Jack’s Performance in a Mission-Critical Role

6 08 2012

We have all met them; many of us are them, at least to an extent: the Jack of All Trades. The old saw, “Jack of all trades, but master of none” is unkind as well as unfair. Many people do manage to master several trades or areas of expertise (although it does tend to be serial rather than parallel).

But what about in a recruitment setting. Recruitment is all about risk; you have all this information – track record, references, interviews, maybe assessment centres etc – but what do you believe? What will predict performance in role? So you try to minimise risk. Does Jack – who could potentially fit many roles in your organisation – represent a better risk or a worse one?

The answer is, it depends. Are you looking for someone who can handle and integrate information from a wide range of disciplines, or cross functional boundaries with ease? Well then, Jack may be a good risk. But if you are looking for someone who will deliver results within a highly defined area, he (or she) may represent a significant risk.

Here’s how it would present, using the core tool we employ in our practice. This gives us something over 200 highly detailed matches for the individual to specific job titles and families of jobs. Most people will score very strongly on somewhere between 5 and 15 of these. Jack (of All Job Matches, in this scenario) has many more strong matches, and particularly scores strongly across diverse job Families. So far so good – Jack has the world at his (or her) feet. But Jack has some challenges too.

How do colleagues “place” Jack? One moment he sounds like the FD, the next the COO. By the time he has finished with some grand Strategy and a side-order of Sales Director realpolitik, his colleagues don’t know what to think. “Who was that masked man?” they say. Pretty hard to collaborate with someone you can’t place.

And here is the bigger risk. Let’s say Jack is your new Production Manager or maybe responsible for a key Sales segment. Jack interviewed better than anyone else, his track-record in a whole series of related roles was unmatched and he engaged better than any other candidate with the existing team. And now he is happy, loves his role and is completely failing to deliver the numbers. When challenged he points out all the value he is adding in all kinds of ways, all of it true. It just doesn’t include the one reason you hired him – to make the numbers.

What has happened? Well, that track record represents a time at the dawn of the world, when Jack was young, hungry and focussed – and working in a narrowly defined funnel. He is a little older now, life seems a bit shorter, the whole range of his considerable and diverse interests reach out to him; and suddenly there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your Production or Sales Manual. In the worst case, he has also managed to surround himself with other similarly rounded characters. All of them score high for the roles they are in. The only problem is that they score high for hundreds of other roles too, and they can’t decide which one they love best.

So what to do? Hard question. It may be you can reignite their former passion and focus by adding one or more people who don’t have their range, just a relentless focus on the one thing that matters (to you). More likely, you have to let them go and replace them with someone who has the necessary focus. Ouch.

And if you are just at the selection stage and I have just rained on your star candidate? The one with the track record, the great interviews, the great references – and the huge scores across every phase of the Organisational cycle. What should you do?

First, acknowledge the risk; this person could lose focus and fail to deliver. Then set about managing that risk. How can they evidence that the fire still burns? Have they recognised the danger of loss of focus for themselves and if so, how do they manage that? Do they understand that there will be opportunities to contribute more widely but that they will be held accountable for this particular set of results, and this alone?

And if they can give you the answers you need, there is one more thing you need to do, in order to manage the risk Jack represents: be ready to actually hold them accountable, and to let them go if they can’t deliver.

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