It’s a cruel irony.  As a Hiring Manager, the only time you are forced to think about hiring is when you are too busy to focus on it … because you are understaffed.  But being busy is not really the big problem with hiring.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that hiring efforts do not fail because Hiring Managers are too busy – managers can always find time for their critical priorities.   So why exactly does hiring so often fail in small organizations?

Hiring efforts fail because the wrong person is in charge.  Most small firms make the Hiring Manager run the hiring process.  If you have 20 managers you have 20 different hiring processes.  Which is a fiasco.

Hiring fails when you bog down the Hiring Manager with all the hiring process decisions.   Hiring fails when the people who know the most about hiring are not creating the hiring process.  The Hiring Manager should be an active participant in a good hiring process, but should almost never be in charge of it.

Think about it, when you put Hiring Managers in charge of hiring, you take them away from what they are good at (managing their function) and instead force them to make dozens of time consuming decisions they are ill-equipped to make, perform tasks they find unimportant, and take risks they do not fully comprehend.

To most Hiring Managers, the tasks involved in hiring seem unproductive, uncomfortable, or vaguely legally threatening – like writing a job description, recruiting, selecting people to interview, figuring out what interview questions you can ask, writing up notes from the interview, checking references, and making the job offer.  It feels like one mis-step and BOOM you are in litigation.  (At least that is what the company lawyer said in that mandatory training they slept through took last year).

So managers minimize their effort on the hiring project and instead focus on that other work on their desk that is so much more familiar, that actually interests them and makes them feel competent.

But don’t most managers get help with hiring?  Of course they do.  Perhaps they enlist the help of a Subject Matter Expert (SME) from HR.  That should help, right?

Except it does not help – because the “helper” is also in the wrong role.  The (SME) often simply advises, leaving most decisions in the hands of the Hiring Manager – who is still serving as their own hiring project manager.  (The acid test of who is the advisor and who is the hiring project manager is this:  Who reads the resumes, conducts the phone interview and decides who to bring in for a face to face interview.  Whoever makes that decision is your de facto hiring project manager.   In my experience, most Hiring Managers are not well trained to make this choice, often selecting candidates for interview based on the wrong criteria).

Here’s how it usually plays out when HR plays the supporting role:

  • The “helper” ( HR person) makes the manager submit a hiring requisition … with a job description, in accordance with policy.   But the Hiring Manager thinks:  “I can’t write a job description.  I don’t really know what I need.  This is no help at all!”
  • Next the “helper” runs an ad or does some recruiting and submits a stack of resumes to the hiring manager.   But the Hiring Manager thinks: “I have no idea if these people are any good, and no time to read all this dull stuff.  I can’t decide who to interview.  This is no help at all!”
  • Next, the busy Hiring Manager looks at their jammed calendar and determines they only have time to see 3 people, fitting them in over a series of weeks.    The “helper” has no earthly idea why only 3 were selected, how the manager selected those 3 people, or why others were not selected, but they are just an advisor and have no voice in the matter.  (Actually, In this case, the manager is actually not upset, these long delays are considered normal hiring practice).
  • The manager does not have time to prepare for each interview, does not know what questions to ask, and after the interview can’t quite remember the strengths and weaknesses of any of the prior candidates because the “helper” provided no guidance about what questions to ask or what competencies to look for.   (Again, nobody is upset, this is considered normal hiring practice).
  • After weeks elapse unproductively, the Hiring Manager is not impressed by any of the candidates. So they tell the “helper” to go get more candidates.    But the “helper” learned nothing about what the Hiring Manager was looking for and now thinks “I have to start all over?  This is ridiculous!”   Meanwhile the Hiring Manager thinks “This hiring is not rocket science, I just want to meet somebody worth interviewing.  Why can’t I get any help around here?”

So there it is.  The person who (theoretically) knows how hiring should work (the HR Professional) is not running the hiring project.  And the person with valuable subject matter expertise (the Hiring Manager) is not being debriefed appropriately as an advisor, but is instead bogged down making hiring process decisions without the appropriate training or experience.

 If you want your hiring to work, reverse the roles.  Have your hiring expert run all the hiring projects, and put your Hiring Managers in the role of   SME, or “end user” – providing valuable input, but not running the hiring project.  

The hiring project manager should thoroughly debrief the Hiring Manager about who they need to hire, what skills the person needs, how to evaluate candidates, etc..  Then  the hiring project manager should provide the structure and run the hiring project front to back using best practices.  In this role reversal, the Hiring Manager does not manage the hiring schedule and spends only the minimum time necessary to interview people and make hiring decisions – no more writing job descriptions, reviewing resumes, scheduling interviews, or any administrivia involved with the hiring process – that is left to the experts.  (If your Hiring Managers only make a few hires per year, it’s simply not practical to try to train them all to become hiring process experts).

If your HR team does not have the time or capability to do this,  you should look at the how much bad hiring is costing you, or how much slow hiring is costing you, and then rethink your HR budget.  If you are using search firms or outside vendors to who are not managing your search efforts this way, call me, we need to talk.

If you make this simple change, your Hiring Managers will be thrilled, their productivity will rise, your hiring decisions will improve, and your positions will be filled far faster.