Mining Rough Diamonds

Or why the best candidate may not be the obvious one

This post is based on an article I wrote for the spring 2019 edition of the Institute of Water’s magazine

The problem

What do you do with a team member best described as a rough diamond, technically brilliant but a challenge to work with?

How about promoting them to a quality critical management position in a new team in a new section in a new directorate?

While not without risks, it can work.

The situation

As interim Water Quality Monitoring Manager for Southern Water, I had to form a team to provide scientific expertise to the new Compliance and Resilience (CAR) directorate.

Being a new team in a new section, it was agreed that the team principal would require exceptional technical and leadership skills.

And, probably, the hide of a rhinoceros, the Patience of Jobe and the Wisom of Solomon.

Making the choice

I see managers as the conductor of the orchestra, able to combine a broad technical understanding with great leadership skills to liberate their team’s potential, so this was my aim.

Informal discussions on potential candidates brought up Lee Dark’s name. Reaction split broadly into: “he’s a pain, recruit at your peril” or “he’s good but can be prickly”.

However, no-one was lukewarm about Lee, something I thought potentially valuable.

Looking beyond the obvious

Lee’s technical expertise was never in doubt, but I didn’t know how he would adapt to running a team of widely differing capabilities.

At interview I asked how he thought others saw him. He immediately he offered the thought that “I can be a challenge, but I know my stuff and am passionate about doing it right”.

He also spoke fluently on how he would grow and develop the team, especially that they were trained before being thrown into the mix and gave examples of how the team could help Southern Water improve its compliance.

Clearly he had given the matter a lot of thought, which I liked, and in the end it was an easy choice.

How did it work out?

In a recent 360 appraisal Lee got the highest team score of all the CAR managers for his engagement with his team. And that was just the icing on the cake.

Lee and his team earned the respect of the business, working on projects including assessing the company’s reservoir sampling points against the Water Quality Regulations and Hazrevs (Hazard Reviews) looking at Monitoring and Sampling across all of Southern Water’s water treatment works.

They also led the critical on-line monitoring trial on accrediting data from Southern Water’s myriad of on-line analysers to the ISO17025 standard, a new area of work for UK water companies

Lee himself somehow found time to apply for and get Chartered Scientist, getting good feedback on his application and CPD plan, and being recommended as an assessor for the Institute of Water.

Since his appointment as principal, he has also taken on the role Technical Manager working alongside the Quality Team helping to ensure Southern Water maintains it’s ISO17025 accreditation.

I think we can safely call the appointment a success

But what did his team say?

Team well-being is very important for Lee. He provided us with all necessary training prior to our roles and responsibilities. He supports us 100% and we can count on him any time and day.

Ewa Esposito

Lee is a dedicated manager whose main focus is on his staff. He goes above and beyond to ensured we are all content in our roles as monitoring scientists. I am very glad he is my boss!

Grace Gledhill

Our manager always encourages us in self-development. He is giving us the best training and support, to do the job to the highest standard. We can always count on him and he can always count on us.

Magdalena Sobkowiak

How would you like feedback like that from your teams?

Managing the risk

What if I’d been wrong and Lee had not stepped up as he did? Or worse, crumled under the pressure?

My safeguard was that all Southern Water appointments have a probationary period and, while unpleasant, terminating an unsuccessful appointment is sometimes necessary.

If you ever do have to do this, do it quickly and humanely. Just remember, you appointed them and hence you have some responsibility here.

The moral of the story

Do take soundings when recruiting but make up you own mind. If in doubt, interview them and ask directly about relevant issues. And don’t beat about the bush.

A footnote

How did I develop the idea of giving people a chance? Back in the mists I time I was like Lee, great technically but a challenge to work with because I felt frustrated by my role.

However, once I got an opportunity, I blossomed.

Ask yourself this: How many Lee’s and Bob’s might there be in your organisation?


Did you find this post interesting? Would you like to say something about it? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or start a discussion.


Bob Windmill

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