But, the Candidate Was Likeable

Marianna was puzzled. “How long does it take to know if a new hire will make it?” she thought out loud. “My last hire, I had to terminate after six weeks. Funny, I had high hopes. We did a personality profile and his graphs lined up with our best candidate profile. I introduced him around and everyone who interviewed him, liked him. Since planning is one of the critical role requirements, I asked him how he would plan a project. He nailed it, showed me a seven step planning process almost identical to some of our project schedules. In response to some of my open ended questions, he had great stories to tell about how he would be valuable on our team.”

“So, what happened?” I asked.

“He was likable. He was friendly. He got along well with everyone. That is why it was so difficult to terminate.”

“So, what was the problem?” I pressed.

“He never actually did any of the things we talked about. During his exit interview, I asked him about his planning process, the one he elegantly described in his initial interview. He said he got it off our website. No wonder I was impressed. But, he never actually put a plan together.”

“Sounds like your questions in the exit interview were more real than the questions in the initial interview?” -Tom

How Long Does It Take to Know?

“How long does it take to know, if the selected candidate will be successful in the role?” I asked.

Marianna thought carefully, remembering those who had crashed and burned. “I get some early clues, but it depends on the role. Sometimes a week, sometimes a month,” she replied.

“What does it depend on?”

“The level of work. If the role is physical or mechanical, low S-I, it doesn’t take long to see confusion and bewilderment. Often, we can see clues during the initial orientation and training.”

“So, a higher level of work takes longer to confirm the selected candidate was the right one?” I pressed.

“A higher level of work, high S-II or S-III, has longer time span goals. It takes longer to figure out if the selected candidate will be effective at longer time span goals,” Marianna said.

“Why? Why does it take so long? What would have to happen in the interview process, so you, as the hiring manager, would know on the first day, that the candidate had a high likelihood of success in the role?” -Tom

Process Important, but Not Sufficient

NEW DATE – due to Hurricane Matthew

Thursday, November 3, 2016
Fort Lauderdale, FL

Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
presented by Tom Foster

Register here.
__________________________________________
“When you hired George, your interview focused on the process of project management?” I pressed.

“Yes, and understanding the process is important, but not sufficient for the Operations Manager role,” Anne replied.

“What else should you have included in the interview?”

“To manage two or three projects requires knowledge and adherence to our process. That’s a project manager role. To manage ALL of our 36 projects requires building a team of competent project managers. That’s what I should have included in the interview. I never found out if George ever built a team.”

“If you had to do it over again, what questions would you ask?”

Anne paused. Then carefully generated a series of questions related to building a team.

  • Tell me about a time when you built a team of project managers?
  • How many people were on the team?
  • How many projects did the team have to collectively handle?
  • How many individual projects did a PM have to manage?
  • How long were the individual projects? Shortest? Longest?
  • What qualities did you look for in each team member?
  • How did you assign the individual projects to each project manager?
  • How often did you check in on project status with each PM?
  • Step me through one of your check in meetings?
  • Step me through how your PMs mobilized the start of the project?
  • Tell me about a project where there were unseen problems?
  • Step me through the diagnosis of those problems?
  • Step me through the coaching process with the PM in charge of that project?
  • How did the PM respond to the problems on that project?
  • What changes did the PM make?
  • What was the outcome of that project?
  • Tell me about another time when you built a team of project managers?

How to Manage 36 Simultaneous Projects

“I don’t think I missed anything,” Anne replied. “I don’t think I knew what I was looking for when I hired George. He was a good senior project manager, but I think I underestimated the level of work of an Operations Manager.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“Our senior project managers can handle two to three large projects at the same time. But we expect our Operations Manager to manage all 36 projects.”

“It’s just more projects,” I chuckled. “Seriously, can’t the Ops Manager run 36 projects the same way as three projects?”

Anne shook her head slowly side to side. “Actually, the Operations Manager doesn’t directly manage any single project, the role has to manage ALL the projects. The level of work is different.”

“How so?” I probed.

“The only way to manage ALL the projects is to create a competent team of project managers who manage the individual projects. If the Ops Manager builds a good team, then the role is a cakewalk. If the Ops Manager has weakness in the project manager team, then life will be miserable.”

