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Change vs. Replace

May 20, 2010

I received a question today about my last post. I was asked if I thought you could get someone out of hunker down mode by putting them in a customer facing position? This question touches upon two issues that I think are fundamental to management.

First, many people can’t be saved. Once a person tunes the company out they can be very difficult to recover. I have found however that many people respond very positively if you come in fresh and listen to them. Many times the employees know exactly what needs to be done to turn the situation around but no one is listening. If you aren’t making a sweeping change be very careful trying to change a person.

I wrote in a previous post that you can’t fundamentally change a person. If a person is hunkered down they most likely didn’t have an outgoing personality to begin with. If they did they would most likely have flamed out versus hunkered down. Matching the personality and core skill set to the job is critical. If the person doesn’t have the right personality or skills don’t give them the job.

This leads right into my second point, which is personality really matters in customer facing roles. I’ve found that a lot of companies don’t seem to recognize that people in customer facing roles are the face of the company. You have to be real selective with people on the fringe (this being the space between the company and its customers). I believe you need to hire people who are naturally outgoing and positive. There are more than a few companies that use personality profiling for this very purpose.

Once a person tunes out the company you have to decide how much effort you will make to save them, versus simply replacing them. My experience is the odds of success replacing a person is much greater than changing them. This isn’t to say that hiring a new person is easy, but it is easier than changing a person that has tuned out. My best advice is focus on hiring people who come recommended from a person you trust. You also need to act quickly once a person tunes out otherwise they poison the well (see my last post). Changing a person is not the fast or sure path.

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