Category Archives: Hiring Talent

How Do You Know?

“You are the manager, so, why don’t you know if there is anyone on the line that has the potential to step up to a supervisory role?” I repeated.

“Well, I let the supervisor handle that.  He knows his team,” Denny explained.

“But, if the supervisor disappears, and you have to hire a new supervisor, how are you going to make that decision?”

“What do you mean, if the supervisor disappears?” Denny pushed back.

“Nothing is forever,” I replied.  “All managerial relationships are terminal.  The best person on your supervisor team is likely to get promoted.  One of them might quit and go work for a competitor.  One of them might go fly-fishing in Montana and call in well.”

“Okay, okay.  If one of my supervisors quits, I am the hiring manager.  What’s your point?” Denny challenged.

“If you don’t have a relationship with any of the production team, how will you know if any of them could step up and be effective in the role of supervisor?”

A New Look

In the next few days, you will see a new look to the email version of this blog.  We have been publishing since 2004, almost 1,900 posts.  While we cover a breadth of management topics (and occasionally cycling), one topic has emerged that now requires its own space.  In March, 2013, we published the book Hiring TalentHiring Talent was born out of a classroom course, migrated to an online program, and finally published as a book.

Its website hiringtalent.com was released last Friday, along with its own blog (blog.hiringtalent.com).  Later this week, the email version of Hiring Talent Blog will arrive, alternating with Management Skills Blog.  You don’t need to do anything special to subscribe, and since we use Mail Chimp, you will be able to manage your subscription at the bottom of each email.

To mark this announcement, we are offering the online course, Hiring Talent 2013 at a special rate, $100 off the regular price of $499.  If you would like to take advantage of this offer, follow this link to find out more details.  Hiringtalent.com

Looking forward to seeing you there.  -Tom

Isn’t That Too Many Questions?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
You suggest ten questions regarding each Key Result Area with 2 drill down questions. As an example, you suggest 150 questions would be reasonable.

How do you handle that practically. If you ask a candidate 150 questions and give two minutes per question for response, you are looking at 300 minutes for an interview (5 hours, not counting breaks).

Maybe for an executive position such a marathon interview process could be done but it seems difficult with several candidates to have interviews of such length. Is this practical or am I missing something?

Response:
You are not missing anything, you are just used to giving candidates two minutes to make up stuff, inflate their experience, exaggerate about skills and generally waste your time.

In preparation for the interview, I identify a number of Key Result Areas (KRAs).  In each KRA, I have identify tasks, activities, accountabilities and the level of work.  I need to know some very specific information about the candidate.

For example.

I am interviewing for a dispatcher role for a fleet based service company, with thirty trucks on the road.  Each afternoon, my dispatcher reviews all the leftover work and makes sure it gets on the following morning schedule.  In spite of the schedule, fifty percent of those service calls will get re-scheduled during the day.  During the day, an additional 90 service calls will get added to the mix.  Our target turnaround time for all service calls to be completed is 24 hours.

Here is a partial list of questions I might ask.

  • In your former position, as a dispatcher, how many service vehicles in your fleet?
  • What was the geographic range for your entire fleet?
  • What was the geographic range for a single vehicle?
  • How many service calls did each vehicle take per day?
  • What was the target turnaround time from the time of the customer call to the customer’s home?
  • What was the length of each service call?
  • How many service calls each day had to be re-scheduled?
  • What were the primary reasons for service calls to be rescheduled?
  • At the end of the day, how many service calls would be left over?
  • How were those left-over service calls scheduled for the following day?
  • What dispatch software did you use?
  • Step me through a customer call, how was it scheduled in the software?
  • How did you know when a call was completed?
  • Were customer satisfaction calls made after the service call?
  • Who made the customer satisfaction calls?
  • Step me through how the customer satisfaction data was recorded?
  • Step me through how the customer satisfaction data was used?
  • What changes were made to the dispatch system based on the customer satisfaction data?

