With a bit of careful observation, you can learn what you need to know before you invite someone to join your board or campaign steering committee.
In fact you can apply the same theory to hiring staff and selecting consultants.
I’ve known the secret of doing this for many years and it has served me well. So I was surprised when I made a big mistake last month because I neglected to heed my own advice.
Learn from Past Behavior
How do you keep from recruiting or hiring people who don’t live up to your expectations?
The trick comes in remembering that, by and large, people are consistent.
- People tend to show up on time, or they don’t.
- They do their work thoroughly, or they don’t.
- They write well — or not.
- They are responsive and open to suggestions, or not.
- They usually do what they say they will do, or alas, they usually don’t.
I know that no one is fully consistent. Things happen that play a role in how we function.
But if you pay careful attention to how people behave when you ask them to do small things, you can predict their future behavior remarkably well.
My Mistake in Picking the Wrong Person
I learned this lesson again recently after hiring a writer to work with me on a big project. I interviewed her and she was lovely. She was responsive and got me a proposal promptly.
I was under pressure to get the project done, so I hired her and we got started.
But I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the very qualities I really needed from her. She was charming and responsive, but she didn’t write very well. Or, perhaps more accurately, her sense of good writing didn’t match mine.
So when I got a first draft of the project back I was stunned. It was unacceptable. And after some uncomfortable exchanges, I let her go.
How, I asked myself, could I have made such a mistake?
She had been recommended to me by a mutual acquaintance, and rather than looking carefully at her writing, I made incorrect assumptions.
When, after the fact, I went to her website to take a closer look, all the earmarks of the problems I encountered were right there. Her writing was stiff and without grace.
And when I reviewed her proposal after the fact, that wasn’t particularly well written either. I had noticed that, but wanting to think the best, I assumed the actual work would be better than the website or her proposal.
And my assumptions were wrong. Her writing on the job was worse. Of course! People present the best of themselves on websites and in proposals. It made no sense to assume that her work with me would be any better.
Look Carefully and Take What You See Seriously
If you look carefully at the people you select for most anything, and if you take seriously what you see, you can find out most of what you need to know before you invite people to join your organization.
When you are recruiting new board members or steering committee members, watch carefully to see if they provide what you’ve asked them for. Notice if they arrive at meetings on time. Pay attention to how they follow up. Be aware of their demeanor and how they express themselves both verbally and in writing.
Ask them to do something small and watch closely how they do it. You might ask for something as simple as sending their resume. You might ask them to send you an email describing why they would like to serve on your board or committee.
Notice not only what they say, but how responsive they are. Do they send what you’ve asked for promptly? Is it thoughtful and well organized?
Invite them to a small gathering with other staff or volunteers and watch carefully how they interact.
Ask them to introduce you to someone they know. Do they pull back or does the introductory email come promptly?
Bottom line: Watch what happens and understand that what you see is what you’ll get.
Enlist High Functioning People
One of the most important things you can do to get a high functioning board or campaign committee on staff is to enlist high functioning people.
Always assume that people behave in consistent patterns and remember, what you see is what you’re likely to get.
You may be surprised how much you can find out simply by being more observant. You’ve just got to pay close attention and then take seriously what you notice.