What I Learned From Hiring The Wrong Person For A Temporary Assignment
You’re not really a leader until you have failed.
As leaders, we take shortcuts and make quick decisions that land us in boiling water. This article is about one of my biggest leadership fails.
A few years ago, one of my bankers went on medical leave unexpectedly. It happened at a time when my intern pool was thin. Scrambling to find coverage, I went to my colleagues to ask whether they would generously lend me one of their interns.
I thought I had hit the jackpot. I got an experienced banker from another institution. Highly recommended, blue chip credentials, ready to step into a desk as soon as one opened up. This intern had strong credit acumen and reams of experience managing clients. She was polished, articulate, and confident.
I was seduced by her gold star resume. I met with her over coffee. Discussions about my team, our clients, and our market flowed into swapping war stories of petulant clients with inflated egos.
The vacancy was in a different geographic location than where this intern was currently working. I told her she could work remotely.
After all, why drive for an hour each way to sit at a desk?
No, I did not expect her to tour branches or network with internal partners to drive new business. My only expectation was that she take very good care of our existing clients.
I invited her to my regular team meetings. But I did not tell her that I expected her to be there. I assumed she would show up.
Why wouldn’t she want to get to know the rest of my team?
We shook hands, I enthusiastically welcomed her on board and walked away with a spring in my step, a victorious grin on my face.
A couple of weeks in, problems started to emerge.
I got a email prior to a team meeting. She had to complete a credit application for one of the bankers on her original team. The team that I borrowed her from. There was a deadline involved. She asked if she really needed to attend my team meeting. It was clear that she didn’t want to be there.
I reluctantly agreed, thinking it would be bad form not to allow it. My colleague had been generous enough to make her available to me on short notice. If he needed her for the day, who was I to stop him?
In subsequent meetings, I noticed that the intern looked distracted. She contributed nothing, had a couple of casual conversations, and then made an excuse (the credit applications never stop) — and left. She made no effort to integrate herself into my team.
And yet, I felt hesitant to confront her about it.
Was it really my place to give her feedback?
She wasn’t really one of my own. She was the loaned Lorraine Schwartz pendant on Oscar night.
I then found out that she was making no effort to go meet clients, even when they requested it. No problem was too big to solve over the phone. Driving out for an hour to meet with a client wasn’t a good use of her time.
Client complaints started rolling in.
I realized that I had made a flawed assumption based on her experience. I thought she knew that, if a client needed to meet, she would have to get in her car and drive. It was so patently obvious to me.
How could a successful salesperson not know that a client’s needs trumped everything else?
The problem wasn’t lack of capability. The problem was that she wasn’t engaged. She never adopted my team or the clients as her own. She really didn’t care. She was only clocking time.
Despite this, she managed to build solid connections with some clients. However, this turned out to be a double edged sword, as well. Because in a few months, it was time for her to leave.
My colleague, her VP, called me to gently remind me that the intern was a loaner. Vacations were coming up, credit applications were piling on, people were stretched and stressed.
So could I please return his resource to the rightful place?
That’s when it dawned on me that I would have to tell clients — sure, we got a great person to replace your banker — but sadly, she too leaving. There will be yet another new person managing your account. Someone unfamiliar and untested.
Great. More change. So now I had some annoyed clients to deal with as well.
What could I have done differently?
Set clear expectations from the start without making assumptions about the Intern’s approach to her work.
I should’ve clearly communicated that I expected her to meet clients. And then held her accountable in weekly goal-setting. I should’ve told her that I expected her to be a part of my team — temporary or not.
So what if it was a temporary assignment? During this assignment, she was managing my team’s clients and reporting to me.
Think long-term instead of rushing into temporary coverage.
It would’ve been better to invest time to recruit a permanent replacement right away. Clients would’ve understood. They would’ve tolerated a vacant desk for a few weeks. Better than retelling their story to a shooting star hurtling in and out of their lives.
The clients that liked this intern were unhappy that she was leaving. And the clients that never even talked to her were unhappy because they had no support for four months.
When hiring someone, do not make assumptions. Be crisp and clear about your expectations. People can’t read your mind.
Don’t be seduced by shiny credentials. Ask specific and direct questions to unearth the individual’s attitude toward work. Think about how it fits with your own leadership credo.
And finally, when recruiting, always think long-term. Each team member is a puzzle piece that fits neatly together in delicate balance. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure that each piece is integrated into the whole.
Even when faced with a hiring emergency, take your time and hire the right person for the long-term instead of grabbing at anything you can to fill the gushing hole.