Have you ever made the wrong call about a candidate? As in deciding whether or not to hire, fire or promote someone?

As managers, the decisions we make about people are critical to the continued success of our teams and our organizations. Yet, these choices aren’t always clear cut.

Even when it seems like a clear case, you could get it wrong. And when that happens, the results can range from embarrassing to disastrous.

That’s what happened when the Houston Astros management decided to cut J.D. Martinez from the team, only to watch him become a baseball batting powerhouse… at a competing team.

Fortunately for most of us, our people decisions don’t make it into news headlines. But they can still hurt the business and our reputations.

So what can you do to make better personnel choices?

How to Make Better Decisions About People

Keep an open mind

It’s easy to rely on old information about someone or impressions formed from the time you worked with them years ago. People are capable of change and growth, and it’s important to keep an open mind about the possibility (and hopefully the probability) that they’ve matured.

On the flip side, not everyone continues to learn and grow. So, if your memory is of a young ambitious go-getter, it’s also possible that they haven’t lived up to the hype over the years. Again, an argument for keeping your eyes, ears and mind open for signs of their talent and potential.

Give people a real chance

When it comes to gathering data on what someone is truly capable of, it pays to give them a real opportunity to demonstrate their skills. If you were a scientist, you would design an experiment that would give the person enough “at bats” to provide valid data.

One of the ways the Houston Astros management could have avoided their mistake was to give J.D. a real chance to show his new swing. Instead, they relied on their statistician’s calculation that there was only a “vanishingly small” chance that a 26-year old batter (“middle aged” in a baseball context!) could improve. Therefore, they didn’t give him many opportunities to demonstrate his new abilities live and in-person.

Measure the value they add

Of course, you want to look at the numbers whether that’s sales, market share, innovations or some other set of metrics. But then, make sure you look behind the numbers.

For example, the person on our team who had the largest amount of revenues attached to his name also had the most “house accounts”, which was what we called those long-standing clients who gave us the majority of their business as long as we were competent.

On the other hand, there were some hungrier team members who were bringing in new clients. Their revenues were lower on an absolute basis, but they were growing the business franchise and building a more valuable set of skills.

It’s important to look beyond the numbers as well. Not everything can be neatly quantified and tracked on a spreadsheet. This is where the intangibles come in.

What kind of energy does the person bring? Do they make the team better and smarter by the way they go about their interactions? How do they demonstrate leadership? What’s their character and do they have integrity?

Assess your role

Managers are people too, and we come with our own tendencies and assumptions about the way the world works. These are the result of the way we’ve been socialized and the experiences we’ve had, and they help us navigate our day without having to consciously think about every move we make.

But when it’s time to make decisions about people, those same unconscious ways of thinking and behaving may lead us astray.

Take the example in this HBR article of the group of executives that insisted on hiring only from elite universities, which they equated with the best and the brightest talent. When their CFO asked which of them had attended an Ivy League school and only a few hands went up, they realized they had made an assumption that was not only limiting the pool of candidates but also reducing the diversity of applicants.

Another aspect of your role is to look at how you may be contributing to your team members’ performance. To what extent could your average performer improve if you became a better boss for them? What have you done to bring out the best in each team member?

In some cases, you’ll want to hire or promote the people who you find easiest to work with. But when it’s in the interest of the organization or the team to flex your style in order to keep someone who you find challenging to manage, maybe this is an opportunity for you to grow as a leader.

Get input from people you trust

If confidentiality allows you to discuss the situation with others, it’s helpful to consult with people you trust to get more data and check your thinking. This is where it’s helpful to have at least one or two mentors who’ve had significant experience in managing people. Before you make the decision, they can help you pressure test the areas where you might well be wrong.

The benefit of having these conversations is not just to help you with the decision, but also to add to your own expanding viewpoint and store of wisdom about making better people decisions. And one day, people will be consulting you!

Keep learning and growing

These five steps can help you make better decisions about who to hire, fire and promote.

Yet, there’s always a chance we’ll get it wrong when it comes to managing people. Frankly, most of us will get it wrong more than once. After all human beings are hard to predict – that’s what makes life interesting and fun.

So, do everything you can to make the right decisions about people. And at those times when it doesn’t quite go as planned, use it as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.

What could you do to make better decisions about people?

Leave a comment and let me know.