Myer’s Recent HR Mess and Lessons for Employers

I think many HR practitioners around the country took interest into the story that broke recently, about the newly appointed Myer executive who was terminated on his first day.  Andrew Flanagan had been appointed to the position of Group General Manager for Strategy & Business Development with Myer.  In simple terms, it appears that Mr Flanagan presented himself as someone who had a specific set of skills based on his experience with another major retail fashion giant, but in reality his skills and experience fell significantly short of what he and one or more of his referees sold Mr Flanagan as having.  The reference checking on Mr Flanagan appeared to have been done by the recruitment company who represented Mr Flanagan to Myer. 

As with many stories in the media, one has to acknowledge that there must have been a little more to this story than what was originally reported, but in the absence of more detail, we can’t help but ask the question “what went so wrong?”   

Generally speaking, when it comes to the process of identifying potential and actual referees on a candidate for a position, here are a few of my tips on the process: 

  1. In the interview process, you can start to put the pieces together of a potential list of referees when you ask the question, “who did you report to in this role and what was their name?”  If the candidate has departed from a business on positive terms then there shouldn’t be too many reasons why they wouldn’t then provide their former manager’s name and contact details as their referee for that role.  If however the name of the referee for a particular period of employment is different to the name you were expecting, then one needs to explore further to find out why; 
  2. When a candidate provides the name of a referee from a previous period of employment, and the contact details do not match those of the specific organisation, one should pursue methods to confirm the details of the referee provided.  For example, a candidate may tell you that they reported to John Smith who was the COO for Such & Such but John is now working as the COO for Sample & Co and his contact details are etc, etc;  
  3. With candidates who have moved to Australia from overseas, I acknowledge the process of making contact with international referees can have its challenges, however one should never resort to emailing a reference check questionnaire to a referee for completion.  This could be anyone that you are emailing it to and even if it is the right person, how much time do you honestly expect a referee will devote to such a process.  The comments are likely to be abbreviated at best, therefore the employer and/or recruiter are unlikely to obtain a detailed picture to make a decision from.  As per the previous point, pursue methods to confirm the accuracy of the referee’s details, and from there, arrange a mutually suitable time to call the referee; 
  4. Never accept a mobile number as the only form of contact for a referee.  Ask for the referee’s landline contact details during business hours if these are not supplied upfront by the candidate; 
  5. Lastly, but by no means least, trust what your gut tells you.  If something doesn’t feel, or sound right when discussing referees with a candidate, this can be a red flag that shouldn’t be ignored.  Investigate it if you think something could be gained from the process, otherwise you need to accept it may be in your best interests to move on and consider other candidates.   

Failure to be thorough in the reference checking process can cause huge consequences for a business, as Myer and the recruitment company involved are both finding out. 

In the case with Myer, Andrew Flanagan has since been charged by the Victorian Police for fraud. 

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