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March 2017

Hire me! I failed my last assignment…

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Imagine you are hiring for a leadership position or any role for that matter, what would your obvious questions be? You ask for past achievements, drivers to change the job, future-plans if offered the job and other industry specific technical matters? Occasionally as an afterthought you may go beyond and ask about their failures, but, how many times do you ‘really’ want to hear about failures? I would argue that we always like failures if they are wrapped up in positivity and the person claims victory over it. If the candidate is meeting you for his next job after a failed assignment what are the chances of you hiring him? I would put it as remote. Wouldn’t your comfort level would be less compared to somebody who said that they had conquered the world and not even sure why they were ‘even’ meeting you, we like that confidence all the time, don’t we? I can substantiate…

I once attended a job interview with a fortune 100 MNC with lots of hope. The employer I was working for hadn’t paid my full salary for few of months and the personal finances were under tremendous stress. Under the circumstances I thought I did well in the interview. I still have not learnt to say otherwise about my interviews ? The head-hunter called me later to say I did not impress my interviewer. I was desperate, I pushed back and asked why? I was told I was low on confidence and for a sales lead they expected more ‘confidence’ than what I had to offer. I then reflected on what had transpired in that interview and what else could have gone against me. Few things I suspected were in the grey zone:

  1. I had admitted that personally it was a ‘low’ period as financially I was struggling
  2. I did mention to them that performance of the team had dipped as we hadn’t got second round of funding and the morale within the organisation was low, maybe it looked like a good excuse for poor results?
  3. It was difficult to sell to the customer as we weren’t sure about the organisation’s future,

Besides the above I had elaborated at length how we had done well in the past. I spoke of the amazing founder that we had and the transparent culture that was built. Of course we had conversations around my own contribution, competencies and positive track record with my previous employers too. But I guess the positive attributes were forgotten after my disclosure about my recent failures. My knowledge on the protocols around interviews was not as rich those days, Hence I was unaware of theories like “one shouldn’t talk negative things about your employer” and things like that. On reflection, I must have portrayed myself as the non-performing asset and hence got rejected. There are always two sides to a story, so do take my example with the usual pinch of salt ?

Interviews are about conquering, achieving, no chink in the armour set ups, they say even weaknesses should sound like strengths.

Poor performances are part of everyone’s CV, but they don’t land you great jobs if you use them in interviews. It is a paradox, one side we say people who have experiences of failure make great hires but not sure if we practice it. Imagine telling yourself, your HR or your boss that you are hiring somebody who has failed in their last assignment? The bouquet or the welcome email on day one for the joiner may just not arrive! ?

If you carefully review any organisation’s performance metrics (easy to measure in sales organisations) only around 30% of sales force would be ahead or meeting their targets at any given time. So, do organisations fire the remaining 70%? I am sure there are stories/explanations about the medium/mediocre performers that keep them in the organisation. Some of us have also come to this compromise that performance is cyclical and we need to be patient and supportive when the curve is downwards. So why wouldn’t we apply the same theory to people whom we hire from outside? Why are we always in this chase to hire superstars for whom the law of averages might just catch up with their next job?

Not sure whom to blame, we have grown up in that atmosphere, it makes for nice reading about drop outs who built billion dollar companies, but also remember how the guy who failed in mid-term exams was treated by your teachers in schools, the guys who failed in college are only heroes in movies, did your parents allow you to play with kids in neighbourhood who failed in school? It’s not cool at home either. We in fact turn up the heat on those guys demanding a turnaround, even if they were our kith and kin, so it’s only natural that when we are hiring we want the perfect leader who has never failed or at least not failed in his last assignment.

If you are attending an interview and you honestly feel you have failed in your current assignment, I would advise you to wear a mask called ‘confidence’ and fake that you are at the pinnacle of your success. That’s what the interviewer wants to hear. Please boost his/her confidence.

Keep your sob story for friends and families!

Promise your aspirant employers that you will  launch their Rocket to Mars!

Got Fired

I wish you get ‘fired’ someday!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

I wonder how many of us think about getting fired, it sure does cross the mind at some point in our complex career journey. Have you ever thought about how you should be treated if it ever happens to You?

Let me not scare you, so let’s start with others, if someone you know well was fired what would you ask or tell them? Did they do something wrong? Did they get severance pay? Do they have a new job in hand? Would they need some financial assistance (that’s is if you are the generous kind or if they already don’t owe you money)?

Will you ever ask if they were treated well during the process? Often, we are interested in the material transaction rather than humane actions. Off course there are exceptions to these, I am excluding those outliers today as its not convenient to my argument. The organisations we work for are no different. They too are interested in completing the transaction of termination, more than anything else.

When we want to ‘fire’ somebody, once we get past the obvious question of why, one needs to spend more time on the HOW. This HOW is unfortunately more tilted towards the organisation rather than the employees involved. Let me tell you why…

In my early days of managerial training one of the modules was about termination. We were put through a series of role-plays on how to fire people in different scenarios such as discipline, integrity, performance, sexual harassment and so on. There was a separate process and technique to master in each of these situations. I learnt that it was important to ensure the employee resigns rather than be seen as fired. That way we could be safe from legal implications. So, thereafter every time we were faced with any of the situations warranting a separation we would always be thinking about how to corner the employee to resign. Our bosses and HR would be only keen to know that we got the resignation in writing from the departing employee. Not much has changed in the philosophy/process of firing since those days.

A decade or so later I was faced with the prospect of laying off 40 odd people. Though we were a large organisation, the skills were not transferable and we couldn’t transfer them to another department. I was principally against firing, but I was new to the organization (now I am acting holier than thou). It wasn’t performance, it wasn’t the fault of these employees, it was a global directive we had to follow as the strategy had changed.

Business, Finance, Legal and HR guys came together for a hastily convened meeting and this is what got discussed:

  • Who will lead the communication to the affected employees? What would be the content of the message?
  • What was the total compensation of the employees being made redundant?
  • What would be the timelines by which we should complete the separation?
  • What would we convey to the rest of the organisation about this exercise?
  • Do any of the employees facing the axe have a legal background, or do they have relatives who are lawyers or are they connected to any bureaucrats or politicians? Would we face adverse publicity?
  • Could we set up a daily reporting format? Who will send the progress report to our global bosses?

As you can see, there was nothing at all in this discussion about “how will we help the employees who are going through this separation”.

You can’t blame the team who were discussing this situation. We all are wired to think of protecting the organisation interest, as that’s how we are trained in leadership and other functional roles. I am yet to come across any orientation module called “Separation with Empathy “. Firing on behalf of the organisation itself is a pretty stressful job, so thinking about our colleagues who are going through this obviously comes next or last unless any of those affected is an affectionate colleague, friend, relative.

The challenge for people who are in influential roles in organisations is to spend more time on the “how” of separation. In an active media and social media world bad PR is a given, so instead of protecting that can we at a professional and organisation level support and counsel the people who must go through this separation? I guess it’s easy to say this at a later date when the heat around me is no longer the same, when you are in midst of it acting at the behest of the organisation you are only thinking of how to get over the entire process as per the organisation mandate than to drag it further by accommodating the departing colleagues.

The only time we will start to think differently perhaps is when the affected party is us.

Layoffs are necessary transactions today, the employee for obvious reasons comes after the ‘organisation’ in terms of priority. Usage of emotions in this exercise is harmful to the organisation!

 So, is there a way we can get people in power to behave better to uphold the dignity and self-esteem of the departing employees?

The sadist in me has a view…

I hope all of us get fired at least once in our career for us to behave with empathy when we reach the totem pole!

Ruthlessness is the key while you deal with terminations?