“So, what’s the key difference in the level of work?” I pressed.

“A project manager (S-II) manages a process. It’s a coordinating role. The Operations Manager (S-III) has to create a system for managing ALL the projects. That’s where I went wrong when I hired George.”

How to Get to the Truth in a Candidate Interview

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I’ve conducted interviews where we’ve asked behavioral questions, like “Please share a specific example in your last position where you led a team in accomplishing a specific task. Share what steps you took and any processes you put in place to be successful. What were your challenges?” These questions did help us see how the candidate thinks and leads and whether s/he’s innovative. But in the end, some candidates are really great at interviewing and talking the talk, but when they get in the position they are not effective. So, are there other questions or exercises we should use in interviews to further test the veracity of the candidate and their experience?

Response:
The truth is always elusive.

Two things I ask about in the interview to get closer to the truth.

  1. Details
  2. Repeated patterns

Take the same example you cited, leading a team through a task assignment. Here are my questions.

  • Tell me about a time when you lead a team to accomplish a project?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • What was the time span of the project, from beginning to end?
  • How many people on the project team?
  • What was your specific role on the project team?
  • Step me through the initial team meeting, how did you describe the project to your project team?
  • How did you select each person on your project team?
  • How did you make individual task assignments to your project team?
  • How did you monitor progress through the project?
  • To monitor progress, what documentation did you use? Paper based? Excel spreadsheet? Project software?
  • When did you notice the project was behind schedule?
  • What steps did you take to keep the project on schedule?
  • How often did you meet with your project team?
  • Step me through an interim project team meeting?
  • Did you prepare an agenda for that meeting? Step me through your preparation for the agenda?
  • How long did it take to complete the project?
  • What changed about the project as it neared completion?
  • What adjustments did you make, as the leader of the project, to accommodate those changes?

In the candidate responses, I am looking for details and patterns to get me to the truth. -Tom

Send Interview Questions in Advance?

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
When interviewing for a specific role, is there any benefit to sending at least some of the core interview questions to the candidates prior to the interview so they can be better prepared to provide the specific work examples we are interviewing for?

Response:
What’s the purpose? Every element of the interview protocol must have a purpose. No purpose, don’t do it.

My primary purpose in an interview is to gather truthful data points surrounding the critical role requirements identified in the role description. I connect the dots with data points (step me through the process). I connect to the truth through details and repetitive patterns of response (give me another example).

I hesitate to send interview questions in advance because I am not interested in a story, I am interested in details. Sending the questions, in advance, allows time to create a story with fabricated details. I am not interested in the enhanced resume or exaggerated detail.

I would send the role description. What’s the purpose? The job posting and the role description (two different documents) exist to attract qualified candidates. I need candidates. The job posting creates my candidate pool. The role description self-disqualifies people in the candidate pool.

I want the candidate to look at the role description and say one of two things –

  • I did that.
  • I have no idea how to do that.

I will find out the details in the interview. I will see the patterns in the interview. -Tom

Level of Work Required in a Sales Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We need to hire someone in a sales role. You said in your workshop that we need to identify the level of work. What’s the level of work in a sales role?

Response:
The consultant’s answer is always, it depends.

But, it depends on something very specific. The level of work will depend of the length of your sales cycle.

Level I – Time-span (1 day – 3 months)
Short sales cycles can be effectively maintained by trained order takers. Level I sales roles can be found in catalogue call centers, counter sales and sales oriented customer service centers.

Level II – Time-span (3 – 12 months)
Sales work at Level II is found in longer sales cycle projects, where building relationships is important. This sales work consists of prospecting for new customers, qualifying prospective customers, gathering customer needs according to a checklist, matching products to customer needs, making presentations, negotiating and closing the sale. On the customer side, the counterpart to Level II sales work would be the purchasing agent.

Level III – Time-span (1 – 2 years)
Decisions in business to business purchases often require additional input. While the buying criteria for most purchasing agents is price, the Level III buyer, sometimes a specifying engineer, is more concerned about function. Interacting with a Level III buyer may require the capability of a Level III sales person, a product engineer. Sales work at this level is more concerned with needs analysis, product match and application. Sales functions like prospecting may be delegated to sales team members at Level II.

