The Experience Fallacy

May 5, 2009

Too often, people make hiring decisions based upon “experience” rather than “results.” A true story illustrates my point.

Several years ago, at the beginning of what ended up being a very successful turnaround project, the CEO told me, “We have a new CFO who has experience in turnarounds.”    (I’ll call the CFO “Jill,” to protect her real identity.)

“Oh?” I said, “What kind of experience?”

To make a long story short, Jill had been CFO at company A, and it went out of business.  Then, she went to company B, and it went out of business.

During my tenure in this extremely troubled company, it soon became apparent that although Jill talked a good game (and, indeed, sounded very impressive!), she was simply unable to make needed changes.  She fancied herself a turnaround expert but was absolutely unable to fulfill even her most important job function; i.e., producing timely, accurate financial statements.   I replaced her with someone who could.

Not long ago, I read about a company that expected to have to shut down if it could not get additional financing very soon.  Guess who had recently been a financial officer for that company?

The companies that hired Jill undoubtedly made “experience” their key criterion.  Instead, they should have asked about and verified what RESULTS she had actually achieved.

Please note: Although Jill, who marketed herself as someone who could turnaround a company, was neither capable of doing that nor able to accomplish basic accounting functions,  there are many extremely capable CFO’s who have found themselves in distressed companies through no fault of their own.  I have had the pleasure of working with some of them.

Renee’s Rule™ – When hiring, RESULTS are more important than “experience.”

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