Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Can’t Be a Smoker Unless You Smoke

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question –
How do you interview for culture fit?

Response –
Here is my list of four absolutes required for success in any role, regardless of discipline.

  • Capability (measured in Time Span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced to mastery)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work in the role)
  • Required behavior

Have you ever hired someone, with the required capability, technical knowledge and practiced mastery, high value for the work, but the person just didn’t fit? The person just didn’t fit the culture?

Culture (my definition) is that set of unwritten rules that governs our required behaviors in the work that we do together. If it was a written set of rules, it would be in our SOP. Culture is determined by our practice and behavior. Culture is real. Culture can be influenced, but it is defined by the actual practice and behaviors that occur.

An organization can say they have a culture of open communication, but, culture is real. A culture of open communication is only defined by actual behaviors. It’s like being a smoker. You can’t be a smoker unless you smoke.

That’s why interviewing for culture fit is so important. It’s all about behaviors. The quickest way to change your culture is to add people to your roster that engage in behaviors counter to your (intentional) culture. Your culture always changes, shifts, when you add new people, because you are adding new (perhaps subtle) behaviors to the dance.

But your question is, how? How do you interview for culture fit? First, identify the behaviors that define your (intentional) culture. Then interview for those behaviors.

If you have an (intentional) culture of teamwork, identify those behaviors that support teamwork, like cooperation, collaboration, synchronization. Then interview for those behaviors.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where teamwork was critical?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How many on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • Why was teamwork critical on this project?
  • In what ways did the team work well together?
  • In what ways did the team work against itself?
  • When the team worked against itself, what did you do?
  • How did that work out?
  • What did you learn, working with that team?

Culture is all about behaviors.

Can You Trust Subjective Judgement?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Following up on our discussion at the workshop last week, I am curious. As a manager, how do I determine which team members have the potential to grow and which will hit the wall. I want to focus my time on team members with the greatest potential.

You have to use your judgement. Observe and make a decision. That is what managers do. But what do you observe?

For fun, in the workshop, you may remember I asked how many of the group had taken a course in psychology in high school or college? Most raised their hand. Then I asked who had degrees in psychology? Most of the hands disappeared. When I asked who was certified by the state to practice psychotherapy, one person said he was certified, but not to practice psychotherapy.

Here is the problem. When managers question whether a person has potential, they fall into a trap. The trap is the approach, because most would play amateur psychologist.

Then I asked the group, who could spot positive behavior, in the field, on the plant floor? Most raised their hands again. And who could spot negative behavior? All hands went up. How long did it take to tell the difference?

Don’t play amateur psychologist with this stuff. Play to your strength as a manager. Managers are experts at the work. If you want to know if someone has potential, give them a project to do. Then, watch, observe. Use your managerial judgment.

But that is so subjective, I hear. Yes, it is subjective. It is also highly accurate.

Dilemma with Internal Candidates

Reggie was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “I’m really lucky,” he said. “We are opening up a new division and I have three great candidates for the VP position. It’s actually going to be tough to pick which one I like the best.”

“Congratulations,” I offered. “Internal candidates or external candidates?”

“All internal. Homegrown. Got the right value system. Good decision-making skills.”

“And what will happen to the two candidates left behind?” I asked.

Reggie stopped. He was focused on his good fortune to have this kind of bench strength, but he had not considered what would happen after his selection.

“I guess they will just continue doing what they are doing now. I mean, they all play an important role, they just won’t be a Vice President in charge of a division.”

“They all know they are being considered as a viable candidate for the position?”

“Yep, I had a meeting, just last week, with all three of them. I wanted to be upfront, let them know what I was thinking.”

“And, have you noticed any change since you had that meeting?”

Again, Reggie stopped. He knew I hadn’t dropped by to chat about the weather. He also knew that sometimes, even on the outside, I hear about trouble before he does.

“So, something is up?” he guessed.

I nodded. “Don’t go jumping in there, but take some time to take a hard look at the new dynamics you just created.”

How To Sort Resumes

“Think about it this way,” Jean explained. “In an ideal world, with 400 resumes, we would conduct 400 interviews, but that’s just not practical.”

I nodded in agreement.

“So, we have to have some way, by looking at the resumes, to determine which of those would most likely yield the kind of candidate that ultimately brings something to the open role.”

