Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Will the Candidate Follow Work Instructions?

“So, how can I find out if a candidate will follow our standard operating procedures or if they will experiment using their own methods, wasting our time and resources to find out we were right in the first place?” Melinda asked. “What questions do you ask?”

“What are my two favorite questions?” I asked.

Melinda didn’t have to think on that one. “Tell me about a time when? And, step me through?”

“Okay, so using those two questions, create a series that helps me understand how the candidate will respond when they disagree with work instructions,” I prompted.

Melinda took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, thinking.

  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with the way you were supposed to complete a task assignment?
  • What was the project, or what was the task?
  • Step me through the specific method you were told to follow?
  • In that method, what did you disagree with?
  • What did you do?
  • Step me through your alternate method?
  • Why did you think it was better?
  • Who did you talk to about it?
  • What questions did you have?
  • What was the outcome?

“Good questions,” I nodded. “And in their responses, what would you be listening for?”

“First, I would want to find out if they had a real awareness of their work instructions,” Melinda started. “Did the candidate listen to the work instructions they were given? Next, I want to find out the line of thinking about the work instructions. I want to see how respectful they were of their manager or if they simply flew off the handle and did things their way. I want to see how they responded, if it was helpful or if it was counterproductive.”

Some Behavior, You Contract For

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am a manager in a very busy engineering firm. I have a team of 6 engineers who review and stamp reports and 8 technicians doing field work. Of four new technician recruits, I have three who fit in well. But one, who is experienced and double my age, has become a problem. Everything I say or do, is wrong in his eyes.

In the morning, in our huddle, I will assign work orders along with specific instructions. My new technician will just stand there and say, “that is not how you mean to do it.”

I have had three meetings with him about different issues.

  • Being disrespectful, talking my staff down to the ground
  • Writing nasty comments in our weekly best practices recap
  • Not following work instructions, which has impacted our quality standards (he defends that his method is better)

And now I have a conference scheduled with my boss to explain a drop in our audited standards.

My new team member is in our 90 day probation period, been with us for 4 weeks now, and is basically undoing all the hard work to get the department from a half-star to a four star shop.

Response:
Welcome to the real world of management. This is a hiring problem. Understand that you, as the hiring manager made the mistake, and that is why it is difficult to let go. But, you have to let go. You can now, either move for termination, or live a miserable life as a manager dealing with the drama.

There are four requirements for success in any role.

  1. Capability – ability to effectively process the complexity of decisions and problems in the role
  2. Skill – technical knowledge and practiced performance
  3. Interest, passion – value for the work
  4. Required behaviors – ability to effectively execute the required behaviors in the role

I believe, based on your description that you are dealing with two issues. One is required behaviors. How do you get required behaviors?

You contract for them. And for a team member to willfully engage otherwise, violates the contract.

If I worked in a restaurant, known for a specific recipe of hot sauce, and, as a cook, I decided the sauce tasted better with more ketchup, my term with the restaurant would be short-lived.

The other issue is capability. Based on your description, your team member may have a higher level of capability than is required for the role. Whenever there is a capability mis-match, up or down, you will observe counter-productive behavior. This counter-productive behavior may act out as arrogance, condescension, rebellion or other forms of drama.

But who made the mistake in the first place? You, as the hiring manager. Admit your mistake and fix it. Or be miserable for a very long time.

Results Can Deceive

“Look at this resume,” Karla announced. “This candidate joined his company as a sales rep two years ago and took it through 85 percent increase in growth. That’s an impressive result. That is almost a double in revenues over two years.”

“You are impressed by a result?” I asked.

“Of course. You know what we say, we are all about results. Results driven performance,” she replied.

“I know you are enamored with the result, but aren’t you curious about how those results were achieved?”

“Well, yes, I will ask interview questions about how, but results don’t lie,” Karla proclaimed.

