January 6, 2005
Sometimes, There Is No Lesson To Be Learned
We had a very unusual employee situation this week at Return Path. A brand new senior executive we brought in to the company to be our first ever head of HR and Organization Development resigned very abruptly after only a few weeks on the job, citing a complete change of heart about her career direction and moving on to a government position in economic and community development. Unfortunately, the person gave no notice and provided no assistance with transition, and resigned by cell phone. What a disappointment, especially coming from an HR professional!
After getting over my disbelief/irritation/rage (not easy, not a small amount), after communicating this difficult message to the company, and after sending a thoughtful-yet-cathartic note to the person, I sat down to think a little bit about how I could have prevented or at least spotted the situation in advance.
We interviewed the person thoroughly — 10 people internally conducted interviews, and I interviewed the person for almost four hours myself, conducting one of the most rigorous interviews I’ve ever conducted given how critical this position was to our organization at this time. (The interview followed the Chronological In-Depth Structured interview format from Brad Smart’s book Topgrading — more on that in a future posting.) I also checked five references on the person, all of which were sterling. I had one outside person, an executive coach with whom I work, interview the person. Everything checked out, and the person’s attitude and enthusiasm about the position couldn’t have been better.
My conclusion on the lesson learned here? It’s “Sometimes, there is no lesson to be learned.” There may be ancillary lessons around handling the situation once it became apparent, but I think the core lesson I’d hope to get out of this — that we could have done something different in the interview process or orientation or first few weeks to prevent or at least spot this ahead of time — appears to be nonexistent. Hmmmph!