Hiring for skills or organizational fit?

When leading a strategic project, should you overlook behavioral failures to ensure project execution? Do you hire for skills or organizational fit when you can’t have both?

A new director started at our organization about a year ago. She is technically skilled in her area of expertise, and we had a large gap in this particularly area prior to her arrival. We are fortunate to have her expertise and technical knowledge, but I have identified increasing opportunites to improve her leadership or behavioral skills, particularly around communication.

One complicating factor is the reporting structure. All parties involved support the current reporting structure for this individual and team, but it has made feedback and communication more challenging. This director dual reports to an Assistant Vice President in my division and to a VP in a different operational division. Additionally, there are physician dyad partner leaders for each of those leaders, so there are essentially four separate individuals with differing opinions about how she should operate and lead.

Another complicating factor is that she was brought in to lead a very large, organizational project. This project is over $10 million in capital and it is critical that we complete this project by January 2019.

As mentioned, her primary leadership opportunity is around communication. She struggles with transparency and being direct, sharing the right level of information with the right people, and asking for assistance. One example of her transparency/directness challenge is when an issue with a vendor arose, it took about three conversations to determine who was responsible for the issue we were experiencing. Instead of just being direct about who was responsible, she tried to deflect and it made things more confusing, therefore taking longer than needed to resolve this particular issue. Another example of communication challenges is the number of negative interactions that her peers have had with her. Several individuals have provided feedback that her communication to other leaders or teams was inappropriate.

While I am happy with her technical skills, her leadership behaviors are unacceptable. Her skills are highly sought after in the industry, and we need to complete the project on time and on budget. All of this leads to me feeling like we need to address her behavior, but it puts the organization at too great of a risk if she were to leave and not complete the project.




Department Growing Pains: Transparent or Not

Participant comments on Hiring for skills or organizational fit?

  1. I clearly notice that there is a problem with the structure of hierarchy. In this case, she is supposed to report to multiple leaders and decision makers in multiple divisions who might be having a different view to the same issue. Over time, this could have complicated the situation where the technical director might have been left confused on the reaction of different individuals and might be trying to work out on the way to present the issue, thus resulting in complex communication which might have been perceived as lack of transparency adding to the challenges.
    The solution for this can only be
    1) any issue that needs involvement of multiple stake holders for decision making, may be taken up with all of them together and brainstorming along with the technical director thus making it a flat organisation where there can be multiple reporting structures and authorities.

    2) in case where the above is not possible, the reporting structure must be changed to the technical director reporting and taking orders and advises from only one designated leader clearly defining the hierarchy.

    The other challenge presented above is of the negative interactions with the peers.
    When such feedback is received, it becomes very important that the leaders understand the premise of such a feedback and the holistic picture than confining to the keyhole view as this is a totally subjective condition where different people react differently for the same situation/communication.

    The technical director may be made aware of the peer feedback giving her the opportunity to correct her approach wherever needed as she is a very valuable asset for the project struggling to make her way through the complex environment of the organisation with multiple reporting authorities and project deadlines.

  2. Technical skill set comes first. we need people to perform particular job which a skilled person can only do, like we need surgeons to perform surgeries. Once, we have have hired a skilled person then comes organisational fit, which is quite tough. many organisations try to drive their employees with their vision and mission but people need a lot of trainings and workshop so that they can fit into particular organisations.

  3. At the leadership level the technical expertise becomes secondary to the behavioral and leadership skill set. Determining if the individual’s job is to preform the technical work (or quality assure the work) or lead a team and project is necessary. These often are two different skill sets. For this specific issue I would recommend, first developing a solution to complete the project on time if this person leaves and then work on coaching the behaviors or pairing with a leader who can manage the negative behaviors and serve as a buffer. With a highly matrixed work environment it can be difficult for individual leaders to flex enough to be successful.

  4. behavioral failures should be addressed timely to avoid long term problems. Perhaps having the crucial conversation with the rich people corrects the problem.

    technical skills are crucial; however, depending on the job leadership skills and the right fit for the organization may be more important.

  5. It might be helpful for the four individuals to whom this employee reports to ensure that the scope of work for this role is well defined, deliverables and timelines identified and a STRUCTURED communication plan developed and implemented that included the communication needs of the leaders for information. The employee needs to understand the impact of the communication style that they have deployed is not working for the organization, and be redirected towards expectations. If the structure was not put into place when they were onboarded to the organization and project, then now is the time to do so. Fit and skill and equally important, but I have always found better outcomes are derived when conflict occurs between the two to focus on fit, and train for skill.

