My Best Worst Hire

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Three months in, the water pressure from the firehose was still on a steady and steep incline. I was soaked in learning and crises: from dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, to trust building with technicians, to negotiating pay packages with key employees – all while trying to figure out how exactly a tub is resurfaced (our core business at the time). I needed to hire someone. Anyone with a modicum of competence in any of the areas I was struggling to cover would do. Finding expertise was aspirational at this point.    

I found her!

An industry vet, she had “done it ALL” – She had run operations teams locally and nationally, had a deep understanding of the trades, and knew some of the power players in the local industry association. She was a little rough around the edges and a tad too concerned about her “title” – but so what? I needed someone, and felt lucky to be able to bring on someone of her stature onto the team.

Well – that “so what” led to a 60% turn over in 3 months.

 To be clear, turnover wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though our styles were very different, I deferred to her judgement on many things related to staffing, hoping that getting new blood in of the ilk that she recommended would represent a fresh start for a business in need of one. 

I was wrong. After evaluating a string of employee departures and hires, a pattern started to emerge. We were creating a culture in which employees felt subservient to leadership. It was a culture of fear. It was toxic. I didn’t get to experience it much at the time because I had tasked her with handling internal operations while I spent most of my day in the field. I would hear bits and pieces of it. But I would chalk it all up to “people don’t like change.”


Less than six months into her tenure, we ended the relationship amicably. The fit wasn’t right for what I was trying to build long term. Here are some thoughts about this situation.

What I thought I needed wasn’t what I REALLY needed.

It’s easy for a book smart person (like me) to think things into existence. I have a framework in my mind of what should work i.e

“Industry veteran + Me = Rocket Ship.”

Having been through many decision cycles, I realize that my thought process can be very faulty and in most cases, the only way to really know what you need is to experience various iterations of the problem. I don’t love cliches because I think they are situational at best. But “experience is the best teacher” is one that I subscribe to. It doesn’t have to be my experience. It could be someone else’s. The key thing is getting out of my own head. 

Delegating the hiring process to her too early cost us

The fear many small business leaders have in task delegation is that quality will drop. So they tend to hold on, stunting their growth. The way to mitigate that is to institute processes that others can follow. I was too quick to hand off the task of hiring without an objective process to do so. I relied on the “industry vet” to bring people that met her standards. 

The Culture Competence (im)balance. What gives?

I don’t know. I guess it depends on the situation.

To me, culture is this big amoeba-like word that means nothing and everything all at once. Like the sun’s rays: you can feel it but you can’t see it. 

To simplify the concept for my math oriented brain, here’s how I think about it. Culture is about what you say and what you do. If I say and do things that scare people or make them anxious, I have created a toxic culture. 

Here are some things I say and do, in hopes that it builds a healthy culture

  • I admit when I’m wrong and apologize when necessary
  • I don’t assume that everyone automatically knows me and I make it a point to introduce myself.
  • I say yes quickly and A LOT to new ideas. The math brain helps here. I do the quick calculation on what it would cost to do something so that you can start working on it ASAP.
  • I ask what people think we should be working on that’s different from what we are working on
  • I’m open and honest about the company’s future.

This is a constant work in progress. We don’t have an official mission or culture statement for our company. We probably should. But I would hope every member of our team would have a consistent message about what we stand for without having to memorize some words on the wall. Let me go prep them before you all start calling them!

This may be too simplistic but I’m a RookieCEO – what am I missing?

Rookie top 5 reads on organizational culture

Harvard Business Review: What Is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care?

Not sure where to start with organizational culture? This is your first stop.

Key insight: Without clearly defining the culture you’re striving for, you’ll fall short in instilling true change and impact into the larger organization.Summary: This is a broad overview on what culture looks like in the context of work and why it’s meaningful for companies. There are lots of different ways to approach culture in this article, so it’s good for smaller businesses that know they need to develop a strategy but really aren’t sure where to start.

Hubspot on organizational culture

Your office culture is going to be a big factor in employee retention and recruitment strategies, so it’s important to give it some focus.

Key insight: Think about what you value and use that to build your office culture strategy so you can create a shared vision employees feel connected to.

Summary. This is a logical next step after reading the HBR article above, since it breaks down different types of office culture in more tangible detail. Use this as an exercise to better understand what kind of mission and purpose you value and what that translates for your employees in terms of establishing a shift in thinking.

MIT Sloan Management Review: The Benefits of Framing Culture as a Management System

Management style and culture go hand-in-hand, they aren’t mutually exclusive, as we’ve discussed in this issue. The article highlights the importance of looking at management decisions from different angles as it relates to culture.

Key insight: Managerial decisions that take office culture into account have a bigger impact on employees and the organization itself

Summary: It’s not about lofty statements around purpose and vision, culture is about how you manage and lead. It’s on the ground work, not a presentation here and there. Make office culture a part of your management style and lead accordingly. You’ll see a shift in how employees perceive the company and their motivation.

Florida Tech Online: Organizational Culture: Understanding What It Is and How to Improve It

Unhappy with your current office culture? This is a good resource in improving current conditions and building something better for the future.

Key insight: Improving office culture is about setting the right expectations, following through and having some metric for measuring success in place.

Summary: I’m a data nerd, so the metric part was important for me. The article really highlights that improving culture starts from within. You need to talk to current employees and look at exit interviews from past employees to understand what needs to change. Using that input, you can build on it and explain why it’s needed. Having some form of success measurement in place, such as quick surveys periodically can help in optimizing these changes.

SHRM: Understanding and Developing Organizational Culture

This is your ultimate toolkit for developing organizational culture and improving.

Key insight: Culture comes from leadership examples but it’s important to engage all departments to really ensure it sticks.

Summary: A long-form read, this is a great resource on how other departments and leadership plays a role in office culture and employee satisfaction. As my experience shows, a negative leader begets negativity, and positive leadership begets positivity. Don’t wait until culture damages morale, but keep an eye on how other departments work to catch any issues before they stem into larger problems.

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