Does it take two minutes to answer each question?  Do these questions give you insight into the exact experience level of the candidate?  Can you think of additional drill-down questions you might ask during the course of this small sample?

And I am only getting warmed up.

How Many Questions to Ask in an Interview

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:

Yesterday, you talked about how we could evaluate the capability of a team member related to the work.  Your focus was all about the work, calibrating the level of work in the role.  But your evaluation appears to depend on observation of actual work output.  I get it.  But how do we evaluate capability in non-employees, candidates we are interviewing for roles.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of observation.  We get to ask them questions.  That’s it.  How do we evaluate capability?

Response:

Interviewing candidates and gathering clues on their capability is certainly more difficult than observing team members in actual work output (applied capability).  But the platform is the same, we just have to capture our clues in a different way.

It’s all about the work.  It’s still all about the work.  With internal team members, calibrating capability requires an accurate definition of the work, an accurate definition of the stratum level of work.  In a candidate interview, the cornerstone document is still the role description.

The role description should be organized into Key Result Areas, those tasks and activities that go together, grouped together.  And those tasks and activities that don’t go together, separated from each other.  Most roles have between 5-8 Key Result Areas (KRAs).  This is where the work, the level of work gets clearly defined.

In each KRA, my discipline is to create ten written questions about the work, decisions to be made and problems to be solved in the role.  If you have five KRAs, you will have 50 written questions.  If the role contains eight KRAs, you will have 80 written questions.

And the questions are all about the work.

For every written question that you ask, I expect you to ask two drill down questions.  So, if you have 50 written questions, at the end of the interview, you will have asked 150 questions, all about the work.

In the course of your previous interviews, it is unlikely you have ever asked 150 specific questions about the work contained in the defined role.  If you had, you would have a very clear idea about the candidates capability related to the work, the candidate’s capability related to the level of work.

It’s all about the work.

How to Evaluate Capability in a Candidate

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:

How can I test to see if a person has Stratum II or Stratum III capability?

Response:

If you are looking for a paper and pencil test, there is none.  There is no test with a set of answers that you shove into a computer that divines a person’s capability.  Elliott chuckled when this question was posed.  Most psychometric instruments, he observed, have, at best, a .66 correlation with reality.  Most are based on personality, or behavior, or behavior connected to temperament.  While those tests, or profiles have statistical significance for repeatability and in most cases, a stunningly accurate description of a person’s tendencies or behaviors, their evidence of predictability, a specific profile for a specific role has significance barely above flipping a coin (.5 correlation).

Elliott conjectured, if there were a paper and pencil test for capability, its likelihood to stand the same test would likely yield no more than the same .66 correlation with reality.

But your question is still valid and there is a method to satisfy the high curiosity we have about a person’s capability related to the level of work.  There is no trick, no special technique, no psychological requirement that we climb inside the head of our candidate and play amateur psychologist.

Moreover, the validity of this method reveals between .89 and .97 inter-rater reliability.

It’s all about the work.  Focus on the work.  As you define the role, its task and activities, goals and objectives, what is the level of work?  Does the role contain Stratum II level of work or Stratum III level of work?  Examine the decisions that have to be made and the problems that have to be solved.  Examine the time-span of the goals and objectives in the role.  What is the longest time-span task in the role?

The biggest mistake most companies make is underestimating the level of work required in the role.  A defect in the definition of the level of work in the role will most assuredly result in hiring the wrong person.

Examine your role description.  What are the tasks and activities?  What are the decisions that have to be made?  What are the problems that have to be solved?  What is the time-span of the longest task assignment in the role?

Based on that definition of the role, does the candidate provide evidence of effective task completion?  It’s all about the work.

When we spend the time to accurately define the work, and accurately calibrate the level of work in the role, the questions become very simple.  Does this person work as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role?  And, in that half, does this person operate as effectively as someone in the top, middle or bottom.

