During the last few months, I have had the opportunity to observe, from close quarters, the behaviour and performance of a recently appointed CEO who is charged with leading a public company. For the purposes of this article, I’ll call him Peter.
The person in question has been around his industry for a long time and is well known in the sector. That longevity is reflected in someone who is stuck in their ways, seems to think he knows better than everyone else, and is rather out of date in his treatment of people and customers.
Most of us would expect to see a new CEO walk into an organisation and immediately seek out his people, preferably at all levels, introduce himself or herself, and get on with the job of listening to what they had to say. What struck me about Peter is that, in his first few months on the job, he has sought to do the opposite.
In other words, he has run around ‘like a chook with it’s head cut off’ and started doing things, usually without reference to the people who know what does and what doesn’t need to be done. He is clearly not a planner. More like a “reactionary”.
He has initiatives underway in everything from IT to HR, all of which are performing poorly and already stalling. He has a liking for preceding every personnel interaction with something along the following lines … “As you know I’m the CEO and so it’s my responbility to …”. I’m sure you get the idea.
To make matters worse, his attitude to managing people is like something from the 1980’s. He shows little respect for anyone, even his more senior colleagues. In a meeting situation he will raise his voice, and he even resorts to the ‘F-Bomb’ in moments of purple veined rage when not immediately getting his way.
Before meeting Peter, I decided to do a bit of fact checking. Three phone calls were all it took to build a profile of someone who shouldn’t be a CEO in 2019.
My unofficial reference checks revealed a character who, at their last job was nicknamed ‘Peter who’ by his people. This came about because no one ever saw him. In fact, one former worker said he met him for the first time after he’d been there for nine years. At the time one of his colleagues asked who the guy was. Bear in mind that this was a Company with less than 250 people.
My brief research also told me of a guy who started lots of things but never finished any of them. A person who shouts at people regularly. One of my referees even used the word ‘narcissist’.
Since doing this little reference checking exercise, I have met Peter on a couple of occasions, and it turns out that my referees appear to be very accurate. I would add one more thing. Peter has such a lack of self awareness, that if he’s reading this article, he will not for one minute imagine that it is about him.
The thing that staggers me the most is this. If any of Peter’s new Board of Directors had made a few simple phone calls, as I did, I’m confident that they would have received a similar story. That means one of two things; either they didn’t bother to reference check at all, or they decided to appoint him anyway.
Reference checking is “recruitment 101” as far as I’m concerned. And it’s never been easier to make your own enquiries about a potential recruit. By all means check in with the referees nominated by the job applicant. However, these people are often ‘captive’ and not quite as independent as we might like.
But with resources like Linked In, and to a lesser extent Facebook, there is plenty of information about people for you to access before making the decision to hire them. And if you’ve been around a while, chances are you will know someone who has been close to your potential recruit in a previous role. So look for those opportunities to find out all that you can.
Of course, today’s leaders and managers need to be aspirational for their company, and they need to be strategists, planners, communicators and delegators. That hasn’t changed much. But they also need to demonstrate a high level of care for their people and their customers, be highly sensitive to a rapidly changing environment that is wrestling with the demands of the diversity movement, and the challenges of harassment in the workplace. And most of all, leaders and managers need to be prepared to ‘wander around’ their organisations and listen to their people, more than ever before.
When recruiting leaders and managers, today’s employers need to look for these capabilities in the people they are seeking to employ, on top of all the other skills and disciplines required. If you are employing growing numbers of millennials, and who isn’t, you need to double up on the communication, caring and engaging stuff.
But you can’t find that out, if you don’t check references. My guess is that Peter’s employers have the wrong guy. In part, it will depend on the standards they expect and only time will tell. But if I am right, then three simple phone calls might have saved them some cost and embarrassment. They will only have themselves to blame.
This article first appeared on Stuff.co.nz on the 2nd of September, 2019.