Around the Bend: Ask the janitor


 Three had been here only a short time.  To see these people in action and to hear the first hand reports, there was little doubt about those decisions. How did it happen?  In all cases, it was a Board that hired them. As with most things, it is mostly about people. As well intentioned as they might be, boards can be disconnected and uninformed about what really goes on in an organization and in a Director’s office.

     One of the four was my organization. The dynamics behind her hiring were obvious. The previous Director was weak and behaved badly. The Board swung the other way with his replacement. A very forceful woman and one not afraid to throw bodies around.  She proved to be highhanded, manipulative, even a bit sadistic. She caused much tumult and, finally, an outside consultant’s investigation settled things for good. She was the fourth Director in a row to be fired. The next hiring process would see a major renovation.  Stay tuned.

      The other agencies hired people after little in-depth exploration, it seems.  Personality and  a convincing resume can do it.  Other exigencies like a deadline or race can force the process. My recommendation for hiring is simple: ask the janitor. ask all kinds of people, but I mention the janitor because he/she has probably seen the candidate in unguarded, every day moments, the fly-on- the-wall perspective. And, how the janitor is treated matters, too.

     In the case of my organization, the Chair of the Board, who was deeply involved in this leadership crisis,decided that there should be staff reps on the selection committee. Having witnessed so much incompetence in the selection process and being a stressed whistle blower during the crisis, I wanted to be on that committee. I was elected.

     Perhaps it was my greatest institutional contribution in my 29 years. With cogent first-person input from friends elsewhere about the very flawed leading candidate, our attention went to another candidate who has proven a decent, competent and not ego-driven leader. Given what I learned about the other man, this organization would  have become very depressed if he had been hired.  

     There is no mystery to what works. Go way beyond the interview at the Board table.  Yes, talk to the janitor and others who know the candidate best.  It is time and effort well worth it.