Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci resurfaced again in the national consciousness last week. The feud with his alma mater ratcheted up quickly and then seemed to end just as fast. But that shouldn’t be especially surprising given what we know about his history.
Scaramucci originally arrived on the scene in dramatic fashion. Fresh off of the recent sale of his hedge fund, he made bold pronouncements about shaking up the White House staff and enforcing the President’s wishes. Observers noted that his behavior seemed closely aligned closely with that of the president, especially in terms of his signature/bombastic communication style, his attitude towards the press, and his concern with physical appearance. It seemed like a perfect match between boss and subordinate.
Yet, a scant 10 days later Scaramucci was unceremoniously fired. Although there has been some turnover in the early months of the current administration, this was quick even for Trump. Scaramucci was supposed to officially start his job at the White House on August 15, putting him in the unusual position of being fired more than 2 weeks before his starting date.
A recent Harvard Business Review article gives us good advice on what to do when you discover that an executive isn’t in the right role. But how can you avoid such a mismatch before the damage is done?
If you are the newly hired executive:
- Learn the culture. Wharton professor Adam Grant recommends that job seekers ask hiring managers to tell them a story about something that could only happen there.
- Before acting, consider your boss’s expectations. Does your boss want a clone? Did Scaramucci mirror Trump too closely? You need to ask a lot of questions and do your due diligence.
- Do some research before tearing everything down. Unless you are brought in as a radical change agent (a la “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap during the ‘90s), it’s probably better to work within the existing structure, especially in a well-established organization that has strong cultural norms.
- There is always time to shake things up later. You should start in listening mode rather than telling mode.
From the organization’s perspective:
- Before you even hire, consider—or even better, measure—the competencies required for success in the position (e.g., via a job analysis). Then select someone who has already demonstrated those skills and/or demonstrates them during the selection process.
- Give your incoming hires a realistic job preview; the fewer surprises they face, the sooner they’ll be able to contribute in a meaningful way.
- Onboarding is critical. Taking some time to orient your new employee to the position at the outset will make a smooth start much more likely.
- Success as a Wall Street pitchman and networker doesn’t necessarily translate to effective communication with the press; you need to select people who can thrive within your specific context and environment. So, beware the ever-pervasive halo effect—just because a person is good at one thing, it doesn’t mean that he/she is good at another.
- Don’t put your top executives on a short leash, allow them to learn and settle in. Many great leaders have had rough early starts (just look at Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill). If you can’t allow them leeway in the beginning, then you cannot afford to take risks in terms of who you hire and should go with your safest choice. A true change agent will shake things up, and may ruffle feathers at first.
- Don’t let new hires make dramatic decisions during their first couple of days (or weeks or even months) on the job, such as big hires or firings.
- As much as you might want to nip a bad hire in the bud, you should consider what firing someone shortly after they are hired signals to the rest of the organization—and to important stakeholders.
Sometimes hires who look perfect to outside observers can go sour quickly. However, with sound processes in place to hire the right person and prepare him or her for the job, you are much more likely to avoid these types of mishaps.