Why do we hire good people, then squelch them?

Mar 28 2006 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

In your effort to find good employees, you may use some type of formal screening process. Perhaps you spend a lot of money on head hunters to find top-skilled applicants, those who are the best match for the opening you have.

Hiring exceptional employees is good thing, but my question is this: Why do so many employers use such extensive efforts to find high-quality candidates only to restrict their initiative and ingenuity once they become employees?

Befuddling, to say the least.

If you're one of those who "can't seem to find good people," you have plenty of company. I hear it a lot: "When I hired this guy I thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but boy was I wrong."

Maybe you've heard those words from others or even said them yourself. But maybe the problem isn't with the employees. Maybe the problem is what we do with them after they're hired.

That's a bold statement, but consider these possibilities:

  • Perhaps we haven't shown them the full scope of their job descriptions
  • Perhaps we haven't shown them the big picture
  • Perhaps we inadvertently criticize and poke holes in every idea they have

If any of these are true, the employee cannot be to blame.

Consider the first possibility, handing somebody a job description amidst a pile of other important paperwork during their first days on the job.

Sure, now they have the description, but it's not enough. Tons of new information is bombarding a person's brain during the first few days of employment, and like it or not, it's not all going to stick. People can only take in so much new learning before the circuits overload and new information simply bounces off and falls to the floor.

We squelch people when we place excessive demands on them for quick results in specific areas during their first few days of a job

Learning new terminology, new people, new processes, even how to survive in the culture of a new company, all takes time. We squelch people when we place excessive demands on them for quick results in specific areas during their first few days of a job, thinking we'll educate them in the rest of their job description "down the road." The intention is good, but our follow-through rarely happens.

We further compound the problem when we fail to provide an environment so their natural skills grow into the full scope of their job responsibilities.

A good idea: Assign new hires a mentor with a timeline for becoming proficient in all aspects of a job description.

Consider the second possibility: Maybe your mental picture of what constitutes success has been thriving vibrantly in your brain, but it fails to make it past your lips. In other words, if your picture of success and your new star employee's picture of success are different, wires will get crossed, confusion will emerge, and enterprising ideas will be missed.

When new employees don't know exactly where their work is supposed to be leading, it's hard for them to take initiative to get there.

A good idea: Proclaim your vision of success up and down the chain of command on a regular basis. Make it an active part of everyday conversation - even with new hires - and ask people to tell you how they see their job fitting in with the big picture.

Finally, let's consider the possibility that we are not as open or as flexible with new ideas as we think we are. It doesn't take long for someone full of great ideas to stop offering suggestions if all we do is criticize and poke holes in what they offer.

From a financial perspective, every employee is an investment. To get the maximum return from our investments, we need to give our well-screened, intelligent employees the freedom to make suggestions for how our organizations can be more successful.

A good idea: When an employee offers a suggestion, either write it down yourself or ask him or her to submit the idea to you in an e-mail, or in a short paragraph or outline. Then make a point to get back to that person with your feedback in relatively short order. (In other words, don't answer too fast, but don't ignore the suggestion altogether, either.) Also, be sure to acknowledge the benefits the idea would bring, even if you have to say "no" to the suggestion.

Bottom line, people need to know what they're working toward, what their role is in that endeavor, and the freedom to take ownership in the best ways to do it.

If we hire people because of their good brainpower, skills, and abilities, let's give them an environment - and the encouragement - to excel.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Heís also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence

Older Comments

I think this is very true as it has happened to me before in one of the multinationals. I joined the company under strict and merit based enployment process only to join them and get some limiting factors like criticisms to ideas.

olawale olaogun United Kingdom

I am struggling to create a management training program. I have four meetings of about two hours each to hit home. I have a new employee survey that says our people love their work and compensation, but when asked for ideas they focus on whiny little issues. They're engaged in the mission but still there is an environment of want. Love your site, it encourages me. Any ideas whay to do with my management team?

Jane Kite

Frequent meeting may make the situation worst.(humans only can pay attention for first 45 mins). Since your company is multinational, why dont you send them for more off-job training programs like role play, discussion groups, or some business game. You can even encourage them to give more suggestions.

jane yeow malaysia

This is so true. Kind of haunting to read. It seems to happen at almost every employer I have worked for. Management seems to spend so much time, money, and effort to find the right 'candidate'. They ask you in almost every interview if you have done things in your past employment to bring about 'change' or 'efficiency'... but when you volunteer this kind of effort all you get is the cold shoulder. They make you out to be some star and raise everyone's expectations of you in your first few months... then as time passes by they allow you to hang yourself and it's you left with all the blame. I wonder why the majority of companies don't seem to see the benefit in cultivating and retaining their most talented and skilled employees -- especially when they waste so much time emphasizing the need for talent and skill in their hiring procedures.

Parker Davis Toronto, Canada

Jane Kite, The best book I've found on improving meetings and making them as effective and efficient as possible is 'Death by Meeting' by Patrick Lencioni. It's something I highly recommend to anyone who holds meetings.

For management development, I'll be a bit self-serving and suggest you check out my company's website (www.leadershipanswers.com) as we have a very effective management development approach.

However, I'm sure many of the columnists who are on this site who are also consultants would be just as helpful. Most have links to their websites.

Dan Bobinski