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Alan Etterman shares his sensible hiring practices

Bill Lepiesza | June 8, 2008
Etterman's views on hiring are as straightforward as his description of himself as an IT guy.

Alan Etterman joined JDS Uniphase as its CIO at the height of the company's turnaround efforts in November 2004. The communications components provider's business fell apart when the telecom bubble burst in 2000 and, four years later, executives were still trying to put the pieces back together.

During Etterman's tenure as CIO, he picked up other functional responsibilities beyond IT, which led to his promotion to executive vice president and chief administrative officer in July 2007. In this role, Etterman is responsible for IT, workplace solutions, human resources, indirect sourcing and procurement, customer service, order management and corporate events. He has six direct reports and about 350 employees in his organization--not too shabby for a self-proclaimed IT guy who's spent his entire career working for high-tech companies such as IBM, GTE, Cisco and 3Com.

"I can go from a real estate deal in the morning to comp and benefits [discussions] before lunch to technology strategy in the afternoon," says Etterman.

Etterman's views on hiring are as straightforward as his description of himself as an IT guy. They're also sensible and worth emulating. For one, he believes that striving for the mythical perfect hire every time only fosters indecision and operational paralysis. The best managers, he says, make correct hiring decisions 70 percent of the time. Realizing you're only going to get seven out of 10 hires right should make it easier for hiring managers to cut their losses sooner on the 30 percent that don't work out, he adds.

Other rules guide Etterman's hiring process, such as hire people who do what you don't like to do and hire people who are passionate about what they do. In this latest Hiring Manager interview, Etterman shares his very organized interview process, discusses the biggest mistake CIOs make when staffing their IT departments and describes his formula for selecting direct reports.

Bill Lepiesza: How does a turnaround situation at a company affect hiring?

Alan Etterman: The challenge in a turnaround is that you actually can't hire your "end state" because you're not attractive enough to lure those people yet. So you actually go through a multiphase organizational development plan where you hire as good as you can get at the moment of the depths of the turnaround, which may be just B or C players. And a lot of times, they can't get you to the "end state" because they've never seen it.

You actually go through two generations or phases of management when you go from turnaround to successful company. So I spend more time thinking about what phase I'm in and whether the people I have can lead the company to its next phase. Through transformation, you go from "crisis" to "good" and then you go from "good" to "great."


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