Tag Archives: hiring manager

Magic and Fairy Dust, Notions and Potions

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
The best engineer on our team was recently promoted to VP-Engineering. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great engineer. But something is just not right. Relieved of his engineering duties, he seems to wander around, sticks his nose into a project without any background on its status. Since I was in your workshop last week, now, I understand that a VP (of anything) is an integration role. It is becoming clear that my boss made a mistake. This guy is not an integrator and we miss his contribution on the engineering team.

Response:
I don’t know the background, I don’t know your company and I don’t know what your boss had in mind when he made the promotion. Doesn’t matter. I hear these stories all the time. Here’s the problem.

Few companies take the time and effort to clearly define the role. Most companies promote without clarifying the work. Maybe your engineering team member has the right stuff to be a VP, but until we define the work, we have no clue.

Most hiring managers believe in magic and fairy dust when they make a hiring or promotion decision. Then, they are disappointed when the candidate doesn’t live up to the expectations that were never defined.

There is no magic. There is no fairy dust, just a little managerial elbow grease –

  • What is the purpose of the role? Why does it exist?
  • What are the key areas in the role? Key result areas (KRAs)?
  • In each key area, what are the tasks and activities?
  • In each key area, what is the output, goal, objective?
  • In each key area, what decisions have to be made? What problems have to be solved?
  • In each key area, what is the time span of the goal?
  • In each key area, what is the level of work?

This is the critical thinking that has to be done before you make the hire, before you make the promotion. The answers to these questions will lead you in the right direction. Without this data, there is no way to make a sound hiring or promotion decision.

But, no one wants to do the managerial work. They would rather rely on magic and fairy dust, notions and potions.

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

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“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.”

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

Some Get It, Some Don’t

“Some of guys get it and some of them don’t,” Germain explained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, we train them. We have a great training program. We send them to St Louis for two weeks at corporate. But when we put them in the field, some do well, but some struggle.”

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

“I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t paying attention in class.”

“It’s one of four things,” I said.

  • Capability. Does the candidate have the capability necessary for the role?
  • Skill. Does the candidate have the skill, were they trained in the skills necessary for the role? Do they continue to practice the skill?
  • Interest or passion. Does the candidate have the interest or passion for the work? Do they place a high value on the work or a low value on the work?
  • Required behaviors. Does the candidate engage in the required behaviors necessary for the work? Some behaviors, you contract for. Some behaviors are driven by habits. Some behaviors are driven by culture.

I looked directly at Germain. “Which one is it?”

“I’m not sure if I know,” he replied.

“Germain, you are the hiring manager. Those four things should guide you in the interview. At this stage of the game, you shouldn’t be wondering.” -Tom
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Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
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What’s So Important That You Can’t Do This?

Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
More information and registration
__________________________________________
From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. We are growing fast. I am the manager-once-removed with three managers that report to me. Between the three of them, they need to hire five people. You say that I should be the quarterback, that I am accountable for the quality of the hiring decisions made by my team of managers. I have more important things to do than to screen resumes and conduct interviews. I say that is their job.

Manager-once-removed – O
_________________________

Hiring managers – O O O
_________________________

Open Roles – O O O O O

Response:
Perhaps you are right. You can’t do it. Maybe your role is overwhelming. Or maybe you think all that other work is more important.

What more important thing do you have to do, than to build the infrastructure of your teams?

Look, I know you are busy. And I know it seems like a lot to ask of you, to hire five people. So, let me pose this question. If you had to hire, not five, but fifty people, how would you do it? And I am not asking you to just open the flood gates, but make fifty effective hires, how would you do it?

The answer is, you would enlist the help and support from your hiring managers, your HR department, your technical person, your culture person. You cannot do this alone, but you are still the quarterback.

The central document in the hiring process is the role description. I don’t think you could write fifty role descriptions fast enough to keep up, so how would you do it? You would gather your team together and delegate out the pieces. You are still accountable for making sure quality role descriptions are written, but I would not expect you to personally do the writing.

And what is that other stuff you are doing, that you think is so important? -Tom

How to Interview for Passion at S-IV Level of Work

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-IV roles are integration roles, integrating systems and sub-systems for total organizational throughput. The tools at S-IV are system metrics. The role is typically an executive manager, VP or C-suite. Longest time span goals and objectives would be 2-3-4-5 years. Learning would be long-term (longitudinal) analytic. Highest level problem solving would include systems analysis (Senge-Fifth Discipline). Value-add to the organization is multi-system efficiency and total throughput. It is the role at S-IV to optimize multi-system output so that no one system overwhelms or drags on other systems, and to improve handoffs of work output from one system to the next system. One of the most important functions at S-IV is as the manager of S-III and the manager-once-removed (MOR) at S-II.

Managerial roles at S-IV are accountable for the output of the team at S-III.

