MEASURE twice, cut once is a term often used by carpenters and tailors when measuring material for a specific purpose. The point is to be very careful and judicious when measuring to avoid nasty outcomes once the wood or material has been cut.
However, this phrase is just as appropriate for the hiring process as well. Once an employee is hired, the company has to ensure that the individual assimilates well into the organisation and achieves the desired level of performance; otherwise the remedial action that needs to be taken can be very tedious and even unpleasant.
One of the many pitfalls of this situation is that employers, under the pressure of filling a vacancy, could end up hiring individuals who may not be the best fit, and as a result, could be setting a whole series of messy events into motion.
Not too long ago, one of my clients approached us to take on a sales director search. The client shared that he had been a bit too hasty in hiring the last sales director, and had failed to dive deep into the strategic value and scope of the role before making the hiring decision.
In our post mortem discussion with the client, it was clear that he had hired an individual who might have been suitable for a sales manager's position; one level below the sales director's position, but had given him the sales director role because of urgency and the lack of suitable candidates at that time.
The unfortunate result of that scenario was that the newly-hired sales director resigned after only three weeks on the job under the pressure and scope of the work, leaving a path of chaos amongst all the company's clients and suppliers. As such, half-way into its financial year, the company was forced to start looking for another candidate for the sales director role.
In this instance, the company may have benefitted from measuring twice and cutting only once, rather than having to repeat the process of hiring for the same position after such a short period of time.
Other than experience, another critical-but-often-overlooked consideration in the recruitment process is the salary range or the package offered for the role. Salaries and wages are always moving in tandem with the demand of a particular skill-set or type of profile. The more in demand a particular type of skill is, the higher the cost of acquiring that skill.
Some organisations are willing to pay above market rates for certain key positions, as the alternative of not having someone in the role may actually cost the organisation more, from a commercial standpoint. On the other hand, there are some companies which would rather keep within a certain salary band rather than pay the market rate to an individual with the right amount of experience for the job.
From my experience, it is essential to have not only a good understanding of the market salaries but also what the candidate's realistic expectation is.
If we pay too high above the market rate, this often sets a very high expectation for this person to perform. And in some instances, if the individual is unable to deliver the expected results, the risk of paying an inflated price to acquire this individual might not have paid off; and if the company had hired someone less qualified because that was all its budget could afford, then the less-experienced individual may also not be able to deliver on the expectation, as he or she may not have the knowledge, capability or necessary life-experience to do so.
Finding a solution
How can we put the measure twice cut once concept into practice?
One innovative human resource director shared with me recently that he had been trying unsuccessfully to fill a role in his department for quite some time. During this period, he was introduced to an individual who was not an ideal fit to the role in terms of experience but one who was teachable and would be able to work well with the rest of the team.
So, he crafted a role around the individual's profile and experience and got the revised role approved by the top management. This worked out well for both the company and the individual, as the expectations set were achievable and realistic. The human resource director, in this case, had to measure twice but only had to cut once as he managed to find a solution to his problem. The solution turned out to be a good one, as the individual successfully completed her probation period and met her key performance indicators.
Another client who was looking for a managing director for his company was also forced to take a less conventional route to filling his needs. The client shared with me that he had already interviewed more than 20 candidates for this role before approaching us to assist with this search. The only candidate who was given an offer turned down the job when he was counter-offered by his current employer.
As such, the client already knew the market and we were hard-pressed to come up with a new slate of candidates for the search. The client liked one of our candidates but felt he wasn't ready to take on the role of managing director yet. However, instead of disregarding a good talent, the client decided to hire the individual as an operations director.
As such, the individual was able to grow into the managing director's role and the company would also have the benefit of securing a good talent who could potentially achieve more for the company in the future.
In this example, our client knew exactly what he needed for the role and exercised some flexibility to acquire good talent rather than missing out on a high-potential candidate. In addition, he did not compromise on his requirements but was able to see beyond the immediate need to find a managing director.
When to measure and when to cut? An important aspect of measure twice cut once, is that the person doing the measuring needs to take the time to get it right and not be in too much of a hurry to get to the cutting stage. A carpenter or tailor is a craftsman who takes pride in his work. Therefore, when we hire, it is essential to look carefully at all aspects of the role which needs to be filled and take the time to understand how a potential candidate will fit that role.
The technical expertise or hard skills are only one part of the whole equation. We should take the time to understand the personality profile of the individual, his or her motivations and long-term goals.
Most hiring managers often forget to look at options in the recruitment process. There is a finite pool of talent and the best talents would also have been earmarked by your competitors as well.
So, instead of doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome, perhaps it's worth the effort to try a different approach. Tailor the job to fit a good talent, or give the person another role to allow time for the individual to grow into the intended position. Although we may not always have the option of changing the status quo in this way, the purpose of this article is to offer another alternative solution to the talent shortage problem, and hopefully, bring about a better outcome.
Talking HR with Pauline Ng
Pauline Ng, consulting director and head of BTI Consultants, encourages every hiring manager to explore all options and leave no stone unturned when making the decision to hire by utilising assessment tools and having a comprehensive map of the talent market.