Our on-going series, HR Horror Stories with Yumi Saowaluck, CEO and President of CloudForce HR, is an opportunity to learn from his long and esteemed career as an HR professional, consultant and manager. This month we’ll be looking at how following conventional wisdom, but ignoring cultural sensitivity, damaged a leading beverage manufacturer’s relationships with an entire country…
JC: Yumi, you’ve had an illustrious career in the Human Resource Management field, there must be some stories that stand out as “teachable moments.” Are there any you’d like to share with other HR professionals — do any memorable lessons come to mind?
YM: Absolutely. Actually, it was quite early in my career when I learned one of the most important guiding principles for effective Human Resource Management. It sticks with me to this day because in many ways it runs counter to conventional wisdom — how we are typically trained, standard HR metrics, or what we’re taught at University.
When looking to fill a vacant position, especially for the upper echelons of management at huge multi-national organizations, first and foremost we’re trained to seek candidates who have relevant job experience and a solid performance record.
JC: Naturally – if you find a candidate who has been successful and is experienced doing the job you’re recruiting for – you’d want to snatch them up as quickly as possible.
Sure, he has a great CV, but don’t you think his attitude has “Bad News” written all over it?
YM: Actually, this can be a formula for disaster.
Unfortunately, the organization I was working for learned this hard way.
Essentially, we had a management rock-star with one of the most impressive credentials and performance records we’d ever seen.
Our mistake, however, was that we didn’t properly take into account the candidates’ personality profile. We neglected to recognize the importance of how well suited the candidate was to the corporate culture relative to the particular job they are being hired to do.
JC: Since the theme of these posts are, “horror stories” do you mind telling us what happened?
YM: I’m not at liberty to give too many details, but essentially, this is the story: the organization I was working with was looking to expand operations in a brand-new overseas market. As part of the recruitment process, we did administer a Work Behaviour Inventory (WBI) assessment. The assessment revealed that she was actually not the ideal candidate to be the ‘figure-head’ in a new, quite religious country, where we were launching our product. The assessment revealed that she had a low tolerance for “otherness” – that is; religious, philosophical and cultural differences. However, in this case, our candidate had such an impressive CV and had most recently worked in the exact same position we were hiring her for — at our largest competitor. She seemed ideal.
JC: I gather her CV and experience were too impressive to ignore?
YM: That’s exactly right. Despite the red flag raised by the results of the Work Behaviour Inventory (WBI), the company hired her, invested millions in training and relocating her and after just a few months, she was at a dinner attended by diplomats, industry titans, government and cultural leaders as well as many of our customers. As part of a brief speech she was giving on behalf of the company, she announced that she had “no tolerance for religion” and that she herself was an atheist!
I can’t even begin to tell you the damage that was done to our efforts in that market – it took us years and great expense to un-do those few ill-considered words...
The take-away here – and one I will never forget – is that no matter how impressive a candidate’s CV, experience, skills, or education —- It is crucial that they be a good match for organizational culture. They must also possess the ‘soft-skills’ necessary for being a representative of your company.
Today, this is what we at PeopleServe specialize in – finding that ideal balance between competency, excellence and professionalism while ensuring that they’re culturally a good match for your organization. We offer a range of scientific assessments, tools, metrics and consultancy services that will guarantee a horror story like the one above never happens again…
JC: Wow. Well, thank you so much for sharing – I hope we all learn from this so that an incident like this is never repeated. Until our next instalment of “HR Horror Stories,” thanks again for sharing.
YM: My pleasure