Celebrities and professional athletes are fun to read about, watch and talk about. They provide a welcome distraction. And really, there is little harm in these pleasures. It’s good fun.
Unfortunately, all this fun sometimes gets totally out of control. And quicker than a shooting star, we start wearing what they wear, eating what they eat, reading what they read, and thinking what they think. This phenomenon is what I call the Celebrity Effect. It happens when we leap from appreciating someone’s special talent or accomplishment in one area to overvaluing their decisions, abilities and choices in an unrelated area.
Things get a bit more troublesome when leaders, often unknowingly, apply similar thinking when making people decisions. For example, hiring or promoting people who have certain degrees, graduate from certain schools, previously worked for certain companies or held certain titles, rather than thinking about more important factors such as culture or strategy fit.
Recently, a Board Chairman of a relatively small company ($40 million in revenue) we were working with over-ruled his fellow directors and insisted on hiring a new CEO who had been the COO of a much larger related company and had attended an elite MBA program. Moreover, he knew someone who had been a peer of the candidate and gave glowing reviews of how this person “gets things done” and had a “great personality”.
Despite the surface level “blue ribbons” this candidate brought with him, critical factors such as culture, strategy, stage, team and leader fit were not properly considered. The leadership team of the company was skeptical, and the rest of the organization, who had naturally heard about this person, was concerned. Upon his arrival, he acted like a person who was anointed, and thus should be respected for past accomplishments and awards.
Unfortunately, the person was not a good fit for the organization across several factors. Not only was he not a good fit with the organization’s culture, he rubbed many members of the executive team and the organization the wrong way by constantly referencing “when I was at XYZ we did it this way”. Operationally, the new leader tried to implement systems and structures from his prior, much larger, organization that were not stage-appropriate for this smaller organization. And quickly began to change the sales and go-to-market strategies. While diversity of experience, opinion and background is healthy for a company, other factors, like mismatched values, or leadership style, can prove fatal.
To prevent falling into this all too common trap, it is important for leaders to look at what we call Fit Factors™ to ensure cohesiveness within a team and organization. These factors question if the person is in alignment with the organization’s culture, has experience with organizations of similar size and in a similar stage of growth, would fit well within the team and work well with the leader, and whose values and goals are in alignment with the organization’s strategies.
It is easy for the Celebrity Effect to bias decision making and to cloud judgement. But, by being aware of this bias, and taking the time to explore appropriate Fit Factors™, leaders can make smart people decisions.