Necessity Checklist Before the Hire

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

You talk in your workshop about necessity. You say the manager-once-removed and the hiring manager should discuss the necessity of the role before hiring someone. I find that the answer is too easy to say yes. What should we consider when we think about necessity for the role.

If your company is going to purchase an expensive piece of machinery, would you buy it if it wasn’t necessary? The answer is no. If your company is going to hire a person, would you make the hire if the role wasn’t necessary?

I use a multi-step process to determine necessity.

  • Eliminate
  • Simplify
  • Consolidate
  • Outsource
  • Automate
  • Hire

Eliminate. Is there any way to eliminate the role? Is the work performed in this role necessary? What would happen if the work in this role was never performed again?

Simplify. Is there a way to simplify the work process for this role, that would change the level of work in the role?

Consolidate. Can the work performed by this role be modified, shortened, simplified, so that it becomes part-time and can it be consolidated with another role?

Outsource. Is the work performed by this role something that can be more effectively outsourced, to fix our cost structure associated with this work? Is the work performed by this role subject to seasonal or economic fluctuations which are easier to control if the role is contracted to an outside resource?

Automate. Can the work performed by this role be automated through a software system or automatic device? Is the cost for the automation less expensive and more reliable than a person in this role?

Hire. Does this role require judgment, in decision making and problem solving that is better performed by a person than any other resource? Is this work necessary?

Sounds like a very interesting discussion between the manager-once-removed and the hiring manager. -Tom

How to Interview for Values

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I get it. Interest and passion come from value for the work. So, just exactly how do you interview for that? Any question I come up with, sounds stupid or leads the candidate.

  • Are you passionate about the work we do here?
  • Tell me about your interest in the work we do here?

These questions just leave me open for the candidate to fabricate something they think I want to hear.

You are correct, those are lousy questions. First, they are hypothetical and without definition for “the work we do here.” The first fix is to ask about the candidate’s real prior experience, not a hypothetical comparison.

Next, it is impossible to interview for values. I can’t do it. You can’t do it. We can only interview for behaviors connected to values. What are some descriptive words connected to value for the work?

  • Significant
  • Important
  • Accomplishment
  • Pride

Embed these words into a series of questions, focused on connected behaviors.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project of significance?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • Describe your work on the project?
  • What problems did you have to solve?
  • What decisions did you have to make?
  • What made that project significant?
  • What characteristics about the project made it important?
  • In the eyes of the team, what was accomplished?
  • In that project, what were you most proud of?

In the interview, as you listen to the candidate’s response, do the values described match up with the values necessary for the work in the role?

Before you spring this on a real candidate interview, try this with your existing team. Valuable practice. -Tom

Will I Even Show Up?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In your workshop on Time Span, you mention interest and passion as a critical role requirement. That sounds nice, but what does it mean?

Indeed, interest and passion have a kumbaya appearance in the midst of more tangible candidate characteristics. So, what is it, related to work, that we have interest in and passion for? You know me well enough, this is not a casual metaphorical discussion.

We have interest in, and passion for, work on which we place a high value. If we place a high value on the work, it is likely we will have interest and passion for it.

If we place a low value on the work, it is likely we will not be interested. Low value means we will not bring our highest level of capability. We will most likely only do what is minimally necessary.

My wife places a high value on a type of work called “back yard gardening.” You can imagine that my home in Florida is a veritable jungle of exotic plants and butterflies. Why? Because she place a high value on that type of work.

I, on the other hand, place a low value on a type of work called “back yard gardening.” So, if I am ever summoned to the back yard to complete a task assignment, will I even show up? Of course, I will show up, I am married, but I will only do what is minimally necessary and then I disappear.

So, think about the work in the roles you have for your team. Think about the work you have for yourself. What are the problems that have to be solved? What are the decisions that have to be made? Interest and passion come from value for the work.

Why They Don’t Want to Help

“But how can you hold the regional manager accountable for a hiring decision made by the supervisor?” Regina complained. “That’s what my regional managers will say. That’s why they don’t want to help. Helping gets their fingerprints on the hire. If it’s a poor hire, they get dragged into mess.”

S-III – Regional Manager
S-II – Hiring Supervisor
S-I – Technician Role (open)

“Exactly!” I replied. “Except, I don’t want to simply drag the regional manager into the mess. The regional manager is accountable to drive the whole process. Just as the supervisor will be accountable for the output of the technician, I hold the regional manager accountable for the output of the supervisor. If the regional manager is accountable for the quality of the decision made by the hiring supervisor, what changes?”

Hiring As a Matter of Opinion

“I still don’t think this is going to work,” Regina pushed back. “My regional managers don’t see this as a priority for them. They think the supervisor should be able to handle their own recruiting.”

“What do your statistics tell you?” I asked.