When you ask the team member to do a self-assessment, ask the manager and ask the manager-once-removed (MOR) about effectiveness, the inter-rater agreement approaches .97 (.89-.97).  With this practical evaluation system, why would you want to resort to other methods that might only have a .66 correlation with reality?

It’s all about the work.

Can I Afford to Fill the Role?

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:
Let’s say I buy into Elliott Jaques model of Requisite Organization. But I have a small company. As you describe the layers in the organization, it is clear that I am missing some key roles. But in this recovery (are we still in recession), I have to stick to my personnel budget. I cannot afford to hire the people necessary to fill all the roles.

Response:
If you were thinking about purchasing a machine, a major expensive machine, for your operations, and you were concerned about budget, how would you make that decision?

Actually, it doesn’t matter whether you are concerned about budget, the answer is still the same. You would purchase the machine only if it were necessary for the operation. I don’t know of a single business owner or manager who would put something in place unless it was necessary.

I use necessity as a driver for many decisions. Is that machine necessary? Is that role necessary? If your business model requires a role, yet your budget will not allow the hire, then you have to modify your business model.  Or you might have to stretch a person across two roles.  And that person might be you.

Rather than questioning the validity of organizational roles and layers, let Elliott’s model help you understand what is missing and what modifications you might have to make until your company gets back in the zone of profitability and growth. You will get there faster.

How to Miss Something Important in a Candidate Interview

Kirklin was shaking his head.  “I don’t know how we missed it,” he muttered.

“Missed what?” I asked.

“We hired this guy about a month ago, to be a supervisor in one of our technical areas.  Six guys on his team.  How hard could it be?”

“I don’t know, how hard could it be?” I probed.

“Apparently, pretty hard.  His team’s production is behind and his team members are coming up to me privately and complaining.”

“What are they complaining about?”

Kirklin thought for a moment.  “Just general stuff, doesn’t really matter.  Bottom line, this new supervisor has never supervised a team before.”

“Then, why did you pick him for the job?” I wanted to know.

“Well, he was a supervisor at his old job.  I mean, he had a supervisor title.  Today, I asked him how many people he had on his team.  Turns out, he didn’t have a team.  He supervised a machine.”

“How did you miss that in the interview?”

“I guess I never really asked THAT question,” Kirklin replied.

How to Deal with Procrastination

“I am trying to promote this team member, Rachel, into a new role,” Janice explained. “But she seems to be dragging her feet.”

“Tell me more,” I asked.

“I think she wants the position, appears interested and excited. But you told me that I could not promote someone without clear evidence of potential. So I have been giving her longer time span projects than she has in her current role. In the delegation meeting, she is very responsive, but she never gets started.”

“What do you mean, never gets started?” I wanted clarification.

“Part of the delegation meeting, I describe the project, the vision of what it looks like when finished, including very specific performance standards of quality and deadline. I asked her to write out a step-by-step plan so we can discuss her approach to the project. That was last week. Nothing. She is dragging her feet.”

“How long is the project?”

“Six weeks. Six weeks is a reasonable amount of time to complete the project. I set a very specific deadline, but, now, that’s five weeks from now. She might still be able to get the project completed, but likely now, it will cost some overtime.”

“What do you think is going on?” I pressed.

“She is good at three week assignments. Now that you mention it, every long project she works on, takes about three weeks. Even four week projects. She procrastinates, says she works well under pressure. She’s right, she will stay late, come in early. I like her dedication, but sometimes coming in early doesn’t solve the problem of a long term project.”

“How so?”

“If you burn a week on a four week project, you can come in early, make up some time, but if there is a four week lead time on material, the project will be a week late. There will be blaming behavior, but it’s still a four week lead time for material.”

“What do you think the procrastination means?”