“Results may not lie, but they can deceive,” I said. “Do you think this person single-handed created those results? Is it possible that the company had a great reputation built on a history of customer service? Is it possible this industry was in an up-tick and all the competitors shared the same success? Is it possible that your candidate was just lucky enough to be sitting in the room when all this happened?”

“Okay, okay. I was just thinking if I picked this candidate and it didn’t work out, I could always point to what he did at his last company,” she admitted.

“You have to go back to the role. What are our critical role requirements? Besides, if this candidate was so responsible for those results, why is he looking for a job with us?”

Habits That Contribute, Habits That Don’t

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You said in your workshop that we should interview for habits. I agree that is important, but exactly, how do you interview for habits?

Response:
Do you know someone who always shows up late for everything? You get annoyed and suggest strategies to change that habit. “Set your watch 5 minutes ahead. Get out of bed a half hour earlier.” Yet this person is still late, every time.

There are habits that we have that contribute to our success and habits we have that detract from our success. Habits are those grooved and practiced behaviors that a person uses to solve problems and make decisions. Habits are a shortcut to problem solving and decision making. Habits create repeated conditions that contribute or detract from success.

But how do you interview for habits. When I examine the critical role requirements, I identify what habits would be valuable, specifically the repeated behaviors that would be valuable. Then interview for those behaviors. Let’s take showing up early as a habit.

  • Tell me about a project where it was important that the team start together each day?
  • What time did the team arrive?
  • What time did you arrive?
  • Why was it important that the team start together?
  • Tell me about a routine meeting that you were a part of?
  • How often was the meeting?
  • What was the purpose of the meeting?
  • What time did the meeting start?
  • What time did the team arrive?
  • What time did you arrive?
  • What happened when team members were late?
  • What happened when you were late?
  • What did you do to make sure that you were on time?

It is important to listen to how the candidate describes the behaviors of others as well as their own behavior. Their attitudes toward being late will be revealed.

I would rather be a half hour early than one minute late.

Difference Between Preparation and Planning?

“Did you ask about preparation?” I asked.

“Preparation? You mean planning? I asked questions about planning,” Erin replied. “And that’s why I am concerned. The person we hired had created a number of plans. Project plans, operational plans, personnel plans. But now, in the role, this person is failing.”

“Preparation is different from planning,” I suggested. “We can plan til the cows come home, but if we are not prepared, life will take us sideways. Did you ask about preparation?”

“I am not sure what you mean,” Erin was curious.

“There are some things we can plan for, but many things that are out of our control. We cannot plan for those things out of our control, we can only prepare. Some people can face the same challenge ten times, but on the eleventh time, are still not prepared. Others can face a brand new challenge, one they could not have planned for, yet they can handle the uncertainty, because they are prepared. Did you ask about preparation?”

Required Habits?

“What habits are required for this role you are designing,” I asked.

“Habits?” Robyn replied. “This is a technical position, lots of things to know. I figured I would spend most of the interview, asking questions about how much the candidate knows about the technical part of the job.”

“I am certain there is technical knowledge that is very important to know, and I assume you will spend a good portion of the interview assessing that. But what about habits? What habits are required for this role?” I repeated.

“What do you mean, habits?”

“It’s nice to understand the technical part of the role, but competence will require specific behaviors in solving problems and making decisions. We all have habits that contribute to our success, we all have habits that detract from our success. Habits are grooved behaviors, repeated time after time. Faced with difficulty or a challenge, we often fall back on our habits, even if our habits were unsuccessful in the past. What questions will you ask about habits? What habits are required for this role?”

Pay Now, Pay Later

“I have to tell you,” Brett started, “in the urgency of the day, dealing with all the systems in my department, there is never enough time to really focus on hiring. It may be important, but it ends up as the last thing on my list and never gets started. That’s why we hired someone in HR.”

“The breakdown of any system in your department can almost always be traced to a lack of competence in one or more roles on your team. This shortfall of competence eats up your time, creates unnecessary meetings, literally sucks the life out of your team.” I stopped. “And it can be prevented.”

