#32 Hired for technology & fired for fit

by Steven Cerri on April 23, 2007

Hired for technology & fired for lack of fit

“Technology or Fit; which is it?”

Here is another case study of the adage… people are hired for their abilities and fired for their lack of fit. This applies to technical people and non-technical people as well.

I have a client and friend who manages a group of people. He has had two assistants over the past two plus years. The responsibilities of the assistants is to support him and the department and to interact with personnel from other departments. This is a pretty typical situation found in most corporations and organizations. An executive has an executive assistant who takes care of a lot of the departmental and interdepartmental details for the executive.

His first assistant was very smart, very efficient, and very knowledgeable… and very difficult. This assistant seemed cold, rude, and difficult to deal with. This assistant’s people skills were, to a very large degree, what we might call, missing. Things got done very quickly, but the conflict that was ultimately involved by having to deal with this person actually made the task take longer, with lingering issues. Most of the people who had to work with this assistant complained that this person is difficult.

His new assistant is perhaps not as efficient, perhaps not as experienced in the department’s functions… and very pleasant. This assistant seems warm, helpful, and easy to deal with. This assistant’s people skills are, to a very large degree, what we might call, excellent. The actual tasks take a little longer to get done when compared to the first assistant, but when they are done they are done, and the process is smooth, and there are no lingering issues, except those of “it was easy working with that person, I look forward to it again”. Most of the people who work with this person smile and say that the assistant is a pleasure to work with.

The bottom line is that the first assistant got very low marks even though that person was efficient. Ultimately the first assistant got pushed out because no one wanted to work with that person. The second assistant was hired as a replacement and everyone wants the new assistant to stay.

Once again it comes down to: “People are hired for their abilities and are fired for their lack of fit.”

This is how it went for the assistant to a department head. It is how it goes for a technologist. It is how it goes for a technical manager. Your technical abilities are no guarantee of success, they are merely necessary but not sufficient for success.

But was is “fit”? How do you know whether you fit?

Fit is a broad term for how human beings interact. If they interact in a way that meets with everyone’s usually unspoken consensus, (or at least most of the people in the group) then the fit is high. If the interaction is not “comfortable” for most of the group then the fit is low.

Notice that this definition means that there is no “absolute” measure of fit. We can say, “This is how you should fit into your organization”? Although there are people, managers, consultants, and trainers who will tell you different, they are wrong. Just look at the business news, or read some of my past blogs. You’ll find plenty of evidence that organizations have different ways of defining “fit”.

Lets look at some examples. Oracle has a different definition of fit than say Intuit … or…

Home Depot under Robert Nardelli had a different definition of fit than say Boeing under MnNerney … or …

Chrysler has a different definition of fit than say Wal-Mart … as evidenced by Julie Rohm.

So fit isn’t an absolute parameter, it’s a relative parameter.

Now having said that, there are certainly fit-definitions that many people generally aspire to. For example, we could say that most people want to be respected, feel heard, and generally be treated in a positive way. (Remember my assistant story at the beginning of this blog?)

However, when you join a company, remember that you are joining a culture that already exists. Will you be able to “fit” there? It’s generally impossible to know when you join a company exactly how fit will be defined for certain and what you’ll have to do to make a fit. It’s very much like the beginning of a new romantic relationship. Everyone is on their best behavior.

In an attempt to know how fit you will be in the company and how fit the company will be with you, many companies have a 90-day probationary period for new employees. This period is an attempt to determine if the “fit” is right. You are on your best behavior and so it often seems that everything is working just fine.

But then the after the 90-day probationary period, the “bloom is off the rose” so to speak. People get comfortable. Their real personalities begin to show. Times get stressful. The company is having some challenges or you are having some personal or professional challenges. Whatever it is, the situation shifts and the organization is different and it expects something different from you. Now your question is, “are you going to adjust” or stay as you have up until now? This is the question.

Those who don’t adjust… ultimately get fired or moved aside. Those who do adjust, stay, usually.

There is no right or wrong here. There is only what is comfortable for you and what works. If you don’t want to adjust, then don’t. Start looking for another job. If you can and want to adjust, then do.

And when you are hiring people, just keep in mind that you will probably hire them because they have the abilities you want and they “seem” to be a fit for your organization. Downstream, if you lay them off or fire them, it will probably be because they really didn’t fit. That’s one the big lessons of management and leadership.

In my coaching practice I have coached many people who were very close to being fired, let go, or laid off. In every case, I was brought in by the manager of the person at risk of termination. In every case, the manager valued the employees technical abilities and they wanted to keep the person. But the lack of fit, the lack of people skills, had placed the manager in a position where they were forced to lay the employee off. Other people didn’t want to work with this employee. Program managers didn’t want them on their teams. For their manager, it was their last resort. “Can you help this person work better with his or her colleagues, because if not, I’m going to have to lay them off”, were the words from their managers.

In every case, these people became either the next generation of managers in their companies or the star technical people in their organizations.

Fit can be adjusted. The fist step is to understand what it is and then how to adjust it.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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