“I think it is an indication of capability,” Janice thought out loud. “I know you tell me to focus on the work, that capability is all about the work. If the target completion time of the project is further out than three weeks, Rachel underperforms to the deadline. It’s always a last minute scramble and something falls through the cracks.”

“So, what are you going to do, as her manager?”

“It’s a good thing we have three week projects. And for longer projects, I will have to break down some interim milestones. It means I will have to manage the longer time span elements. In the short run, that is workable. In the long run, I may have to make a different move.”
___
Buy the book, Hiring Talent. Take the course, Hiring Talent.

Looking for Evidence of Potential in a Candidate

“So, it’s important not to HOPE someone has potential to step into a new role. You insist, that if a person has potential, there should be evidence of potential,” Monica refocused our conversation on her own role, as a manager, in the hiring process.

“If you know what to look for,” I replied.

“What do you look for? If someone has potential to move up to the next level of work, what evidence would I look for?”

“Look for behaviors. How would a team member, who has potential, behave?”

Monica stared in the space of the room. She looked up, then nodded. “Okay, if a person has potential to move up to the next level of work, their current work must be under control. Their current work must be complete, on time and meet the quality standard for that task.”

“And?”

“And they must be curious. If a person has potential, they will ask questions about the next level of work. They will want to know not just how things are done, but why they get done, how tasks fit together, how work is handed off. If a person has potential, when they are confronted with a problem, they will be able to clearly state the problem, the cause of the problem and provide more than one alternate solution.”

“What else?” I prompted.

“A person, who has potential, will try something new, and if they fail, they will make an adjustment and try again, and if they fail again, they will adjust and try again. And they will get faster at failing and better at adjusting until they successfully complete the project.”

“Okay, stop. You have identified several behaviors that you would look for. Now, think. In what situations might we see those behaviors? What questions can we ask to find out if those behaviors exist? Here is a hint. Tell me about a time when…”
___
I just checked Amazon. Reduced price on Hiring Talent. Get the whole story about levels of work and how to interview for them.

Judging Potential in a Candidate

“So, I was considered to have potential, because I got to know the inspectors at the building department?” Monica chuckled.

“That was only the tip of the iceberg,” I said. “Do you remember, as a supervisor, you were playing around with the construction schedules. One group said they would get their work done in so many days, and the next group needed that many days. And most of our projects were always coming in late.”

“Yes,” Monica nodded. “It was an interesting experiment. Everyone thought I was nuts until I brought my project in ahead of schedule. That never happens in construction.”

“And you did it without raising your voice,” I observed.

“It was funny,” she explained. “The framers said they needed three weeks, the electrical guys said they needed one week and the plumbers said they needed two weeks, and that was just for the rough-in. Then the sheetrock crew wanted a week, the trim guys wanted a week for the finish work. Then the electrical guys wanted another week for their punch list and the plumbers another week to set all the fixtures. That’s ten weeks. And I only had seven weeks for that phase of the project.”

“And do you remember what you did to accelerate the project?”

“It was easy really. I knew everyone was padding their time budgets. I call it a buffer. I asked each crew to divide their time budget into the working part and the buffer part. I mean, there are legitimate things that happen to delay projects, that’s why they build in buffers. So, every team gave me their work time budget and their buffer time budget. Each group had almost 40 percent of their time in buffers and none wanted to budge. Total work time was six weeks, total buffer time was four weeks. I told each crew that we were preserving their buffer time, but moving all buffers to the end of the project, scheduling only for work time. One thing I know, if you give a crew ten days, six days work and four days buffer, it will take them ten days to finish. Work expands to the time allotted. But if you give that same crew six days to work, they will finish in six days. So, if there was a legitimate delay, I gave them back one of their buffer days from the end of the project. Indeed, there were some delays and over the course of this phase of the project, we used an entire week of buffer. But, at the end of seven weeks, we came in on time with three weeks of buffer left over.”

“So, when we considered that you had potential to be a manager,” I explained, “we based our judgment on evidence, not hope.”