tips to ward off desperation and avoid a bad hire:
  1. Ask yourself, "What if it takes six months to fill this job; how would we get by?" Put that plan in place and settle in for a long, calm search.
  2. Be realistic about what you need. If you're paying $25,000/yr for a job don't tell HR you need a master's degree and 10 years experience.
  3. With a realistic profile in hand, advertise widely and be patient. Some of your best responses come in 2-3 weeks after the ad goes up, as the first week's responses are almost always dominated by the unemployed and the employed-but-perpetually-dissatisfied.
  4. When you eliminate all but the best candidates, make your decision quickly. Searches build momentum up to a decision point. Your finalists are most likely other companies' finalists too. If you snooze, you'll lose.

The point is, if you're not sure that you see what you want, its okay if the decision is, "I'll pass" and start over again.

Like most companies, the recession has left Thomas Nelson with a solid workforce. Most companies kept their toughest, most flexible, most resilient staff. Any of your people who weren't tough and resilient before 2008 are now. You don't want a drop-off in talent when the rehiring starts, so plan for a long search and be pleasantly surprised if/when you find the right person quickly. There are 15 million people unemployed in this country, and a new crop of graduates coming out every year. Take your time and only select the best.


Anonymous said...

enjoyed your writing--not sure companies keep their toughest most resilient--some wonderfuk people and better qualified lost their jobs while less qualified but better liked stayed, and thats a fact

Jim Thomason said...

If you're speaking about Nelson then all I can say is that you're entitled to your opinion but I respectfully disagree. Still, I appreciate all comments.