Play to Your Strengths as a Manager

Hiring Talent Summer Camp is launched. Today is the last day for open registration. For more information and registration, follow this link – Hiring Talent Summer Camp.
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On Wednesday, we talked about the Spirit Animal interview question. Sparked a bit of response.

I do see the humor in this question, and on the surface, it does seem silly. However, there may be more to the question than you think. I had a manager tell me they ask silly questions like this, not to judge the surface response, but to evaluate how the candidate reacts to such a silly question. Do they roll their eyes disrespectfully? Does it take an exorbitant amount of time to come up with an answer? Are they creative with their answer? Do they panic and start sweating? Are they a quick wit and come up with a novel response?

Here’s the problem. And I will state this in the form of a question.

  • Why do interviewers misinterpret candidate responses?

To this question, I get the usual –

  • The interviewer doesn’t listen well.
  • The interviewer is listening for something she wants to hear.
  • The interviewer has already made up her mind.
  • The candidate exaggerates the content in his response.

But that’s not the real reason interviewers misinterpret responses. Here’s why.

Interviewers misinterpret candidate responses because they ask questions which require interpretation. The Spirit Animal question will get a response, like rolling eyes, a long pause, panic sweats, snappy answer. But what does that response mean related to the work in the role. We don’t know what it means and any attempt to interpret the response places us in the position of playing amateur psychologist.

Most managers don’t have a degree in psychology, certainly not a Masters or PhD in psychology. None are certified by their respective state to practice psychotherapy. Most managers stink at it.

But managers are expert at spotting positive work behaviors, expert at spotting negative work behaviors. Don’t play amateur psychologist, play to your strengths as a manager. Ask questions about the work. It’s all about the work. And never ask about a person’s Spirit Animal.

Mine is a python that starts with a wrapped embrace, then squeezes the life out of its unsuspecting prey. -Tom

The Question is Cute, but Idiotic

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Rifling through my archives –

I was shocked this morning to read an article posted on LinkIn. The Strange and Difficult Questions CEOs Ask in Job Interviews. At first, I thought it was going to be a spoof article, given the questions that were listed. But, as a I read on, I found that the author was serious about sharing these questions, with attribution to a stoic CEO.

What’s your superpower… or spirit animal?
“During her interview I asked my current executive assistant what was her favorite animal. She told me it was a duck, because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface. I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA.” — Ryan Holmes, HootSuite CEO

This has to be one of the most idiotic interview questions invented. It’s cute but has nothing to do with the work. Perhaps Mr. Holmes believes he has some divine (psychological or psychopathic) ability to accurately interpret a candidate’s response to such an inane question.

My mother thinks I am amazing, but that doesn’t qualify me for the role.

All I can do is shake my head and chuckle.

No Tips, No Tricks, No Magic to Hiring

Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) is underway. And, there is still time to join the group. Follow this link for more information and registration. –Hiring Talent Summer Camp
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“How come Roger always seems to hire good people,” Melinda asked. “What’s his trick?”

“You think there is a trick?” I asked.

“Well, I know Roger and he’s not that smart. Not any smarter than me. So, he must have some trick, some technique that he uses to pick the best person.”

“You and I both sat in with Roger on his interviews. It looks to me like he just asks questions. And when you interview, don’t you ask questions?” I prompted.

“Yes, and I have my favorite questions,” she replied. “I always ask about the way the candidate sees the future.”

“And, why do you think it is important for the candidate to be able to see the future?”

“It’s very important,” Melinda insisted. “It is important to anticipate things that might happen. It’s important to do planning. It is important to be prepared.”

“So, what is the question you ask?”

“I always ask where they see themselves in five years?”

“Do you think that gives you insight into their ability to anticipate, plan and prepare?”

Melinda stopped. “Not really, most of the time, I think the candidate just makes up something they think I want to hear.”

“So, if you had to ask a better question about a time when the candidate had to anticipate, plan and prepare, what would that question sound like?”

The Long Term View (vs the short term fix) on Recruiting

Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. Pre-register today. See you online. -Tom
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Lucas shook his head. “I don’t know. I spend all this time, recruiting, desperately looking for someone to fill the position. I finally find a candidate who fits the bill. They accept the offer, go through training. Then, just as they are beginning to get the hang of things, they decide to move to Phoenix. I have to start all over, looking for someone. It’s like a vicious cycle.”

“So, what are you going to do?” I asked.

“Back to the beginning, put another job posting out there, talk to HR, contact a couple of recruiters. I seem to spend all my time looking for someone, I can’t get any of my other work done,” he complained.