Level IV – Time-span (2-5 years)
Occasionally the buying decision involves product functionality that integrates with other systems that exist in the customer organization. The Level II purchasing agent is concerned about price. The Level III specifying engineer is concerned about function. The Level IV buyer is concerned about how the product or service will integrate with other systems in the company. Sales cycles greater than two years may require Level IV capability to understand the complexities of how the product or service integrates into customer systems. A primary accountability for this level of work in the selling company will be feedback loops into research and product or service development. Examples of Level IV sales roles exist in pharmaceuticals, automobile components, electronic components, large scale construction projects, international logistics, financial instruments and insurance products. -Tom

How to Identify High Potential in a Team Member

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I just finished reading your book Hiring Talent. As I finished the book, I thought about my evaluation of high potential internal candidates. How do I know if a team member has a long enough time span of discretion to be able to do the job at the next level?

Response:
There are two places to play. One is to climb inside the head of the individual, the other is to focus on the work. The Head or The Work? Stay out of their head. Focus on the work.

Step 1 – Define the work at the next level. What are the problems that have to be solved at the next level? What are the decisions that have to be made at the next level?

Step 2 – Create a project that requires solving a problem at that level of work. Create a project that requires a decision at that level of work. It’s just a project, no promotions, no raises, no corner office, just a project.

Step 3 – Evaluate the project. Did the candidate execute as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role? And in that half, top, middle or bottom? After the project, you should be able to answer those two questions in about 5 seconds.

Evaluation
———————————-
Top – Top
Top – Middle
Top – Bottom
———————————-
Bottom – Top
Bottom – Middle
Bottom – Bottom
———————————-

If there is potential, there is always evidence of potential. Do not make this decision based on a hunch, a feeling or an assumption. Make this decision (on potential) based on your judgement of evidence of potential.

Work output from a person who has potential is almost always error-free and on-time or early. -Tom

Transition from S-II Supervisor to S-III Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I read, with interest, your description of the transition from a lead technician (S-I) to a supervisor (S-II). I find myself in the same situation. I was in a supervisory role (S-II) for the past six years, and now find myself in a managerial role (S-III), as a manager to a team of five supervisors, each with their own team. As a supervisor, when I struggled, I went to my manager. Now, I am the manager.

Response:
Not only are you, now, no longer doing the production work, you are no longer directly implementing the day to day, week to week or month to month production schedules, you are now a manager (S-III) of first-line managers (S-II).

You are still committed to two central questions, pace and quality, but your time orientation is, now, much longer. Yours is a system focus.

Take the concerns at S-II and change the outlook from 3-12 months to 12-24 months.

Team
S-II – Right technician assigned to the right project (3-12 months).
S-III – Build a team of technicians, accounting for the lead time from entry level to working competence, so, when a technician is needed, there is a competent team member ready to step in. Workforce planning (12-24 months).

Safety
S-II – Safe working environment, proper safety equipment (3-12 months)
S-III – Create systems of safety, begin with a prevailing mindset of safety. Create a safety curriculum, including policies, procedures, initial and recurrent training programs. Track those training programs to ensure that all personnel receive effective and appropriate training. Review safety metrics to adjust the safety program (system) to be continuously more effective. Review, recommend, approve and implement safety budgets for equipment, to ensure organizational competence to safety related matters (12-24 months).

Training
S-II – Right training for the right skill required by the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Identify necessary skills training, select appropriate training programs, both internal and outsourced. Assess the effectiveness (metrics) of those programs and adjust the training system (12-24 months).

Tools
S-II – Right tools used by the technicians required for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Review, recommend and approve budgets and acquisition of appropriate (state of the art) tools, including capital budgets for equipment investments (12-24 months).

Materials
S-II – Right materials, in sufficient quantity, to be used for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Material contracts with suppliers, negotiate favorable discounts and terms. Identifying critical order quantities, lead times and stock to meet production volume based on sales forecasts (12-24 months).

