It had been 12 months since I hired Tracy. During the interview process she wowed me with her passion and drive to succeed. I wasn’t just moderately hopeful for her. I thought she would be doing my job some day!
But 12 months later, that person was nowhere to be found. Tracy turned out to be very average – average work ethic, average skills, and average results. She did her job and that was about it. I rarely saw the passion and drive that made me hire her.
I don’t think any of us try to hire average people. But unfortunately, Tracy is not an unfamiliar scenario for those of us responsible for hiring.
The Slide To Mediocrity
We interview a person with a good record and huge potential. Then we offer them the job.
They are excited and promise us we won’t be sorry. Their first day is full of wide-eyed enthusiasm and ideas. But, it doesn’t last.
Mediocrity takes over. They perform some tasks with excellence, but others are sub-par. When we are with them, we see flashes of that potential we hired. But, when we are not there, they operate below that potential.
Four Ways To Prevent The Slide
I didn’t do these things with Tracy. I should have but I didn’t. As I grew and analyzed how my new hires performed, I became very deliberate in my approach to preventing the slide I saw in Tracy.
This is how I did it with Kathy, another new hire:
1. Time Up Front
I led teams for more than 15 years. I truly believe my most dramatic impact on Kathy’s success occurred in those crucial first weeks and months she was on the job.
I was able to establish rapport and trust. I was able to fold her into the culture I wanted my team to have. I was able to be there when she stumbled and put her back on track.
2. Choose A Mentor
I was very careful with whom my new hires spent their time. I didn’t always assign the most senior person to be the mentor.
I carefully looked at the initiative, the culture buy-in, and the teaching ability of a person. Whether that person was with me 1 year or 10 didn’t matter.
In Kathy’s case, I picked someone who had been with me for 18 months but embodied all I wanted Kathy to be. I wanted the best example of what good looked like to be her mentor.
3. Situational Leadership
This is Ken Blanchard’s concept of matching my leadership style to the competence and commitment level of an individual to the task at hand.
In this case, Kathy was an Enthusiastic Beginner who didn’t know what she didn’t know. She needed a lot of direction, as do most new hires.
When new hires are made to “learn it on your own” the chance of sliding to mediocrity increases. Delegating to this person is a big mistake. But, that’s what I did with Tracy.
The best case scenario without direction was delayed productivity. What’s happened and was most likely was mediocrity. The worst case scenario was having to fire her and begin the hiring process again.
Kathy on the other hand, got up to speed quickly. She appreciated the detailed directions early on. As time went on, she needed less and less guidance from me. She remained motivated and became highly competent.
4. Encourage Mistakes
New hires need to know mistakes are okay. If each time Kathy mades a mistake, I clipped her wings, she would never fly.
Mistakes are where learning happens. If the mistakes had not been treated like learning opportunities, she would likely always choose the safest route.
Mediocrity is often the result of the fear of failure. Tracy was scared of failure because I had a poor reaction to it. As her leader, I needed to dispel that fear if I expected to ever see her take flight.
I was the reason Kathy flew and Tracy stayed grounded. They both had great potential and both were highly motivated early on.
As a leader, when someone fails to take flight, I must pause and look for my role in their failure. It may be too late to help them, but I can always be a better leader for the next person I hire.
The Bottom Line:
As Tracy’s and Kathy’s hiring manager, my work was not done at the end of the interview process. In fact, it was just ramping up.
Why would I spend all that time finding the best candidate possible and then leave her success to chance? Was I lazy? Was I unprepared? Maybe yes to both.
The right start was critical for Kathy realizing her potential. The time and effort I spent up front went go a long way in reducing the time I spent on re-motivating her later.
The overall time spent with each woman may have turned out to be the same in the end. But I liked spending time with Kathy when she was motivated and excited about the job.
Pulling Tracy out of mediocrity was a drag. Why? Tracy never recovered. I believe that was my fault. I can’t save all people from mediocrity, but I can be proactive in keeping it at bay.
When have you seen a high potential hire slide into mediocrity?