Human Resources: when the wrong person is in a management positionEffective management is critical in order to make a business work profitably. People are the most valuable asset in any company, yet many businesses in Ireland suffer because of poor decisions made at the selection stage. When it comes to Human Resources, choosing the wrong candidate to be a team leader can have long term negative consequences on the business. Mike Gaffney, CEO of LEAP, answers questions on this important issue.

Mike, what happens when the wrong person is in a management position?
“There is an old phrase, ‘act in haste, repent at leisure.’ The headache of trying to reverse a poor selection decision can cause significant stress for employers. This could have been avoided if the proper level of diligence was given to the selection process in the first place. Far too often in Irish companies we find that the pressure to fill a management position results in a reactionary selection process. There is a lack of rigour applied to ensuring the right person, the best fit, gets the position in question.

What would be a typical mistake companies make when recruiting a new manager?
“A common mistake companies make is taking a really good sales person and making them a sales manager. Just because you can bake a cake does not mean you can run a bakery. A person’s technical expertise in no way demonstrates that they have the ability to manage a team of people. A simple way to address this challenge is to apply the proper rigour and attention to selecting the person with the right skillset, and temperament, to be a successful manager.”

So why do so many companies get the selection process wrong?
“Too often we like a person for their current performance but we don’t map their suitability for a management position. The fault lies not with the individual who has been given the management position, but with the senior management team in the organisation that acted in a lazy and somewhat arrogant manner, by dropping someone into a management position without first verifying their suitability for that position.”

What are the headaches employers can expect from poor selection decisions?
“If you have someone who is managing an area badly then the people working there become demotivated and their performance becomes patchy. Senior managers, become stressed out and wonder how to improve the situation. And the new recruit, who is highly aware that he or she is not suitable for management, becomes increasingly stressed and ineffective. This headache permeates across the organization, and causes stress at multiple levels. Unfortunately, it also prevents attention being given to good managers, and opportunities being given to them to excel because all the head space is focused on the poor performing manager. So there is a spiral of negativity that is very demoralising for all involved.”

Do these selection decisions affect the bottom line of the business?
“Absolutely. If the energy is right in the company and morale is good it attracts like-minded people. If the energy is negative and morale is bad, it will have a significant negative impact on business performance, and create inertia that is unhealthy and debilitating in the current economic climate.”

How common is the problem of putting the wrong people into management roles?
“It’s very common. In most organisations you will find some who are unsuitable for management. Now it can be a case that their self-esteem has been shot to pieces, and they’ve lost their mojo, and they are largely beyond repair for the short term anyway. But you will also find a lot of managers underperforming because they are too task-focused rather than delegating, and giving responsibility to those who work for them. It’s as if they try to hide by saying, ‘you can’t blame me…look at how hard I work.’ Well that’s not good enough.”

What about the organisation’s responsibility?
“In fairness to managers the vast majority get sucked into management. They are left to sink or swim without any support given to help them learn new skills and develop the capabilities to become effective managers. The onus is on the organisation to get it right for the individual, as opposed to the individual somehow knowing what’s right or wrong without having any previous experience in a management role.”

What action should be taken with a manager who is underperforming?
“The first thing is to move on it, do not delay because it will only get worse for all concerned. Secondly, the individual manager needs to recognise that there is a problem. Engaging in external support is no good if the manager is in denial. However, if they can accept there is an issue and they want to improve upon it, there are two kinds of support that can help. The first is a management training programme that will ground them in best management practices, and the second is to have the individual manager mentored by an expert in the area of management. They work together to find an approach that will suit the manager’s individual style, capabilities, and their current level of development as a manager. It really is a question of the individual requiring it, and clarity from the organisation as to where they are now, where they need to get to, and working with the mentor to help bridge that gap.”

Have you witnessed dramatic turnarounds in performance management after people do the programmes?
“Ironically, it can often be the person who is initially negative about needing management training and mentoring that responds well. Once the light goes on in their head and they recognise there is a problem, and that the solution rests with them. They can become the strongest advocates of the programmes when they see this kind of support makes a difference. When they are shown a way to change and de-stress their own lives, and demonstrate to their employer that they can add value to their position and are worth holding on to. Workers are hungry to show they can deliver the performance that’s required of them and take on additional responsibilities. So it’s a very good time for organisations to get the very best out of their people, because their people have an appetite like never before to improve.”