Equipment
S-II – Right equipment, in working order, properly maintained, to be used for the project (3-12 months).
S-III – Review, recommend and implement annual and capital budgets for equipment. Anticipate end-of-life for existing equipment, improvements in technology and capacity to meet production volume based on sales forecasts (12-24 months).

Work Environment
S-II – Conducive environment, proper lighting, working height (3-12 months).
S-III – Work flow layout, time and motion studies, sequence of production, system constraints and strategic constraint (12-24 months).

Coaching
S-II – Corrective feedback for mistakes and positive reinforment for performance (3-12months).
S-III – Conduct effective coaching 1-1s with supervisory team, model coaching sessions, set context. Ensure that supervisory team conducts effective coaching sessions with production team. Act as manager-once-removed to production team, review training, assess capability for advancement, set context.

All of these issues have long term impact on pace and quality. Your tools are no longer simple schedules and checklists, but work flow diagrams, schematics, time and motion studies, sequencing and planning.

As a supervisor (S-II), you relied on best-practice solutions to identified problems. As a manager (S-III) you will be asked to solve problems that have not been solved before. You will employ root cause or comparative analysis to examine difficult problems, to generate solutions based on cause and effect.

The value-add at this level of work is consistency and predictability. As a supervisor (S-II), it was your role to make sure that production was accurate, complete and on-time. As a manager (S-III), it is your role to ensure that the product or service is effectively delivered, AND that delivery was completed efficiently, yielding a reasonable (consistent and predictable) profit for the time, effort and resources required.

Welcome to the world at Stratum III. -Tom

Missing Stratum III

“I am not sure what is happening,” Monika said. “We have three supervisors, all of them have been here for five to seven years. Up until about six months ago, they were all doing just fine. Now, they are struggling. Not just one supervisor, but all three of them.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a meeting to discuss a new problem area. Our work order volume through the shop has increased from twenty work orders a day to fifty work orders. We promise our customers a delivery time, then we find out there are problems with their order, delays in getting some of the special items. We put people on to fix those things, but then that delays other work orders. The white board we use for scheduling can’t handle all the things that change during the day. There is an industry scheduling software, within our budget. We decide on a course of action to find out more about the software, if it will work for us. Each supervisor has their assignment to examine the software. We break the huddle and nothing happens.”

“What do they say?” I pressed.

“We get together a week later. We still have the same problem. One supervisor says they talked to their team, but got push-back. Their team likes the white board. Then they got busy, and here we are, a week later. Another supervisor just stares and says there is too much work to get done, to spend time looking at the software. All three supervisors admit that it is very important to solve this problem. They suggest we hire some assistant supervisors.”

“What happens if you don’t solve this problem?”

“Nothing immediately, but we have some signature projects coming up and if those get delayed, we could lose the projects. And if those projects push other work orders, we could lose other customers.”

I let Monika slow down and stop.

“Have you ever considered that the level of work in your operations department has increased,” I asked. “The way you handle one project, or two projects or twenty projects is different than how you handle fifty projects or sixty projects. If I told your supervisors, tomorrow, would have to handle 100 simultaneous projects, how would they respond?”

“The whole department would implode,” Monika replied.

“But you have the floor space, you have capacity, it is just a matter of handling the complexity created by the additional volume. It’s a higher level of work. And, hiring assistants will not solve your problem. You have to change your system. Do you have the time to work on this?”

“Nope,” Monika was quick to respond. “I have seven departments to keep moving. I can’t get bogged down in this one. It’s almost like we are missing a manager to direct my three supervisors.”

S-IV level of work – Monika
S-III level of work – Missing level – system work
S-II level of work – three supervisors
_________________________
Clarification on levels of work in Australia, from Adam Thompson at the Working Journey
In Australia, Supervisor usually denotes the S-I role Assistant to Frontline Manager (FLMA, S-II) role, your Leading Hand.

Team Leader is the role that may denote either the FLMA role or the S-II Manager role.

Str-III sits uncomfortably between Manager / Senior Manager / General Manager and sometimes even Director.

Str-IV is reasonably consistent – General Manager. I think that’s a VP in your world. -Adam