  6. Definitely keep this person until the project is complete! Since the person has valuable technical skills I would try to train her to improve her communication – this will be difficult but could work. Sometimes people have trouble with particular types of communication such as communicating with direct reports, superiors, or crisis communicating. If that all fails, maybe try to change her role to minimize the necessity for communication. As an aside, maybe the organization as a whole could simplify the team structure. This can be a challenge but can simplify communication for everyone.

  7. Great Question.
    I say you need to hire for both using a differently abled interviewers….Some times you need to compromise the Culture part when the technical skills are scarce.

    Do not underestimate what a Professional Coach can do to convert an awkward Geek to a fully functional/ Organizational culture savvy player. Do consider a Coach.

    Hope this helps/ Bidur

  8. Great Question.
    I say you need to hire for both using a differently abled interviewers….Some times you need to compromise the Culture part when the technical skills are scarce.

    Do not underestimate what a Professional Coach can do to convert an awkward Geek to a fully functional/ Organizational culture savvy player. Do consider a Coach.

  9. I agree with Bidur. A professional or executive coach could be of great value, and she may actually be greatly appreciative of the opportunity especially if they do not feel threatened by someone inside the organization trying to “change their behavior”. It seems that the highly technical skills this person brings are unique and valued and because of that skill set they have likely not had good coaching or mentoring to develop their communication skill set.

  10. I also agree with Bidur. A professional coach or some mandated leadership training while emphasizing that the organization greatly values the technical skill could be beneficial.

    Its rare to find individuals who possess both the leadership skills and the tech skills organizations seek out. Overall it sounds like this individual lacks self-awareness–which means its up to her supervisor(s) to put her on notice.

  11. I think it usually is more difficult to train a director with excellent communication skills to become a highly appreciated technical or other expert in the field than to give coaching on communication skills to an outstanding expert. I think you should keep the technical director but her boss should latest now have a constructive discussion with her on these problems. The boss could in the beginning praise her with her excellent technical skills but be frank with the problems which may endager her success in her career also later at any other company. A mentor or coach is an excellent idea. Maybe her bonus could be bound also to her improvement in communication skills.

  12. A tough problem. In principle I believe culture and behaviour are more important than technical knowledge, which usually can be learning more easy. In this specific situation, you cannot replace this person and you have to life with her limitations.

    As others propose, I would try to improve her leadership skills using a coach (if the person is open for this) because there is no time for a formal course.

    In case the person does not improve, yo can already start building up an successor who has the necessary human skills and who can replace her after the project is completed.

  13. I would agree with Bidur – a coach can be a wonderful help. Often/especially when combined with a 360 assessment and/or psychometric testing and compared against the competencies/capabilities for the role (which likely identify technical AND non-technical requirements because BOTH are crucial to a person’s success).
    Dual reporting is usually a problem – should be remedied. Very hard to fix a behavioural issue when different messages can/are sent by two different leaders with (likely) two different views of what success looks like.
    Lastly, from your description there is an accountability issue on the part of the employee. in such instances the coaching approach is not usually the right one, at least on its own. This is where a direct performance management conversation should take place with clear expectations set.

  14. I also think you need to keep her till the end of the project. Also I think that this multiple reporting lines make her confused and as result it may cause her inappropriate behavior. If possible change her reporting line to key stakeholder or those several guys have to agree what she needs to do and who guide her. Otherwise this multiplematrix reporting won’t allow you to launch the project.

  15. Are leaders born or made?
    This is a frequently asked question.
    Different school of thoughts could argue out this question depending on different circumstances. Behavioral theories believe that people can be taken through certain processes to become great “natural” leaders. These processes involve education, learning and motion studies. Leadership is a set of skills that can be learned by training, perception, practice and experience over time.
    I suggest that if she has significant technical know-how, it is worth putting her on a personalized development plan and opportunities that will help her learn this new skills. An example is attending one of the Harvard’s leadership and management course. It is also important to give a constructive feedback to her by starting with how good she is technically however, she can benefit from additional training in leadership skills to have a holistic approach in management.

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