I’ve just gotten around to reading ‘Race of a Lifetime’ by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The book documents the Barak Obama campaign to become the 44th President of the United States. It’s brilliant; embedded political journalism at its finest.
Sarah Palin: The book is packed with memorable candidates and stories but the Sarah Palin episode stood out. Obama has just won the selection vote within the Democratic Party – after a bruising battle with Hilary Clinton. Having finally received the democratic nod, he seemed unstoppable, a political juggernaut. The Republicans needed something special – and pulled Sarah Palin out of an Alaskan hat.
On one level is was a brilliant political stroke. The internal wrangling within the Democrats had divided men and women across the country. The Republicans hoped to Hoover up the female vote on the back of this. Plus, Palin was a so-called ‘attack dog’ – who had no problem in going negative on Obama (something that John McCain had been reluctant to do – not because of ethics – but because negative campaigning as a President-Elect was seen to lower the tone of the office). Yes, politics is a bit different in America!
The Problem: The vetting process for an American Vice Presidential candidate should be, as you would imagine, extremely comprehensive. A range of policy and personal issues have to line up before a candidate is placed on the ticket. But the entire McCain election machine was being run on an ad hoc basis. Palin entered the fray with a minimum of governance – a very light track record in politics and some interesting family dynamics. The rest, as they say, is history and the Republican election effort imploded (in fairness, not simply due to Sarah Palin who remains in the political fray).
The Lesson: Recruitment is critically important. So important that it should not be delegated to junior people in the Human Resource function. Reference checking is critical. Taking candidates and their partners to dinner – depending on the level of the job (to check how they perform in an informal social setting) can be hugely beneficial. Psychometrics can also play an important role as can the seldom-used method of Assessment Centres. Are you getting the drift here? This stuff can’t be shortchanged.
In Practice: So, what normally happens? Well, lots of senior HR people get bored with recruitment – and move away from this – or put in a courtesy visit at the end of the process (when the decision has already been made). It gets worse. I had a reference check phonecall last week about someone that I formerly worked with. As it happens this lady was terrific at her job and I had no problem passing on the good news. But I have had several similar phone calls over the past couple of years, which were an exercise in box ticking. Completed by junior staff that hadn’t met the candidate and didn’t understand the key requirements of the role. Silly phone calls that elicited no useful information.
So, here’s the drill. If you are going to micro-manage anything, swim back into the recruitment space. If you don’t start off with good people, you face an Everest climb to create a high- performance organization. Put the time into recruitment and save yourself those visits to Arthur Cox at the back end of the employment relationship when you are, literally, in the firing line.
PS: Good story last week on ageism. A friends’ grandmother just discovered Facebook. Interesting, but hardly earth shattering. What’s a bit more unusual is that she is 91. Apparently, everyone wants to sign up and have her as a friend and she is now spending hours on the net. Who said older folks can’t use technology? There’s hope for all of us. Judging by some of the stuff on Facebook, I hope she’s broadminded as well as computer literate!