“Sounds like a short term fix,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Lucas wanted to know.

“Finding someone, it’s just a short term fix,” I repeated. “Lucas, you’re a manager. In your role, we need you to think ahead, anticipate. Finding someone to work on your team is a short term fix. What would be a long term fix? If you knew that the best technician on your team was going to quit next June, what would you do, now?”

“Well, if I had that much time,” Lucas began to think, “I could be much more selective about who I brought on to the team. I might step up the training of the other team members to see if one of them could step into the lead role. Heck, if I could get one of my current guys to step up, I could bring on a couple of entry-level interns to back-stop the rest of the team. I would probably start a cross-training program, so that next June, when my best technician leaves, it’s not such a big deal.”

“Now, you are thinking about a long term fix. I would get started today, because, I guarantee, between now and next June, you are going to lose a team member.”

Two Parts to a Skill, Knowledge is Only One

Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. Pre-register today. See you online. -Tom
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“We were excited about this new hire,” Erica announced.

“Why all the excitement?” I asked.

“We were searching for just the right candidate, with experience on our software. We finally found one, he started last week,” she explained.

“So, why am I here?”

“We wondered if you could help us. Our new hire seems to know all the technical ins and outs of our software, but he can’t seem to solve even the simplest of problems with it.”

“How do you know he that he understands the software?” I probed.

“Well, he has two certifications in it, fundamentals and advanced. During the interview, he walked us through some of the software screens and he could explain what each of the menu items does. I was quite impressed,” Erica defended.

“So, he has the training, he can speak the language, you believe he has the skill. But there is still something missing. You know, skill comes in two parts. The first part is the technical knowledge. But the second part is practice. In the interview, did you ask questions about practice? Not, how does the software work, but what problems he solved using the software? How many problems he solved using the software? How big were the problems using the software? How different were the problems using the software? Did you have the candidate step you through some of the problems he solved?”

Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) Starts June 20

Hiring Talent Summer Camp starts on Jun 20, 2016.

Purpose of this program – to train hiring managers and HR specialists to conduct more effective interviews in the context of a managed hiring process.

How long is the program? Designed to be completed in 4-6 weeks, the program is self-paced so participants can work through the program even faster.

How do people participate in the program? Participants complete online assignments and participate in online facilitated discussions, working directly with Tom Foster as the online coach, along with other participants.

Who should participate? This program is designed for managers and HR professionals who play active roles in the recruiting process.

What is the cost? The program investment is $499.

When is the program scheduled? This program is self-paced, on-demand, so participants can login and complete assignments on their own schedule.

How much time is required to participate in this program? Participants should reserve approximately 2 hours per week (on demand) for 4 weeks (total 8 hours).

Program Description
Module One – Role Descriptions – It’s All About the Work
Learning Objectives

  • Examine what hiring managers are up against.
  • Define the steps in a comprehensive hiring process.
  • Specifically define the Role Description as the cornerstone of the hiring process.
  • Define the Structure of the Role Description
  • Write a Role Description

Module Two – Interviewing for Future Behavior
Learning Objectives

  • To understand how most managers conduct interviews, so we can stop bad habits.
  • To identify, from the Role Description, the specific data we need from the candidate.
  • To design questions to capture the data we need to make an effective candidate selection.
  • To construct a bank of organized, written, prepared questions on which to base the interview.

Module Three – Conducting the Interview
Learning Objectives

  • To prepare mentally to conduct an effective interview.
  • To practice asking prepared questions and creating clarifying questions during the interview.
  • To practice taking notes during the interview and re-capping those notes following the interview.
  • To create a Decision Matrix to compile interview data and compare candidates.
  • To effectively work with an Interview Team.

Pre-register now at the following link – Hiring Talent Course. No payment due at this time. Looking forward to seeing you online. -Tom

Level of Work and Promotions

“So, Phillip can handle tasks with a one month time span, but falls short on tasks with a longer time span,” Joyce confirmed.

“So, what does that tell you about his role? You told me that you promoted him to Warehouse Manager. Based on the level of work in the role, is that appropriate for Phillip?” I asked.

Joyce knew the answer, so her hesitation was from reluctance. “No. Now it begins to make sense. What we expect from a Manager, even the Warehouse Manager requires a Time Span of twelve months. Phillip is not even close.”

“So, if you had determined the level of work before the promotion, you might have done something differently?” I prompted.

“Absolutely. When I look at Time Span, it becomes so obvious that his promotion was a bone-headed decision.”

“And who was responsible for that bone-headed decision?”

