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Monday, April 7, 2008

Hiring right

I was chatting with one of my associate directors today and decided that maybe the single most important thing we do in the library is: hiring.

Like many libraries, we spend a lot of time and money on orientation of employees, providing supervisory training, providing thoughtful workshops to improve skills, and regular and thorough employee assessment.

And we do hire many, many wonderful people who are more than qualified for their jobs.

But we also, like every other organization I know of, sometimes hire the wrong people. Then we spend a great deal of time tiptoeing around the issue, throwing good money after bad.

Even if we do succeed in finally dislodging the wrong person from a supervisory spot, it really doesn't solve very much if we turn right around and hire someone else who is also a bad fit.

The best hiring mechanism I've ever found is the assessment center, and in particular, the leaderless discussion group. It puts candidates in a spot where they must demonstrate the skill essential to successful supervision: communication. That means the ability to speak clearly, to listen, to summarize, to read and send appropriate body language, to participate in and manage group dynamics. Without those, I submit that a supervisor cannot succeed.

And yet, we don't do this for all supervisory positions, just for manager positions. This may be a case of coming to grips with the obvious, but maybe I really do need to mandate a hiring process that strikes at the fundamental issue of all personnel related matters: who we hire.

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