Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Don't hire a bullfighter to be your administrator!

“The Irish Institute is in trouble,” Maciel (the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ) told me. “Juan Manuel Fernandez Amenabar is seriously ill. We’ve sent him to the best cardiovascular surgeon in the world, Dr. Michael DeBakey in Houston. I think he will survive – but the Institute is in bad shape.”

“What can I do?” I asked.  “I want you to go back to Mexico City for two months,” he said. “You’re the only one who understands how I want it managed. I need you to go back and fix it.”

One of the chapters in my memoir, "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines" tells the story of my second assignment to the Irish Institute in Mexico City. Since writing the book, I've remembered lots of details that I didn't mention in the memoir.

Fr. Amenabar, as we called the charismatic first Director of the school, was not the world's greatest school administrator although in the most important ways he was very successul founding the school. He was, however, like many full-blooded Spainards a lover of bullfights and all thing taurine. While I was back in Rome trying to catch up on my studies after spending several years helping to get the Irish Institute going, Amenabar hired an apprentice bullfighter to work on the cleaning staff. Apparentely, the young man was a better janitor than he was a bullfighter. Amenabar though, really appreciated his bullfighting aspirations - and translated his admiration into a constant series of promotions.

When I got back to the Irish Institute "to fix it" as Maciel had asked, I found that our aspiring bullfighter had been promoted to head of facilities management, sporting a nice suit and tie. Problem was, the administration was a mess. He became my perfect example of the Peter Principle. The Principle states: "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." I had to fire him. The Irish Institute's loss was the bull-ring's gain.

The above little story came to mind when I posted the following on my "Global Mindset" blog. Some of the points are taken from Human Resources. You can read their take on the issue here.

No one can guarantee the performance of a manager or executive appointed to a new position. Indeed, if the reports and surveys we are constantly bombarded with are correct, we can safely say most executives make poor promotion and staffing decisions.

Peter F. Drucker repeatedly said:
“In no other area of management would we put up with such miserable performance (as we do in people decisions)...indeed, we need not and should not...Managers making people decisions will never be perfect...But they should come pretty close to batting 1,000, especially because in no other area of management do we know so much..."

1) Think through the assignment. Failure to think through the assignment, Drucker observed, was the number-one reason for staffing failures. Put differently, executives making staffing decisions must “match strengths to opportunity.” many times when thinking through the assignment, the necessity for reorganizing the existing organization becomes apparent. The nature of the assignment requires multiple knowledges and a variety of skills impossible to find in one person.

2) Make sure the appointee understands the job.“It is not intuitively obvious to most people that a new and different job requires new and different behavior,” Drucker said. “Most people continue to do what they've done before.”

3) The Right New Hire For the Right Job. A successful bus driver, in all likelihood, cannot run the bus company. Not to mention an aspiring bullfighter becoming your facilities manager.

Questions to ask: "What is the task?” “What is the experience and knowledge base required to carry out the task?" "Does the appointee understand the job?" Creating new opportunities for people involves helping them learn and develop. That's something my company, Keogh & Associates Consulting specializes in - but that is a topic for another day.

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