“Well, out of a workforce of 500 technicians, this past year, we had 176 leave, 83 percent left on a voluntary basis.”

“And your regional managers think your supervisors are capable of driving their own recruiting effectively?”

“Yes,” Regina politely replied.

“I think they are mistaken. The biggest mistake most companies make is, they underestimate the level of work in the task assignment. Underestimate the level of work in the task, and you will select the wrong person every time. In this case, your supervisor is appropriate to be the hiring supervisor, but the supervisor’s manager (the regional manager) is the manager-once-removed from the open position.

S-III – Regional Manager (Manager Once Removed)
S-II – Supervisor (Hiring Manager)
S-I – Technician Role (open)

“It is the regional manager who is the quarterback. The Regional Manager is accountable for the output of the Supervisor. That includes the quality of the hiring decision. Only when you make it necessary, will you get the attention of the regional manager.” -Tom

Hiring is Not Necessary

“We have our supervisors do the hiring for their own team of technicians. We laid out how they are supposed to recruit candidates and how to conduct the interview,” Regina explained.

“So, how do they do?” I asked.

“Not very well. I don’t think they like to recruit new players, so they get one technician short, then another. Now, they are willing to settle for any candidate that can fog a mirror. They don’t have enough people and more service calls than they can handle. The supervisor ends up on-site doing technician work.”

“Does the supervisor have a manager?”

“Yes, the supervisor has a regional manager. Each regional manager covers seven or eight supervisors,” Regina replied.

“And does the regional manager get involved in the hiring process?”

“They are supposed to give guidance and direction to the supervisor, help them out. But, you know, people get busy. I don’t think much of that is happening.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s like the regional manager doesn’t want the responsibility if the supervisor makes a bad hire. If their fingerprints aren’t on process, they can’t be held accountable.”

“But, you said, part of the role of the regional manager was to give guidance and direction to the supervisor?” I pressed.

“You know how it goes. I think it rarely happens.”

“It rarely happens because you haven’t made it necessary. In life, people only do two things. They do the easy thing and they do those things that are necessary. Hiring is not easy. Your regional manager is allowing your hiring supervisor to twist in the wind, without guidance and direction. Your regional manager gets away with it because you haven’t made it necessary for them to be involved.” I stopped.

Regina’s eyes opened wide, so I continued. “Your regional manager is the quarterback of your recruiting process. It’s the regional manager who should be driving the candidate sourcing. It’s the regional manager who manages the screening process and puts people into the qualified candidate pool. The hiring supervisor gets to make the final selection, but from a qualified talent pool created by the regional manager.”

“But they don’t have time to do that,” Regina defended. “They have more important things to do as a regional manager. I can’t have them get bogged down in the hiring process. I mean, they can give guidance, but it sounds like you want them much more involved.”

“What more important thing does your regional manager have to do, than to build the infrastructure of your technician teams? In fact, the reason they are so busy, with management issues and motivation issues, is they did a lousy job of this in the first place. You do this job well, your life as a manager will be wonderful. You do this job poorly, and your life as a manager will be miserable and for a very long time.” -Tom

Results Can Be Misleading

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In hiring, you caution against the myopia of results-based-performance. We may naively “assume that a company’s results were created by the candidate’s performance, when there are a hundred other things that contribute – reputation, price point, product superiority, terms, another supplier that failed to deliver.”

I would think that a track record of consistent results over an extended period of time would hold a tremendous amount of value. So the question is, are you minimizing the use of results even when there is a proven track record of results over an extended period of time? Or is it just in situations where the “results” are much more limited where it would be difficult to verify that they really are the result of the individual’s actions?

Yes, results for short sampling periods are always suspect, and, yes, I also have my red flags up, even with a longer term statistical track record of positive results. I am more interested in the behaviors that created the result than in the result. Especially during an interview, I am not in a great position to judge the cause and effect relationships that ended in a positive result. I may be encouraged with positive results, but I will still focus on behaviors.

Coincidence of Results

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“I am not so sure about this candidate,” Marcus explained. “He says he would make a good sales manager, but even on his resume, he has only been in that role for seven months.”

“So, what does he say?” I asked.

“When, I think about it, sounds more like promises,” Marcus nodded. “I asked him what kind of impact he was having on his current sales team. He said that by the end of the year, they were looking at a substantial increase in sales. He said they should have made him sales manager three years ago.”

“But, they didn’t? And, does the increase in sales have anything to do with the sales manager, or is their market just improving? You are basing your judgment of effectiveness based on a result (that hasn’t even happened, yet). You have fallen in a trap. Results based performance is a trap.”

“But, results are important,” Marcus defended.