“And, now,” I jumped in. “You look for something about the resume that would disqualify the candidate instead of something about the candidate that is actually interesting, related to the role? You are sorting OUT, not IN?”

“Exactly,” Jean replied. “The purpose for disqualifying resumes is only to reduce the workload of slogging through candidates. It does reduce the workload, but doesn’t necessarily leave us with a high quality candidate pool.”

“So, you think there is a better way of sorting resumes that creates a better pool?”

“Yes,” Jean replied. “Let’s say we want to reduce the resume pool from 400 down to 50. I could work to find 350 reasons why we would reject a resume, or I could work to find 50 reasons why I want to take a resume to the next step.”

“So, what criteria would you use to find those 50 reasons,” I pressed.

“For that, I have to go back to the role description. Remember, it’s all about the work.”

I Don’t Know What That Means

“So, what is the goal?” I asked. “What is the expected output?”

Marianna smiled, looked down at the paper in front of her. “Strategically improve current workflow resulting in improved success on projects in support of long-term company goals.”

I nodded. “Sounds great. But, I don’t know what that means.”

Marianna looked puzzled. “Well, that is what I expect from the manager in this role,” she replied.

“I know that’s what you expect, but I am still confused.” I stopped. “It is noble to improve workflow, but I don’t know what you expect to see. How are you going to evaluate effectiveness? What do you expect this person to do?”

“Well, we have work-cells that pass work along the line. Sometimes there are delays where things stack up. Sometimes, there are quality problems that are discovered at the end of the line, where we have to scrap a whole day’s production because of a small adjustment up the line. Sometimes, we run out of raw materials, so production stops. Sometimes, our work flow gets interrupted by a priority order that gets inserted at the last minute.”

“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You want the person in this role to chart out the workflow, identify problems related to workflow delays, interim quality inspections, raw material min-max levels and expedited orders. The accountability (work output) will be a one-page work flow chart showing work-cell to work-cell production hand-offs, identifying where delays occur, when interim quality inspections are performed, quantities of raw material inventory related to production, and contingency processes for expedited work orders.”

Marianna nodded her head in agreement.

“Then, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I smiled.

Rejected for a Spelling Error

“We had 400 resumes in response to our job posting,” Jean complained, “but when I look at those that made the cut, I am disappointed.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I looked at the reject stack. Here was one that was rejected for a spelling error, but the candidate had completed a special certificate program at a school in upstate Vermont. I know about that program. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“Rejected for a spelling error?”

“And here was one, rejected because of a three month gap in employment. But the candidate spent six months with a special ed program in a village in Africa. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“And?” I prompted.

“This candidate graduated from an unremarkable college, fresh out of school, with no work experience in our field, but managed to hold down a full-time job, a part-time job and take a full-course load in college. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“So, what passed the stage-gate?” I wanted to know.

“Here’s one. Perfect spelling, no gaps in job history, a reputable academic history, ten years experience in a retail perfume department. Only one small problem. We don’t sell perfume. How did that resume make it to the IN stack?”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“I think we are going about this all wrong. We look at resumes and find some flaw to disqualify the candidate. We look at resumes and sort OUT. I think we need to reverse the process. We need to determine the critical role requirements and then sort IN for those qualities.”

I Don’t Care What the Candidate Knows

“I don’t understand,” Rachel quizzed. “When I interviewed this candidate for the position, he knew all the technical angles of the job. Now that I hired him, it’s like he is clueless.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“It’s the difference between talking a good game and actually playing the game,” she observed. “But when he talked about the job, he sounded like he had been doing this for years.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“Just knowing the job isn’t enough. You actually have to have done the job.”

“And your conclusion?” I nodded.

“Technical skill comes in two parts. One part is the technical knowledge. That is what I asked questions about. The other part of skill is practice. Execution takes practice. I didn’t ask interview questions about the practice part. How did the candidate practice the skill part? Frequency of practice? Depth of practice? Accuracy of practice? At the end of the day, I don’t care what the candidate knows, I care what the candidate can do.”

Everyone Liked the Candidate

“It happened again,” Ted explained. “I told myself that the next time we needed to hire someone, I would be prepared for the interview.”

“And?” I asked.

“Scott came down the hallway. He said the candidate in the conference room had talked to four other people and everyone liked him. Heck, I didn’t even know we had interviews scheduled.