Interview questions –

  • The purpose of these next questions is to look at some of the systems in your prior company and examine the way those systems worked together?
  • In your last role, list the functional systems that existed?
  • What was your role title?
  • Which single function were you most focused on?
  • Looking at that system, what impact did other systems have on its output?
  • Describe the balance or imbalance of your focus system and its surrounding system?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you discover the imbalance?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to correct the imbalance?
  • How did you communicate the corrective steps necessary to re-balance the systems?
  • How long did it take to re-balance the systems?
  • How did you know, what metrics indicated the systems were back in balance?
  • Step me through the work flow, start to finish as work moved from one function to another in your organization?
  • As work moved from one function to the next, how was that work transferred, communicated, handed-off?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you detect problems?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you communicate the necessary steps to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you document the hand-off transition steps?
  • How did you know when the hand-off transitions improved?
  • Tell me about another example?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion at S-I Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-II Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-III Level of Work

How to Interview for Interest and Passion (for the work) at S-I

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
You say in your book that there are four absolutes for success in a role, and that it doesn’t matter what discipline.

  • Capability for the level of work
  • Skill, both technical knowledge and practice
  • Interest, passion for the work
  • Required behaviors

How do you interview for interest and passion?

Response:
Interest, or passion (for the work) depends on the value we place on that work. If we place a high value on a type of work, we will likely be interested in or passionate about that work. If we place a low value on the work, it is likely we will NOT be interested or passionate about the work.

So, stratum by stratum level of work, let’s start with Stratum I (S-I).

Most S-I roles are production related, using real tools or machinery. The role could be clerical, mechanical or technical. Goals and objectives would be short term, one day, one week, one month, up to three months. Learning would mostly be learning-by-doing (kinesthetic). Problem solving would mostly be trial and error (and high S-I would be highly skilled at trial and error problem solving, rapid trial and error). Value-add to the organization is quality (product quality, service delivery).

I was talking to a finish carpenter. I asked him the difference between quality workmanship and shoddy workmanship?

“Do you see that piece of trim?” he asked. “Show me the nails that attach it to the wall.”

“I don’t see any nails,” I replied. “You’re the finish guy, where are they?”

“Exactly, you can’t see the nails because I made them invisible. We use a tiny nail with a tiny head. We tap in the nail almost flush, careful not to put hammer marks in the wood. Then we tap the nail head below the surface of the wood with this tap-it device. Smear a fingernail of plastic wood to cover the indention, brush a little stain or paint and you will never find the nail. I dare you to find a single nail in this entire room.”
This was just a casual conversation, but my carpenter friend was dead serious about the quality of his finish work. In an interview, this understanding would guide my questions.

  • I want to ask you about three projects. And, they have to be real projects. First project, you had a lot of time, there was plenty of budget and schedule to go slow and pay attention to detail. Second project, you had to keep up a reasonable pace with a firm deadline. Third project, you were under the gun to knock the project out and could take any reasonable shortcut you could muster.
  • First project, plenty of budget and schedule to go slow, take your time, pay attention to detail. What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How was the budget and schedule communicated to you for the project? How did you understand the schedule and detail required?
  • What details were most important on this project?
  • What additional preparation was required?
  • What special tools or techniques were involved?
  • How much extra time did it take?
  • What were the visible results, different from other projects?
  • How was this work inspected by your manager, or the customer?
  • On this project, what were you most proud of?

Note, these same questions could be asked about many different kinds of roles working on many different kinds of projects.

  • Second project, standard production pace, nothing special. What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How was the budget and schedule communicated to you for this project? How did you understand the schedule and detail required, different from the first project?
  • What details were required, what details were less important on this project?
  • What preparation was required, different from the preparation on the first project?
  • What special tools or techniques were involved, different from the first project?
  • How much time was saved by foregoing some of the detail?
  • What were the visible results, different from the first project?
  • How was this work inspected (reviewed) by your manager?
  • On this project, what decisions did you personally have to make related to pace and quality?

Decision making as S-I level of work typically revolves around pace and quality. As you ask about these decisions, you will see the candidate’s attitude about the work, the value the candidate places on the work.

  • Third project, one where time was of the essence. You still had to meet the quality spec, but you had to really hustle to meet the deadline. What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How was the budget and schedule communicated to you for this project? How did you understand the schedule and detail required, different from the first two projects?
  • What details were required to meet the minimum quality standard, what details were less important on this project?
  • What preparation was required, different from the preparation on the first two projects?
  • What special tools or techniques were involved, different from the first two projects?
  • How much time was saved by foregoing some of the detail?
  • What were the visible results of the allowed shortcuts, different from the first two projects?
  • How was this work inspected (reviewed) by your manager?
  • On this project, what decisions did you personally have to make related to pace and quality?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

Next time, we will take a look at interest and passion (value for the work) at S-II. -Tom