Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Role Mis-Match?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

How do you deal (humanely) with someone who clearly is holding an S-IV role, but only appears to have S-III capability?

First, understand that this person is doing their best, and the mistake was made by the manager (I assume that is you) who promoted this person into that role without proper due diligence.

Now, what to do?

Pull out the role description and carefully examine those Key Result Areas that describe decision making and problem solving at S-IV (multi-system analysis and system integration). Using the role description, you can either manicure the role to reassign those accountabilities to someone else or choose to transfer the person to another role which better matches their capability.

The most important part of this managerial move is to understand, the discussion centers around the tasks, activities, decisions and problem solving. The discussion does NOT center around the stratum level capability of the person. This is an important nuance.

As the manager you have the following authority –

  • Determine the level of work in the role.
  • Determine the effectiveness of the person in the role.

As the manager, you do NOT have the authority –

  • To guess the stratum level of capability of the person.
  • To guess the potential capability of the person.

As the manager, you may have an intuitive judgment about a person’s capability or potential capability. You may take action related to that judgment ONLY by testing the candidate against effectiveness in the role (or testing the candidate with project work similar to the level of work in the role). It’s all about the work, not about a number.

Too Expensive and Too Late to Train

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Our company has a critical issue around finding skilled workers. Our community is growing fast and we cannot find the skilled workers we need to meet the demand. We are trying to connect with our community college and state & local job staffers. I am calling on my former company, an economic development corporation to talk about a recruiting program to bring skilled workers to our market. What else?

In South Florida, this phenomenon appeared three years ago in SWOT analysis. Most of my construction related clients clearly identified – when the recovery happens, we are going to run short of qualified technicians and skilled labor.

Two things contributed. First, when the recession hit hard, many immigrant workers (both legal and illegal) simply went home (and stayed). Second, many in our work force discovered air conditioning. Construction trades often work outside in the elements and for about the same money, the fast food industry offered work inside under air conditioning.

This resurgence in the overall economy has bolstered two cottage industries – recruiting and training. There are, indeed, industry associations that focus on this dilemma. The leader is an organization called Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). They have a strong national organization and local chapters in every major and many minor markets. They offer a range of training from basic OSHA certifications to vocational training in specific skilled labor trades.

It’s funny. When we identified this problem three years ago, everyone pushed back and said they weren’t equipped to train or they couldn’t spend the time to train. Training took too long, they needed workers now. But, if they had jumped in with training programs two years ago, there would be a stream of graduates in the market, now.

Others pushed back, saying they could not take the risk of training. They feared they would invest in a person’s training and then have them leave the company. What’s more expensive? Training someone and having them leave, or not training someone and having them stay?

Who Gets on the Team?

“You will never be able to work on larger problems until your team becomes competent at the smaller problems,” I repeated. “You can never be promoted to a higher level role until you find someone to take responsibilities in your current role.”

“Yes, but who?” Drew replied.

“That’s for you to decide. In addition to making sure that production gets done, as a manager, one of your primary roles is to build the team.”

“You mean like team building?”

“More like a talent scout, except you get to observe all the time. Here are your levers.

  • Selection
  • Task assignment (what, by when, resources)
  • Assessment
  • Coaching
  • De-selection (if you made a mistake in the first step)

“Okay,” Drew hesitated.

“Start with selection. You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. You can’t pick your friend’s nose, but you can pick who is on your team. That’s where it starts. If you do this job well, the rest is easy. You do this job poorly, the rest is miserable.”

“But, sometimes, I feel like I don’t get to pick who is on my team. They just sort of show up from HR,” Drew protested.

“Candidates may come in sideways. I know your hiring protocol. HR does a great job at trying to source candidates for your production team. I know your manager screens those candidates and several other people conduct interviews and give you their feedback. But, at the end of the day, you pick. As the hiring manager, you have, at a minimum, veto authority as to who is on the team.”

My Senior Managers Are Too Busy

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In your workshop, you talk about the Manager-Once-Removed, who, you say, has a major role in the hiring process. I have to tell you. My “managers-once-removed” are too busy to participate in the upfront part of recruiting. Why can’t we delegate some of the initial sorting, telephone screening and first round interviews. We usually get the manager-once-removed involved only when the hiring manager is down to the last three candidates.

What more important function is there, for the manager-once-removed, than to build the infrastructure of the team? I would ask, why is your manager-once-removed so busy? Is it because the MOR did such a lousy job of building the team in the first place.

Lets say we have an open role at S-II, supervisor position. The hiring manager is appropriately at S-III, and the manager-once-removed is the hiring manager’s manager, at S-IV. In the hierarchy, (remember, I’m a structure guy) it looks like this.

S-III – Hiring manager
S-II – Supervisor (Open role)

What pain is occurring?
For the hiring manager (S-III) – a production team is likely running without supervision, meaning the hiring manager has to fill the gap and work down a stratum level of work, at least part time. Simultaneously, the organization is looking to the hiring manager to initiate a recruiting search for a replacement.
For the manager-once-removed (S-IV) – one of the S-III managers (the hiring manager) is currently under stress, spread thin, covering for an open role, making sure production gets done while simultaneously recruiting for that open role.

When does the role need to be filled?
For the hiring manager – yesterday would be good.
For the manager-once-removed – when the right candidate is identified in the candidate pool.

What is the critical purpose for the recruiting effort?
For the hiring manager – to remove the stress in the production system, created by the open role.
For the manager-once-removed – to build a stronger team, finding a truly qualified candidate that creates bench-strength.

What is the hiring methodology?
For the hiring manager – whatever is fastest. Use a job posting for the role description. Hope the hiring team likes the first candidate. How fast can the candidate give notice on their current job? Better yet, are they currently unemployed and can they start tomorrow?
For the manager-once-removed – slow the process down. Make sure the role description is well written and understood, it’s the central document for the process. Create a hiring team with well-understood roles on the team. Use the hiring team to identify the critical role requirements. Use the hiring team to create a bank of interview questions, ten written questions for each Key Result Area. Bring value to the decision making process of the hiring manager.

Who is accountable for the quality (output) of the decision made by the hiring manager?
A manager is that person held accountable for the output of the team. The manager-once-removed is the hiring manager’s manager. It is the manager-once-removed that is accountable for the quality of the decision made by the hiring manager.

Do not leave your hiring manager to twist in the wind. The manager-once-removed is the quarterback of this process. What more important function is there, for the manager-once-removed, than to build the infrastructure of the team?

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 was released last Friday, along with its own blog (  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.

Looking forward to seeing you there.  -Tom

Isn’t That Too Many Questions?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

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?

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 –


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?


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 –


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


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:

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.

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.