Employees shouldn’t hire their own boss
June 8, 2018
by Ivan Raconteur

There’s a persistent determination among some public entities to involve staff members in the process of hiring their own boss.

This is a bad idea, and they ought to stop doing it.

It’s true that city councils, for example, are different than a typical organizational structure in the private sector.

However, it is the elected officials who should be setting policy and determining goals. After all, it is the elected officials who are accountable to their constituents.

There may be instances in which it is helpful for a city council or school board to ask for input from department heads regarding what skills or experience would be beneficial in a candidate for administrator, but under no circumstances should they be involved in the interview process.

For one thing, if a staff member has such a deep and thorough understanding of what the job requires, maybe he or she should be a candidate instead of hiring an outsider for the job.

A cynical person might also ask if the motivation for a staff member might be different than that of an objective observer.

If, for example, a city had a situation in which there was a lack of control, and staff members were used to doing things their own way, are those staff members likely to support the kind of strong, take-charge administrator the city needs, or would they favor a candidate who is more likely to leave them alone?

My purpose is not to impugn the motivation of public employees, but it seems people are more likely to do what is best for them, rather than doing what is best for the city.

There is also a practical consideration.

I assume part of the reason public bodies favor this kind of approach is to make everyone feel included, and create an atmosphere in which employees and supervisors sit around a campfire holding hands, so to speak.

But what happens if employees are part of the interview panel? If they don’t ask hard questions, there’s no point in them being there.

If they do ask hard questions, what might that do to their future working relationship if the candidate ends up getting hired?

Furthermore, if a candidate asks about any problems that may exist in the workplace, is it realistic to think there will be honest and constructive discussion of these problems if staff members who may be part of the problem are also part of the panel?

Suggesting that new hires must fit the prevailing culture suggests that the culture should never change. But what if change is in the best interest of taxpayers?

Perhaps a reasonable compromise for those determined to involve employees in the process would be to include staff members in an informal meeting with the finalists.

This doesn’t need to be a catered affair at taxpayer expense.

All that is required is an opportunity for the staff and the finalists to meet one another and perhaps discuss, in general terms, some of the things that are going on in the city.

Another danger of including staff members in the process of hiring their own boss is that in the unlikely event the board or council ultimately chooses a different candidate than the staff recommended, it could have a negative, rather than positive, effect on the way the staff views the situation.

The bottom line is that in the public, as well as in the private sector, the staff works for the organization; the organization doesn’t work for the staff.

When public bodies reverse these roles, we end up with the tail wagging the dog.

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