Boss Keeps Making Bad Hires? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I work for a great manager at a nonprofit. My manager is wildly committed, super passionate, and really seems to care about his employees. I have reported to him for seven years, during which time I have gone from being known as a green kid right out of college to an old hand who knows how to get things done around here.

My problem is that my manager is terrible at hiring. Terrible. He keeps hiring people that were vetoed by everyone else on the team. He falls in love with candidates for obscure reasons, such as he likes their foreign accent or their backpack (true story—it was covered with travel stickers showing third world countries the guy had worked in, which is relevant to our mission, but still).

Our last three hires have been disasters, and I saw it coming each time. All three were gone quickly but our team is tired of the time and energy it takes to onboard these people as well as the disruption to our day-to-day work.

I have been researching different hiring practices and I think I could add a lot of value by making our process more effective so we make better hires. How do I go to my manager and offer my help without him getting defensive or seeing it as insubordination?

Only Want to Help

Dear Only Want to Help,

I can only assume your organization doesn’t have a competent HR person to support hiring—if it doesn’t, you do seem to be on your own. Hiring is so often treated as an afterthought and not considered to be as critical as it is. The best employees are the people with the right experience, the right skills, a solid fit with the values of the organization, and a love of work. The best employees are almost always good hires to begin with. There are a lot of ways to assess potential candidates and thereby raise the quality of new hires.

If you do, in fact, have someone in HR, you may want to start there so you aren’t stepping on any toes.

Either way, I think it is fair to say that you should talk to your boss. You have worked together for too long not to be honest about the toll the errors are taking and how you might be able to add value. I am laughing a little because all of my regular readers know exactly what I am going to say: talk to your manager and ask for permission to offer some thoughts.

The good news is that the mistakes were rectified quickly. The only worse thing than a bad hire is not recognizing it and fixing it fast. The best way to avoid big mistakes, other than hiring well, is to impose a three- to six-month probationary period before going to a full employment contract. You’d think people would be on their best behavior for the required time period, but my experience is that people are pretty much are themselves from the outset.

Even so, the cost of a wrong hire is high. So, as you prepare to talk to your manager, consider how he prefers to process information. He might respond well to a narrative—the emotional decision based on a backpack might be a clue. You describe him as super passionate and caring, so possibly an approach based on appealing to his emotions may be the way to go. Or perhaps if he is an analytical thinker and uses data (just not when hiring!) he will be persuaded by facts and figures. If he seems to be a systems thinker, you can go at the problem using information about how each system in the organization is affected by the disruption and how much more smoothly things would go with proper hiring decision making protocols in place.

Listen to your manager’s speech—the way he talks will be your tipoff. Use language he tends to use and thought patterns that will feel familiar to him. Ask for permission to share your thoughts and be ready with a brief, condensed version of your argument and your approach. Start with the big picture and the headlines and get him interested. Once he is interested, you can go ahead with your detailed outline. You can be ready with a presentation to give right in the meeting or to send to him afterward.

Your use of the word insubordination was a bit of a surprise, as there is less hierarchy these days than ever before. Perhaps your boss has strong control needs? If so, three bad hires in a row must really hurt. I think the only thing that would be insubordinate would be doing something behind his back or gossiping about his lack of competence in hiring. Trying to add value by doing research and making recommendations based on accepted best practices seems reasonable to me. Show respect and be polite and kind. Pay close attention to how what you are saying is being received and stay attuned to when you should stop and try again later. You should be okay. Your heart is in the right place.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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