The Weak Link Is Up The Chain

In the past, I worked with a well known entertainment client as a finance and accounting recruiter.  This company had the same accounting manager role come up about every 9 months-- precisely three times in a row over the course of 24 months.  

The CFO called me and said, "We are having a hard time finding the right person for this role."  I had heard him say it before, the past two times he opened the role to me.  

As an executive recruiter, I find myself in a tough position sometimes.  Certainly, I want to let the client know that I have the expertise to fill the role.  My firm depends on those client engagements to pay my employees salaries, so I want to be able to say, "No problem, we can help."  

But this time, I really didn't think the problem was the quality of the candidates that were being hired for the accounting manager role.  In fact, I had an instinct that the fourth accounting manager would fare just as well as the first three. 

I had this instinct for a couple reasons.  First, I knew the pedigree of the previous candidate, and her positions before this one were blue chip.  Blue Chip companies don't often hire people who don't have great personalities and technical skills. Second, the candidate had stayed a long time at a company that was known to "cut the dogs" early when someone's not working out.  

But the instinct really came from my experience filling within tiny market niches in a small vertical.  If the same role keeps opening and opening, you can bet your bottom dollar there is something sort of not perfect going on in that department. 

So, say the accounting manager role keeps re-opening.  That tells me that the person to whom the accounting manager reports is the one creating the not-so-happy work place.   This means your company, for lack of a better term, has a cranky Controller. 

This could be for a number of reasons.  First, if the person in this role has been with the company for a long time, they may be resistant to change, or they may be just insecure in general.  Now when you bring in a new and smart employee, the first thing they want to do is implement change, to show you that they are doing the job and bringing something to the table.  This type of behavior may be threatening to some managers who have done things "their way" for a long time. 

What happens then is the excited, new employee feels like they are not allowed to be a contributing part of the team?  They immediately disengage.  If the behavior of the manager is the result of insecurity or resistance to change, then future interactions will compound the disengagement. 

Let me give you an example.  We all have "that friend" who ends up in relationship after relationship with a "crazy ex." Turns out "That friend" is actually the crazy one and you end up finding this out after you set him up with your sister?  Ok.  This is the scenario. 

You see, the weak link is always up the chain from a role that keeps opening.  The sooner you can help your client see this and address the situation, the sooner you will have a successful long term placement in the role.  Addressing the situation may not necessarily mean removing the managing person, it may mean deploying your People and Learning department to make the employee feel more confident in their role in the company. 

It's always helpful to have a third party view into what you company can improve.  It's hard to see interpersonal situations from within them.  A good HR business partner can help you see in those blind spots.