“That would be me,” Joyce replied.
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. Pre-register today. See you online. -Tom

The Look-Ahead

“Then, how are we going to measure the size of the role?” I repeated. Joyce and I were discussing Phillip. Though he had been made manager, he was having difficulty with some of his new responsibilities.

“So, you are suggesting that we look at all the tasks on Phillip’s plate and assign a Time Span to them?” Joyce asked.

I nodded.

She began to brainstorm out loud, “If I look at his Key Result Areas, as Warehouse Manager, Phillip is responsible for:

  • Personnel
  • Receiving
  • Picking
  • Shipping
  • Warehouse Layout and Work Flow
  • Security
  • Equipment
  • Safety

“And which of those KRAs has the longest Time Span tasks?” I asked.

Joyce pulled out a sheet of paper to make some notes. “Receiving, picking and shipping are fairly short term things. The look-ahead is probably no more than a couple of weeks.

“But, both Personnel and Warehouse Layout and Work Flow, contain much longer Time Span tasks. We have a lot of seasonality to our product lines and we have to make decisions about inventory bin placement four or five months in advance. We really depend on a twelve month bin cycle that rotates stock both forward and backward depending on seasonality. Some tasks create a feedback loop to sales and purchasing about inventory turns, raw materials in stock, finished goods in stock. There is a lot to control, but it’s easy if you think out far enough into the future and plan.

“And that’s where Phillip messes up,” Joyce concluded. “He just doesn’t plan out far enough, so it’s always chaos.”

“So, if we were to measure Phillip’s capability in Personnel and Layout and Work Flow, he underperforms?” I confirmed.

It was Joyce’s turn to nod.

“So, let’s look at his other tasks, determine the level of work and see if we come up with a pattern of his effectiveness.”
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. Pre-register today. See you online. -Tom

Procrastination and Time Span

Joyce had her thinking cap on. Her dissatisfaction with Phillip was elusive. Not just a lack of performance, but from a lack of capability.

“I want you to begin to think about capability in terms of Time Span,” I prompted.

“You’re right,” she replied. “Phillip seems to stay away from, or procrastinate on all the projects that take time to plan out and work on. And then, it’s like he jams on the accelerator. He even told me that he works better under pressure, that last minute deadlines focus him better. I am beginning to think that he waits until the last minute because that is the only time frame he thinks about.”

“Give me an example,” I asked.

“Remember, I found him hidden away in the warehouse, rearranging all the shelves himself. It’s really a bigger project than that. We are trying to move the high turning items to bins up front and slower moving items to bins in the back. But it’s going to take some time to review, which items need to be moved, how to re-tag them, how to planagram the whole thing. We started talking about this three months ago with a deadline coming due next week. So, only now, Phillip focuses in the warehouse doing things himself. And the result is likely to be more of a mess than a help.”

“Is it a matter of skill, planning skills?” I ventured.

“No, I don’t think so. The whole project is just beyond him,” Joyce said with some certainty.

“Then how are we going to measure the size of the project, the size of the role? And how will we state Phillip’s effectiveness in that role?”
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. You can pre-register starting today. See you online. -Tom

Assessing Effectiveness

“So, let’s look at your description of Phillip,” I prompted. “You said he is probably in over his head. What exactly does that mean?”

Joyce’s brow furrowed. “You know. He is having trouble cutting it. Can’t deliver. Doesn’t know whether to scream or eat a banana.”

I smiled. “I know exactly what you mean. But how do we characterize this behavior so we can improve the situation?”

Joyce looked a little sheepish. “I don’t mean to poke fun. But I really don’t know how else to put it.”

“So, let’s say you fire Phillip and your boss wants to know the reason. Are you going to say that Phillip was terminated because he didn’t know whether to scream or eat a banana?”

“Of course not. I would have to think of something more tactful,” Joyce replied.

“Instead of something more tactful, think of something closer to the truth, something you can be objective about and measure.”

“I don’t know,” said Joyce, backpedaling. She shifted with the uncomfortable question. “I think I would have to go back to his job description and start there,” she replied.

“And if you went back to the job description, what would you find?”

Joyce got up from her chair and paced to the side of the room. “First of all, I would have to find the job description, but I already know it’s just a bunch of gobbledygook. It was written by a consultant several years ago and it’s out of date.”

“So, if I really put you to the test, as a manager, you are holding Phillip to a performance standard that you describe as gobbledygook?”

“Yes, but, I can still tell that he is not doing his job. He doesn’t have the capability to do his job. I know that, even without the job description.”

“So, how are we going to capture what you already know in measurable terms to help us know what to do with Phillip?”
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. You can pre-register starting today. See you online. -Tom