Get Tough: Avoid Hiring Those Who'll Be Toxic to Your Business

Too Often We Are Swayed by Resume or Personality to Bring on Someone Who Will Do More Harm Than Good

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Every CEO wants to know that he is giving his organization the best opportunity to succeed. Not every decision will be right -- after all, everyone is human. But at the end of the day, every company needs the same thing: a leader who had better be right more often than he is wrong.

The more successful an organization gets, the more important it becomes for the CEO to make a call and then move on. There are a lot of moving parts in any organization and most executives don't have the luxury of time when weighing their options on day-to-day decisions.

One mantra I've used to help me make tough decisions over the years is from American author and poet Maya Angelou: "The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them."

This is such a simple and profound statement, and it holds great significance for me. It's human nature to make excuses for people when they behave inappropriately or fail to meet your expectations. As an executive I need to separate my empathy for a person from the facts that are presented to me. I now treat every first impression as an audition.

Unwavering faith may work with the trusted, high-caliber people in your inner circle, but what happens when someone new shows up on the scene with questionable ethics or character? Giving him the benefit of the doubt can lead to our own undoing. It's important to be fair, but a leader also needs to be a strong judge of character.

Too often we get caught up in credentials and other matchmaking criteria when trying to grow our business. When we meet someone with an impressive background or a persuasive personality, we tend to overlook problematic issues. It's human nature to be optimistic, but this is a trait that managers are best to keep in check when meeting new contacts. If you manage your agency through rose-colored glasses, you are setting yourself up for recurring disappointment.

For example, if a new recruit is late or misses an interview, then they most likely have made your decision for you. Who wants to hire someone who isn't demonstrating an overwhelming desire to work for your organization? Who wants to hire someone who respects his time more than your own? Next!

If a new lead contacts you and asks you to do some spec work to win some favor for a future account, then ask why you'd do free work when you could be focusing on finding ways to grow your "paying" clients' business. And if the lead is such a great opportunity, then why don't they have money to pay for the initial project? It's surprising how many companies use the "trial project" to bait agencies into doing free work. If you're going to set your agency value at zero dollars from the outset, you may as well say "No thanks!" from the get-go.

If you're dealing with a senior player who likes to let everyone know how important and almighty he is , then let him know that there is no "I" in "TEAM". As cliche as that may sound, it's important to treat everyone who contributes to your success with respect and keep the egos in check.

You need to identify individuals who will detract from your business and avoid them, just as you need to get rid of people on staff who are already hurting your company. These people usually will do more damage than good. These types of decisions will typically be unpopular with some, but they are necessary to rid yourself of distractions and focus on growing your business. You have to be prepared to make tough calls to mold a corporate culture that you and your team are proud to be a part of . This may sound like a cold approach, but I believe it's important for executives to measure the success of their agency by the sum of its parts, not their popularity with everyone they meet.

Thomas Stringham is the founding president and creative director of integrated marketing agency, Hot Tomali, the 2010 Ad Age International Small Agency of the Year. @ThomasStringham @HotTomali.
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