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Make sure your stars don’t wane into Comets

C MAHALINGAM
New “star” hires as well as the recruiting organisations have a responsibility to ensure mutual benefit
Organizations often find themselves short on talent, especially at the senior levels. This can happen despite internal promotion and succession plans. After all, there is just not enough leadership talent to meet everyone’s growing needs. Therefore, the obvious route to recovering from shortage is a furious hunt for talent from competition.
Search consulting or headhunting top talent is a multi-billion dollar business growing at a healthy double-digit. Companies offer handsome salaries, eye-popping joining bonuses and other perquisites for the “stars” from other companies.
However, there are also increasing incidents of stars, hired with great cost and effort, proving to be “comets” and in the process disappointing the organizations and themselves. A warm welcome note reaches the entire employee base, highlighting the achievements of the new star hire and their role in the organization. In the first few months, the new employer puts together an impressive orientation program that more often than not also includes a tour of all facilities in India and abroad. In the ensuing meetings and discussions, the star is the focus of all attention and what he or she says and does is watched with awe and curiosity.
As months roll, the charm begins to wane and one wonders if the organization hired a star or a comet that shines briefly before shooting. Well, this is probably not the case with all stars, but one that a sizable number as organizations can vouch for.
The senior manager responsible for hiring the star has to make things look good as owning up is neither comfortable nor without cost. It is not difficult to analyze why such expensive blunders happen and happen quite frequently in our organizations:
* A mistaken assumption of both parties is that the perceived past success of the star was solely due to personal attributes or work. In reality, this is rarely the case. Individuals succeed thanks to their intelligence, passion and hard work, but there is more evidence to point that success is also very much a factor of the work environment. Attributing too much success to the individual’s talent, excluding the supportive environment has become fashionable these days, particularly in talent-starved environments.

* Organizational culture plays a critical role in an individual’s success as much as the perseverance and personality of the individual. There are cultures where initiative and risk-taking are rewarded and there are other places where these attributes are scoffed at and penalized.

* Role of immediate managers and direct reports cannot be over-emphasised in the success of a team member. Even rock stars need the right band to perform.

*The tendency of stars to over-promise at the new place with enthusiasm to win more stripes on their shoulder.
This does not happen by magic. Small wins help any new hire, but not tall promises without any basis for success, except one’s own over-confidence.
How do we remedy the situation?:
The solution is to manage the process effectively and anticipate the probability of success and failure. In hiring such stars, organizations will do well to consider the following:
* Assess the culture fit although this is arduous. There is a tendency to oversimplify the culture as American or European, for example. In such a case, hiring from another company that has the roots in same country is considered good fit.

* A clear tally of personal proclivities, habits, attributes and attitude towards people, problems and circumstances should be studied. This requires a rigorous selection processes of multiple rounds of discussions and interviews each with a clear agenda for assessment.

* Thorough back-door referencing with people who have reliable and personal knowledge of the candidate.
Organisational orientation post hiring:
Assuming the decision is to hire after careful scrutiny, stars need to be watched closely and offered support for settling in. A clear orientation to culture, values and ethos of the organisation is essential; not a nicely cast schedule of introductions, tours and orientation programs.
HR leaders need to pay special attention to tracking how stars settle in by seeking feedback either formally or informally.
Role of the stars:
Stars have an additional responsibility to introspect the role of the environment and colleagues in their personal success. Building genuine chemistry with peers and direct reports is critical. Taking them for granted just because they are direct reports is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
Promising realistically (if not under-promising) and delivering in excess of the promises will generate trust and confidence. Fancy promises make the stars a suspect and an object of ridicule should they fail to deliver. Like organizations do a culture fit, even the ambitious, upwardly mobile stars should do well to do a culture audit and support systems audit before jumping ships.
Excitement about new job, bigger titles, fatter pay and other attractions can distract one from doing an honest assessment. Selective perceptions by the stars are quite common.
Make sure you hire a star, not a comet, by exercising care and caution, diligence and discovery, culture fit and chemistry. Blunders in hiring stars or “believed-to-be stars” could become your liability that will take a long time to recover from.
The writer is executive coach and HR Adviser to corporates. He is also a visiting professor with several IIMs

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 1, 2014)

Re-posted this blog in our website with permission from Mr. C Mahalingam.

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