“How?” Brett wanted to know.

“How do you think? You can prevent a lack of competence in the role before it happens, or you can deal with the mess after it happens? How do you prevent a shortfall in competence on your team?”

“Well, I think that is what we hired the HR person to do.” he flatly stated.

“Here’s the problem. As the manager, I hold you accountable, as a matter of contract, for the output of your team. All crumbs lead back to you. I cannot hold the HR person accountable for any lack of competence on your team. It is up to you and your manager to field a competent team.”

Motivation is a Weasel Word

“I know hiring the right person takes work,” Marianna said. “But sometimes I just don’t feel motivated to spend the time.”

“Motivated? Motivation is a weasel word. You either do the work or you do not do the work. Motivation to do the work sounds like you would rather talk about the work than actually do the work. And, yes, it is hard work, but you can either do the hard work up front or you can do the hard managing after you have selected the wrong person. You decide,” I replied.

Marianna attempted to speak, but must have swallowed her words.

I pressed on. “Look, the person who actually does the work, just does it. If you want to talk about it, you are just delaying the task, perhaps hoping that someone else will do the work for you, or that at the end of the day, you are relieved of your responsibility to make the important selection. There are no management tricks in the hiring process, just deciding what you need in the role and finding out if the person is capable of doing that work.”
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Homage to Lee Thayer, Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing. “Motivation is a weasel word.”

Competence in Hiring

I could see Marianna was still kicking this around in her head. “But, I have so much to do. Sitting down to spend uninterrupted time working on this role description, well, it’s just time I don’t have.”

“Time is not something you have or don’t have. You have the same time that everyone else has. The only difference is how you choose to spend that time,” I replied.

“Most of the time I don’t have a choice about the things that I do,” Marianna complained.

“So, you made a choice to allow circumstances around you dictate the actions you take. The fix is in on how you spend your time.”

“But, I don’t hire often enough to get good at. That is why sometimes I end up relying on hope. I hope the candidate can do what they say.”

“That’s why it is important to practice, to spend time, to get more competent in the hiring process. The less competent you are, the more likely you will lean on an unsuitable crutch. The less competent you are, the more likely you will be open to predators feeding on your weakness.”

Marianna was uncomfortable. “So, how do I act stronger in the interview?”

“It is not a matter of acting, it is not a matter of being strong. It is a matter of being more competent. There is no trick, no trap, just hard work on your part. Choose to spend your time, to practice, to become more competent at hiring and your life, as a manager, will be wonderful. Choose poorly and your life will be miserable.”
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What to Look For, In the Interview

Marianna was visibly confused. “There must be some trick to hiring the right person,” she protested. “I have a friend at another company who uses this test with a circle graph. It tells them who they should hire.”

“And, how is that working for them?” I asked.

She chuckled. “Truth be told, they don’t do any better than we do here.”

“So, are you going to use the circle graph test?” I wanted to know.

Marianna smiled and shook her head. “You keep saying that hiring the right people is just plain hard work, that there is no trick.”

“Lot’s of people want to get better at hiring. There are tons of books about the subject. You can go to seminars, hire consultants. Why do you think so few are successful at selecting the right people?” I asked.

“I sit across the interview table, candidate on the other side. It’s like there is a vast unknown about this person. And, as the hiring manager, I have a lot at risk. If the candidate doesn’t work out, I have damage control and then I have to start over, interviewing again.”

“Marianna, there are no tricks to beating the odds. You just have to know what the odds are, and the odds are against you. You cannot casually approach the hiring process. It requires preparation. Solid thought has to go into designing the role. Most hiring managers don’t know what they need in the role, so it’s no wonder they don’t know what to look for in the candidate.”

Marianna’s eyes closed for a moment. She was thinking. Her eyes opened, “First, I have to design the role?”

“Only, then, will you know what to look for. And it’s not on the circle graph.”
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