Employing a star?


Over-achiever or self-printed certificate?

I recently heard an amusing story from a friend of mine in a council in one of this nation’s big cities.

The council my friend works for was in the process of employing a new senior member of staff (when I say senior we are talking one of the top five or so members of staff in the local authority; the sort of person who would definitely be on Eric Pickles list… It is no secret that local authorities are currently under a lot of pressure and this job was considered by the members of the council to be so important to their long term future that they dreamed up a very complex recruitment process.

I’m no HR professional but when the recruitment process used was described to me I was very impressed. There was:

  • Testing
  • Interviews with other senior officers and members
  • A speed dating interview event with staff and other stakeholders (including customers)
  • A presentation

So why tell this story?

Because the council in question were sold a pup. Apparently their new senior manager is about as effective as Jeremy Clarkson at a save the earth rally.

I’m talking mocked by other councils, laugh out loud bad.

It’s still early days but if this is true and the member of staff doesn’t help deliver the high quality that is not only expected but clearly needed then this recruitment process will turn out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Why does this happen? How could an appointment that bad, which within the first few months is widely criticised by those outside of the organisation, still occur even after this extensive recruitment process?

I don’t work in recruitment and have never recruited anyone, let alone someone of this seniority but having been in local government here are my four possible reasons:

1)      It doesn’t matter how good the process is if the people make an error. Many a consultant has walked into a local authority and identified a failing process as cure for all our ailments. Councils accept this as it is actually easier to believe this than it is to accept that people make mistakes. Look how many ‘transformation’ programmes are process based.

2)      Councils often pride being ‘fair’ over being right. I’ve often experienced the wrong person getting the job because of the scrupulously ‘fair’ process; even when those running it know better.

3)      Local Government is huge and therefore the opportunity for reinvention in the same field is almost unlimited. In the field of dogfood sales or even corporate banking, the industry is small enough that if people constantly underperform then they are looking for a new career. In local government it can be difficult to establish a good or bad reputation within the sector; it’s just too big.

4)      We could all be wrong. The tales of this individual’s failure elsewhere could be nothing more than tittle tattle and jealousy.

I shall watch with interest.

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2 Comments on “Employing a star?”

  1. Penny Says:

    There are some people whose greatest talent is to get employed. They are never so fluent, convincing, sincere, creatively insightful or dynamic as when they are sitting in an interview room. They wilt outside it – perhaps they need the pressure to perform. I obviously know nothing about this case, but did no-one ask for references or get soundings from previous employers? Local government big wigs can’t come from THAT big a pool surely? Someone looking for a job with this seniority must have a traceable track record. Having a process that just relies on judgements from people within the hiring organisation and doesn’t get a second (and third)opinion from outside sounds risky to me.

  2. localgov Says:

    Not that I know about this case, but I’ve had a similar problem before where I employed someone who on paper and in interview was excellent. His references were okay if a little bland, and it was only after he was in post and being a lazy, useless, time wasting drain on resources that I found out he’d been given such a reference so that he could leave the team he was in and get a new job elsewhere. They were too scared/worried/lazy themselves to performance manage him, so he got used to getting away with murder.

    The formal warnings and lessons learnt were not long coming…


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