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When the Fit Hits the Shan

In advertising, we’re accustomed to handling a lot of crises: Missed deadlines, errant media buys, underperforming campaigns, working well past the profitability threshold, etc.

This post isn’t about any of that stuff.

It’s about the shanfit that ensues when a new hire isn’t working out and what to do about it.

If you are the hiring manager…

Shame on you. How come you didn’t pick up on this during the interview process?

I’M KIDDING! But let’s get to the delta between what you thought you hired and what’s running around the office now.

What’s the main problem and is it coachable? If you invest a little time, are more accessible and mentoring, can you transform this person? Is it worth your energy?

Here are the considerations:

  • Are there challenges that inhibit this new hire from achieving their full potential? For example, do they have adequate support so they can perform at the level expected? Resolve to put yourself in their shoes because you may be blind to problems if you’ve lived with them a long time. Here, it’s especially helpful to ask them what the challenges are rather than assume.
  • Do you have reasonable expectations about the talent that’s available? You know how when your house-hunting, you start out with a long list of wants – some mandatory and some total Hail Marys? You eventually come to a conclusion on what the market will bear in your price range. I’m not advocating compromise on the critical things. I’m advocating realism. Unless you want to rent forever.
  • Can you envision a solution? If you’ve already closed your mind, then we’re in trouble. You’ve dismissed this person, they’ll sense it, and your relationship will just be frustrating and tenuous. When you acknowledge someone’s potential, whether expressly or subconsciously, s/he will typically rise to the expectations you set for them. That works in both directions. I didn’t just make that up. It was proven in an experiment I first read about here. The fair thing to do is get together and talk about issues, outline a plan for resolving them and agree to assess the situation in a month.

There’s nothing especially prolific or surprising here, but because of our disappointment or busyness, we may neglect the important step of trying to understand why things went wrong.

If you are the employee…

Were you sold a bag of goods? Seriously, what promises were made to you during the hiring process that aren’t being delivered on? How grave and endemic are they? Can you be part of the solution?

You don’t need to play the victim, silently killing your boss and colleagues in your mind. That will read as difficult, high maintenance or apathetic. You have the unique advantage of fresh eyes. As the newbie, you can pick up on problems (and solutions) that long-term employees have become resigned to.

Make a list and choose your battles. Where will it be meaningful and heroic to shake things up and what can you live with?

Also, give yourself a little time. Like moving to a new city, you have to embrace the differences and do a little outreach before things start feeling like home. Don’t jump to the conclusion that this place sucks.

If you thought everything was great, but were blindsided in a performance review, um, that’s probably a completely separate blog post. In a nutshell, listen without becoming defensive and work together to find a way out of the woods.

Finally, it’s a new role and company. Being 100% comfortable all the time isn’t going to advance your career. Presumably, you left your old job for the opportunity to stretch and grow. Consider this awesome anecdote from a previous post:

The Anxiety-Boredom Continuum

Years ago, back when I was younger and cooler, I took a salsa class with my wife-to-be where the instructor said something that really stuck with me. He said that his goal was to keep all of his students in the pocket between boredom and anxiety – but closer to anxiety. In other words, we shouldn’t be so overwhelmed that we break down and give up, but we also shouldn’t be coasting either. He kept the rhythm fast enough so that we were challenged, but not so difficult that we lost the steps completely. And he kept tuning the difficulty level of the class to stretch but not break us.

This same anxiety-to-boredom continuum also applies to managing people. Star performers can get bored easily, and often function best when they’re expected to rise to great challenges. You want expectations to be high, but not completely overwhelming. With this in mind, check in with your employees periodically about where they are on this continuum, while also keeping an eye out for signs of where they stand. If they have low energy, or are showing up late and leaving early, they may be bored. If they’re responding to small setbacks with anger or frustration, or getting sick a lot, they may be pushing too hard.

If you are an innocent third party…

And you’re caught in the cross-fire. I feel for you. The most responsible thing you can do is encourage both sides to tackle and solve things directly. Yes, instead of complaining to you! Even if you are experiencing the same issues, it just makes sense to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Too much negative or alarmist talk is poisonous to morale.

That’s our best advice, fittershans! (Hey, who you calling a fittershan?) Tell us if you have more, especially if it involves outrunning an incensed bull.

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