“He asked if I had fifteen minutes to talk to the candidate, just to see if I liked him, too.

“Funny, I liked him, too.”

“So, what’s the problem?” I pursued.

“Everyone liked him, but here we are, two months down the road and I find out he doesn’t have any experience in one of the most critical parts of the job. He just told me point blank that he has never done this before. Worst part, he tells me he doesn’t even see that as part of his job. If we need that done, he suggests we hire an expert or a consultant to help out.

“Just what I need, to hire another consultant because someone on the inside can’t do their job.”

The Head vs The Work

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I just finished reading Hiring Talent – thank you for writing such an outstanding book! As an executive recruiter having recently discovered Requisite Organization, your application of Jaques’ work has been by far the most helpful I have found. Nevertheless, I noted with interest no mention in your book of his Mental Processing (declarative, cumulative, serial and parallel) in determining level of work, so reaching out to find out your view on this in assessing leadership potential.

You have indeed paid attention. Elliott was keenly aware of tools (training, experience, insight) that he would use vs those tools he would train others to use. Near the end of his life, he was quite sensitive to the training of industrial psychologists and HR professionals in the use of language analysis to determine potential capability according to the four levels of mental processing. His reservations were related to the potential for abuse, misdiagnosis and personal damage that could be the result of such efforts. Understand, that this perspective (RO) is very powerful and, misused, can be devastating to an individual.

This does not minimize the value of our understanding of mental processing, but will have an impact on the tools we might use.

In my presentations and workshops, I make a distinction between two diagnostic approaches –

  1. The head
  2. The work

Elliott was a psychotherapist and perfectly comfortable in the head. But he was also aware of the pitfalls in that approach, specifically for managers and supervisors.

I stay out of the head. In my conversations with Elliott’s widow, Kathryn Cason, I came to the conclusion that we serve ourselves well if we would only focus on the work. Elliott himself, admitted that the field of psychology, with its IQ tests and personality profiles, has no clear definition for the behavior called work. That is why most psychometric assessments (Meyers-Briggs, Profiles XT, Predictive Index, DISC) are inconsistent as a selection tool. They are statistically valid and repeatable instruments, but success related to work can be elusive.

The second approach, focus on the work, turns out to be a natural application of RO for hiring managers and managers-once-removed. Calibrating mental processing in the work yields more practical results than attempting to divine an individual’s potential capability. I coach my students not to play amateur psychologist, but play to their strengths as managers. They are experts in the work.

Hiring Talent provides the prescription, using the behavioral interview, to parse through the work. The four levels of mental processing are there, but embedded in descriptions of work. My definition of work is solving problems and making decisions. Most managers can describe, in detail, the level of problem-solving and level of decision-making required in a role. And that is the focus of Hiring Talent. If we have accurately described the problem-solving and decision-making in a role, then the evaluation becomes simple. Does the candidate have experience and is the candidate competent solving those problems and making those decisions?

This approach is powerful because of its underlying science combined with the power of the behavioral interview. It is accessible to any hiring manager without exposure to RO. Even more powerful for managers familiar with RO.

I have always maintained that an executive recruiter who uses the methodology outlined in Hiring Talent will be head and shoulders above its competition in qualifying candidates for its client base.

Who Will Happen?

“Who will our company leaders be in twenty years?” I asked. “Who will our company leaders be in five years?”

There were puzzled faces around the room. “Well, it’s going to be whoever steps up,” said a voice from the back of the room.

“What if that person is not currently employed here, and you have to promote someone without the capability to be effective in those roles?”

“I guess we will have to go to the outside and recruit,” came another voice.

“And, when will you know you need to do that?” I pressed.

“Maybe, we should get a committee together in a couple of years to look into our succession planning,” said someone from the front.

“Not good enough,” I nodded. “I want to see a personnel plan from every manager, every year. A rolling plan one year out, three years out and five years out. Do we need new roles on the team, do we need to take some roles away? Which personnel are operating effectively, who needs a new challenge, who needs to be liberated to industry? What roles will be replaced by technology? What growth or contraction do we expect?

“You see, succession happens all over the organization. It’s not just top leadership. Your technicians become team leaders, your team leaders become supervisors, your supervisors become managers, your managers become executive managers. Succession happens at each level of work over time.

“Planning for what will happen is not nearly as important as planning for who will happen.”