“And, results can be a sucker punch. You assume the results were created by the performance, when there are a hundred other things that contribute – reputation, price point, product superiority, terms, another supplier that failed to deliver. Results are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. When you abdicate your judgment of effectiveness based on results, you ignore the candidates behavior. What are the behaviors you expect out of your sales manager?”

Marcus had to stop and think. “Coaching, goal setting, teaching, observing, giving constructive feedback, encouraging, bringing out the best in his sales team.”

“So, interview for those behaviors. Effectiveness in those behaviors will tell the story of your candidate. Don’t be fooled by a result (that hasn’t happened yet).”

The Danger of Missing Stratum IV

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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

We have silos. Everybody is in a power struggle. We used to have a great reputation, but I think we outgrew it. The company seems lopsided. Sometimes sales outstrips our ability to fill orders, so some of our sales orders turn into back orders, some of our back orders turn into canceled orders and some of our best customers defect to the competition. Other times, production outstrips our ability to sell, so our finished goods don’t get sold, they stack up in the warehouse. The warehouse gets full, so we rent another warehouse. We carry inventory so long it turns obsolete and costs to hold, eat up our profit. We are like a monster machine. Just read a book by Ken Blanchard Be a Silo Buster. Do we really have to bust up the company and start over?

With all due respect to Ken Blanchard, you created those silos for a reason. Do NOT bust them up. You need efficient, profitable internal systems. It is not a matter of busting up silos, it is a matter of integrating them together. This is a classic example of a company growing into Stratum IV. This is similar to the chaos we see in Stratum II companies, but on steroids. This is not a few individuals stepping over each other. This is whole departments, internally focused, head down, nose to the grind stone without care or consideration for the other functions in the company.

But, the fix is not to tear them down. The fix is integration and requires capability at S-IV. This is not finding the constraint in a single serial system (S-III), but understanding the impact of one system on another system (S-IV). This is not root-cause analysis, but systems analysis. We have reinforcing systems and balancing systems. This requires, not serial thinking, but parallel thinking.

This is not multi-tasking (because humans cannot multi-task), but truly seeing the dependency, inter-dependency, contingency, and bottle-necks that exist among out multiple systems and sub-systems. This requires a parallel state of thinking. Two specific things to look at –

  • Balance of each system output, optimized to its surrounding systems output.
  • Handoff of work product from one system to the next system as work output flows through the organization.

Sales has to be optimized to production. There is no sense selling inventory that cannot be produced timely to the sales order. There is no sense producing finished goods that cannot profitably be sold timely to the market. The output of both systems has to be optimized so they work in sync. Reinforcing systems and balancing systems.

A department, head down, will work to their own internal efficiency. The state of their work product may be incomplete or carry a defect for the next stage in the work flow. Work does not flow up and down in a department. Work flows horizontally through the organization, output handed off from one department to the next.

  • Marketing hands off to sales.
  • Sales hands off to estimating
  • Estimating hands off to contracting
  • Contracting hands off to project management
  • Project management hands off to operations
  • Operations hands off to QA/QC
  • QA/QC hands off to warranty
  • Warranty hands off to research and development
  • Research and development hands off to marketing, and so the cycle goes

Each handoff must be inspected and improved. This is the role at S-IV.
To read more on system constraints, theory of system constraints, The Goal by Eli Goldratt.
To read more about reinforcing and balancing systems, The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge.

The Danger of Missing Stratum II

The Danger of Missing Stratum III
The Danger of Missing Stratum IV

The Danger of Missing Stratum III

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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Our company somehow always manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat, put the fire out that saves the refrigerator, crosses the finish line crawling through glass. But, we can never relax. Every major project is drama. Every major project is the one that will put our company over the top, but we never quite make it. We are always in a state of overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, our customers are very happy and return to us, project after project, but it is such a struggle. We never get to breathe, we never finish in stride.

Your company is operating at S-II (implement), in a market that requires S-III (system). If your organization is completing one project well, what does it get? Another project.

If your organization is completing two projects well, what does it get? A third project. How does it do the third project? The same way it does projects one and two. So, what does your organization get? Another project.

But, what if your organization got fifty projects? How would it do fifty projects? Certainly, not the same way it did projects one and two. Most S-II companies would kill to get 50 projects, not realizing that the 50 projects will kill them. What’s missing? S-III (system) capability.

S-III stands back from the 50 projects and sees the common pattern, extracts that pattern into a system. The system optimizes resources, reduces waste and minimizes effort. The company that wins the race is the one that goes the fastest with the least amount of effort.

S-III (system) brings consistency of output, it’s always the same. Consistency of output yields predictability of output, so we can codify our system. This predictability helps us understand the real cost, now predictable, so we can build in reasonable profit.

Whenever I hear about a profitability problem, I never look for what‘s causing the problem. I always look for a who. In this case, it is a who, with capability at Stratum III. -Tom