Category Archives: Hiring Talent

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.”

Don’t Need a Personnel Plan

“I don’t need a personnel plan for next year,” Sean pushed back. “I have four managers who report to me, all are doing a good job, don’t see any need to replace any of them.”

“You need a personnel plan because life happens.” I said. “What if your top performer gets picked off by another company? Who do you have in reserve? Who is ready to step up? Who has the potential to fill that position?”

“I don’t know. But all my guys are pretty solid. I think they are all happy here. I don’t think they would leave even if they were offered more money,” Sean denied.

“They don’t have to leave. They might get promoted inside the company. Either way, you’d still need another manager on your team. What kind of depth do you have on any of those teams a level below? Is there anyone in the wings with the potential to move up?”

“I don’t know. I work directly with the managers on my team. I only hear about the problem people on their teams.”

“So, if one of the guys on your team gets tapped to lead a new project in another division, what would you do?”

“Guess, I would have to start from scratch,” Sean shrugged.

“So, what could you do now, to prevent having to start from scratch?”

How Many Interview Questions Should You Create?

“I don’t understand,” Ben defended. “For the entire time that I have been responsible for hiring people, I have always used the resume to ask my questions.”

“That’s because you didn’t have any other questions to ask,” I replied. “Here is the biggest problem in most interviews. Without an extensive bank of prepared questions, the judgment about the candidate defaults to how good the resume looks, first impressions and gut reactions.”

“Okay, okay. How many questions are we talking about?” Ben relented.

“You divided the tasks into different Key Result Areas (KRAs). How many KRAs do you have?”

“Let’s say six,” Ben bit his lip.

“Ten questions for each KRA, six KRAs, that means sixty written prepared questions.”

“Sixty questions, are you out of your mind. Who has that kind of time?” Ben said, pushing back.

“You can spend the time, creating questions on the front end, or you can spend the time managing behavior on the back end. The choice is up to you.”

You’re Holding the Wrong Piece of Paper

“I don’t understand,” Ben quizzed. “In the interview, I generally use the candidate’s resume to construct my questions. Aren’t I trying to find out more about them and their experience?”

“I am only interested in a candidate’s experience as it relates to the critical role requirements,” I replied. “Imagine you are sitting in an interview, candidate across the table, you have a pen in your hand to take notes. What piece of paper do you have in your hand?”

“Well, the resume, of course,” Ben looked confused.

“That’s exactly the piece of paper the candidate wants you to look at. It was handcrafted on expensive stationery, contains the voice of experience and authority, expertly written. Put it down. The resume does not answer this question. Does the candidate have the capability, skills, interest and behaviors to do the work in the role? Your job, as the interviewer is to make that decision. There is a lot of data you need to collect and it’s not going to come off of the resume.”

The Role Description is a Design Task

“There’s more?” Ben thought our conversation about role descriptions was finished. “What do you mean next step?”

“What do you think a role description is for?” I asked.

“So the person I hire knows what to do,” Ben curtly replied.

“That’s nice, but not even close,” I paused. “You haven’t hired the person, yet. So, what is the purpose of the role description? Here is a hint. It’s all about you.”

“Me? It’s not my role description.”

“No, but you are the manager. You decide what tasks need to be completed, the appropriate time it will take to complete the tasks, and the effectiveness of the person in the role. Without the role description, you have no idea how to make those decisions. Without the role description, it’s just a noodle mess in your head, a disorganized list of tasks and vague accountabilities. The first purpose for a role description is for you to organize your thinking about the role.”

“And the second purpose?”

“You are about to walk into an interview. Without the role description, you don’t know what questions to ask,” I challenged.

That Would Be Me

Hiring Talent Summer Camp is coming. Registration and Orientation is now open. Register here. Vistage/TEC members get a $100 credit.

“But, it’s an open role on Derrick’s team. I am not trying to argue, just trying to understand why, as Derrick’s manager, I am accountable for quarterbacking this recruiting process?” Roy continued to push back.

____________S-III – Manager (Roy)
________S-II – Supervisor (Derrick)
____S-I – Technician Team (Open role)

“Derrick is about to make a decision,” I explained. “As hiring manager, he has to have minimum veto authority over who gets on his team. This decision he is about to make could be a great decision or a poor decision. Whichever way he decides, who do I hold accountable for the quality of his decision?”

“Well, it is his decision. He must be accountable,” Roy continued to squirm.

“No. I assume Derrick is doing his very best and it is his manager I hold accountable for his output. Who is his manager?”

“That would be me,” Roy grimaced.

The People System

Roy was still pushing back. “How can you hold me accountable for quarterbacking the hiring process for Derrick’s team? It’s his team. He is the supervisor.”

“Roy, let’s look at the levels of work in this hiring process. Starting with Stratum I level of work, that would be the technicians on Derrick’s team,” I described. “What is the team’s focus?”

“They run the machines, stack the materials, they do production,” Roy replied.

“And Derrick’s role is supervisor. What is his focus?”

“In his role as supervisor, he makes sure production gets done. He schedules the team, makes sure the materials are all there, makes sure the machines are in running order, makes sure the output of the team matches the work orders for each day.”

________Stratum II – Supervisor – Derrick
____ Stratum I – Technician Team

“What is the time frame of his focus?” I prompted.

Roy turned his head, “He has to look out, one to two weeks. Some of the materials take time to get. We can’t run out, that shuts production down.”

“What is the longest lead time item,” I asked.

“We have some materials, like custom packaging that can take as long as six months to get. If we run out of our custom packaging, that production cell would be shut down. That’s why we never run out.”

“And you. You are Derrick’s manager. What is your focus?”

____________ Stratum III – Manager – Roy
________ Stratum II – Supervisor – Derrick
____ Stratum I – Technician Team

“I have a longer term focus. I look at the system, the way everything works together,” Roy replied.

“Just looking at personnel, what do you focus on?”

“Well, Derrick may determine who shows up on any given day, but I determine how many people are on Derrick’s team, including new trainees, extra people to rotate in, when people are sick or workload goes up. Derrick may ask for an extra guy, but I decide if he gets it or not. I use production models based on historical data to determine the optimum size of the team given the forecast we get from the sales department.”

“So you are in charge of the people system?” I clarified.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“That’s why I hold you accountable for quarterbacking the recruiting process to fill a technician role on Derrick’s team.”
Mark your calendars. Hiring Talent Summer Camp is coming. Registration and Orientation open today, July 6. Register here. Vistage/TEC members get a $100 credit.

Who Is the Quarterback of the Hiring Team?

“I am Derrick’s manager, but Derrick is the one with the opening on his team, a position that has been open since April,” Roy protested. “How can you hold me accountable?”

“You are Derrick’s manager, I hold you accountable for his output,” I insisted.

“But he is the one who hasn’t done his job. He hasn’t hired anyone, not my fault,” Roy placed a line in the sand.

“He is on your team. One of your responsibilities is to decide who is on your team. Derrick is on your team. I hold you accountable. More than that, for this open role, you are the manager-once-removed. As the manager-once-removed, it is your responsibility to quarterback this hiring process.”

“Well. I have been telling him he needs to hire someone. What else am I supposed to do?” Roy grimaced.

“Derrick is the hiring manager, but you are the manager-once-removed. As the manager-once-removed, as the quarterback of this process, what steps could you have taken to make the situation better?”
Mark your calendars. Hiring Talent Summer Camp is coming. Orientation starts July 6, pre-registration open now. Vistage/TEC members get a $100 credit.