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How to Screen Out a Star to Save the Team

screening-out-star-workplace

In the recent Harvard Business Review article “How Facebook Tries to Prevent Office Politics,” Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure, advises against hiring “empire builders, self-servers, and whiners” — even if they’re also smart, skilled, and experienced people.

How sensible! And how strategic!

Organizations always need competent people who care about growth and progress, know how to focus attention, and can play the “squeaky wheel” when an important issue needs attention.

But they can’t afford employees who care too much about their own success over their company’s, have a pattern of furthering their own interests over those of the people they serve or lead, or are too easily aggrieved at the slightest challenge. No matter how technically proficient they may be, or how badly the business needs their functional capabilities, such people are dangerous to an organization’s stability and effectiveness.

All too often, the short-term satisfaction that comes from filling the last open box on the org chart or bringing a particular expertise in-house is outweighed in the long term by the damage the wrong person can do to the culture, team, or particular individuals. The value of technical accomplishments are drastically undercut when they’re accompanied by a staff exodus or if a resulting dissension in the ranks reduces forward momentum in other areas.

Hire for Help Not Harm

Damaging individuals aren’t necessarily bullies, narcissists, or even pathological. Sometimes they’re just people who somehow succeeded too easily while “looking out for Number One.” Or maybe they got their own way too often, and got used to thinking it was always supposed to happen that way.

The problem isn’t just a bit of long-term damage along with a heap of short-term gain. The real problem is when we hire these individuals into organizations that we’re trying to reform, set on the right track, and develop.

But that doesn’t have to be a problem. At Facebook, says Parikh, interview questions are used to screen “for the ability to calibrate to a team environment.” The prompts draw out the candidates to reveal what they’d be like as colleagues. I really like two of Facebook’s questions: “Can you tell me about four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?” and “Describe a few of your peers at your company and what type of relationship you have with each of them.”

Asked and Answered

I like those questions because the answers reveal much about relationship, trust, and collaboration — or their absence. These probes could also uncover a rigidity of mindset and belief system, an excessive need to be right, or a drive to gain status or the upper hand over others.

Here are some other useful questions:

  • “What kinds of difficulties did you have with your boss?”
  • “Tell me about the people who consistently challenged your views.”
  • “How did you handle the times when someone tried to block your progress?”

Know Your Needs — and Theirs

These questions invite candidates to share negative thoughts and problematic situations. Are the focused on how they’ve been wronged or obstructed? Do they share developmental lessons they’ve learned, or acknowledge how they were strengthened by colleagues? Did they find value in being challenged, or were people below them in the hierarchy too uncomfortable to raise concerns with them?

Try to listen for what candidates actually perceived and how they responded. Do they consider themselves to have been more held back or held up by others? Did they see themselves as serving their teams and having high regard for colleagues above, below, and at their own level? Or did they see believe they were the source of all success, the lone innovator, or the sole decider?

In the midst of your excitement and relief that you’ve finally found someone who can do the work you need done, it can be hard to ask such penetrating questions. It’s not easy to wait to find someone who can do the work and simultaneously be a good contributor to the organization. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that the wrong person will do the necessary work the right way.

Onward and upward,

LK

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