We’ve all worked on teams where there was one person who made life uncomfortable, miserable, negative, or difficult. Even if that person was well-meaning, they brought to life the old adage that one rotten apple can spoil things. As a leader, I’ve seen it over and over. It usually is the person who’s always negative, who finds fault in everything, and sees everything as impossible. They may be well-intentioned, they may even be right, but they just make everyone else around them miserable. When I’ve had people like that on teams I’ve worked on, I’ve tried to find strategies to successfully deal with that person. Sometimes it’s possible, sometimes I just had to soldier on, but it was never fun.
So, here are four reasons you should focus on hiring for fit first.
1. Fit is the chemistry among teammates that can be felt the first moment you enter the interview room.
Fit is a combination of personality, outlook and (often) work values that determine if a group of people will get along. All groups have disagreements and scuffles from time to time, what you’re looking for is someone who wants to become part of a team and who appears to fit in right from the start.
Red Flag Warning: Always pay attention to your hesitations, to your rationalization, and to the niggling little feeling in your gut. Often when we’re trying to fill a position that’s been vacant a long time or that requires specialized skills (and thus we have few qualified candidates to choose from), we begin to talk ourselves into bad hires. Some of my worst hires came out of these situations. If you hesitate even for a moment, examine your concerns. Most people’s gut instincts are accurate, so pay attention to those reactions, don’t bury them.
2. Understand what fit looks like in a culturally diverse team.
When I started in IT, it was mostly older white guys where I worked. I got along well with the team and was a good fit – though I was thirty years younger, didn’t have a military background, and wasn’t a guy. Fit is not about sameness – not at all. Fit is about people being able to share a daily work experience in a positive (dare I say, fun?) atmosphere. We need teammates we trust and with whom we can work effectively. Many studies show diverse teams are better problem solvers. [https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-other-diversity-dividend].
Red Flag Warning: If you or your team hold narrow views on who belongs, some self-reflection might be in order. You don’t have to go wild, but fit is not about gender, race, nationality, political, or religious beliefs. It’s about how one approaches the job. I look for a desire to be part of a team, a desire to learn, to grow, and to provide innovative solutions for the organization. For me, honesty, intelligence, emotional intelligence, teamwork, and a sense of humor are the top five traits I look for when evaluating fit, but the team and the manager should identify what fit looks like. It’s different on every team and the team should define and evaluate fit with you.
3. Identify traits that indicate fit to the team.
As I mentioned, I look for five traits to start with. I have a longer list. These are attributes that have little to do with the actual work. I value precision and accuracy, but taken to an extreme, a person can become the team cop or the roadblock. I value honesty and assertiveness, but taken to an extreme, a person can become abrasive and confrontational.
Red Flag Warning: If you don’t know what fit looks like for your team, you’ll miss the mark. Develop a list of attributes you can discern during an interview. HR will want documentation from interviews and your notes should reflect elements that indicate fit. If you pass over a more qualified candidate because he or she would not be a good fit, your notes need to reflect that. Whatever you do, don’t hire the most qualified person if they’re the worst fit. You will regret it when team dynamics fall apart...and they will.
4. It’s very difficult to coach (or terminate) someone who is not a good fit.
If you hire for fit and competency (the ability to learn the job, the fundamental skills needed, etc.), you can coach, train and mentor the right candidate and their skills will get to where they need to be. If you hire someone with all the skills who’s a bad fit, there’s usually no amount of coaching that will change that person’s fundamental approach to work and life. It's very difficult to terminate someone because they are not a good fit - and if you have to do so, that's really a reflection of a poor hiring decision more than anything else. In other words, that's on you. Be very careful about hiring someone you're not sure will fit with the team because it is very challenging to manage or to terminate someone who just doesn't fit in. Ultimately, it harms everyone in the process.
Red Flag Warning: Naturally, the candidate needs to have the skills you’re looking for, or the foundation upon which to build, but make sure fit is near the top of your list of things to evaluate and hire for. Fit is something you can recognize when you see it (and recognize when it’s missing), but it’s rarely grounds for termination. And lack of fit can poison an entire team. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to be as sure as I can that the candidate will be a good long-term employee for the organization. If I don’t do my job well, everyone loses. Always remember that you're not doing anyone any favors by hiring someone who's not a good fit, even if the team is desperate for a particular skill set or another set of hands to help with the work load.
Hopefully this discussion will spark some thoughts on how you approach hiring for fit and how you might improve your skills to ensure that each new person adds to the fabric of the team instead of becoming the scissor that constantly cuts it to shreds.