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Enterprising Thoughts

  • Fit, Unfit, or Counterfeit?

    Published on January 15, 2011.

    In my experience, there are three kinds of executives in business, perhaps especially in the agency business, which is where I spent most of my career. They are: fit, unfit, and counterfeit.

    If you are responsible for hiring, you’ll know that the first two—fit and unfit—are pretty easy to identify in any number of the usual ways: resumes, interviews, references, etc. However it is the counterfeit executives that are difficult to identify until after you start working with them.

    In the hiring procedure, I’ve found that counterfeit applicants always have great resumes and they are expert interviewees, always saying just the right things. Often they have winning personalities, and are immediately likeable.

    But what about references? With the real threat of lawsuits ever with us these days, references are not as reliable as they once were (unless you have a close relationship with that person). People are reluctant to say (let alone write) anything negative about a former colleague. (Perhaps this is just like discovering a $20 bill you think may be fake. Do you turn it in, or do you pass it along so it becomes someone else’s problem. I think there is a lot of that going on.)

    The counterfeit executive, once hired, does not become immediately apparent if the working environment enables him or her to hide behind the efforts of others. Some imitation executives have a real skill at blending in to their working domains so that they become practically invisible. I’ve seen some ersatz managers last for years before being unmasked, but sometimes that is because the person who did the hiring is either in denial or does not want to admit an expensive mistake.

    Outside consultants, who recognize the need for accountability as part of their engagement, are frequently able to ID the bogus executive rather quickly when they see responsibility being avoided or shifted. Since proving that an executive is a phony is difficult if not impossible, a consultant is often reluctant to risk the assignment or relationship by attempting an exposure, and so the rogue’s safe harbor remains.

    So, is there a sure fire way to spot a counterfeit executive before you hire one? Don’t ask me, I’ve hired several!