Tag Archives: hiring talent

Quickest Way to Change the Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I am working in an environment where firefighting has been modus operandi for a number of years, and as a new manager in my area, I am hoping to define a new culture to break out of constant firefighting mode and into a more pro-active mode of operation. The organization is growing starting now and will continue to do so into Q2 of next year, so we are interviewing and hiring NOW.

Can you talk a little bit more about how to define an intentional culture in an organization, especially in one where an unintentional culture already exists and is deeply ingrained?

Your company is in typical go-go stage. There is adrenaline and excitement at every turn. Firefighting is the order of the day. The customer gets the product or service and is very happy, but as we look in the wake, we find body bags and other evidence of organizational friction. By the way, this is a normal and natural state in the lifecycle. And it’s fun, give me a high five.

We got the job done, but at what cost? This friction costs us efficiency and profitability. And at some point, in spite of our exuberance, we have to get down to business, we have to become efficient, we have to become profitable.

This is a natural move from S-II to S-III, from chaos to system. But you will fight it at every step because the culture is addicted to the juice of chaos. You want to move from reactive to proactive. You are correct, this will require a change in your culture. And the quickest way to change the culture is to change the people.

You are looking for someone to join your team with experience in process and systems. Here are some questions.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that seemed to be mired in chaos?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role in the project?
  • What created the chaos?
  • How did you respond to the chaos?
  • How did your approach work?
  • What was the result on the project?

I am not looking for heroic responses. I am looking for calm, someone who took a step back, someone, who, in the midst of chaos, insisted on a plan. It might have been a quick plan, but a plan nonetheless.

Not what I want to hear –
I was working on the ABC project and the client was way behind schedule when we started. The client was about to lose their bank funding and we had to finish on time even if it meant that we had to take shortcuts. Or all would be lost. We took a risk. There were several steps in the process that we could omit. We sidestepped all the quality checks, hoping the project would hold together. We got lucky. Nothing broke. We finished the project on time. I call my team – the firefighters. Give us a firefight, we will win.

What I want to hear –
I was working on the ABC project and the client was way behind schedule when we started. The client was about to lose their bank funding and we had to finish on time even if it meant that we had to take shortcuts. I was the project leader. I had to put my foot down. There were several quality checks that slowed the project, but they were necessary. I put together a flow chart and a plan. I went with my client to their bank to present the plan. They gave us an extra 48 hours. We made it. The plan worked.

Saving Face in a Reassigned Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I just read through a couple of your more recent blog posts. Specifically, the one titled “Someone in the Wrong Role, How to Reassign” caught my attention. So what’s the answer to Cheryl’s dilemma? If we need to reassign someone to a new role, because they are better suited in another necessary role how do we allow them to save face. “Somehow, we have to allow Harold to save face in front of the company. I am just not sure how to do that.”

People change roles all the time. Titles are switched, departments re-organized. First, understand that reality always wins. Don’t try to blow smoke.

Here is the reality. The company needs everyone to be in a role where they can be most effective. The company has a necessary role. (You would never put Harold in an unnecessary role). The company thinks Harold is better suited for the new role than the role he is in now.

First, how do you know Harold is better suited? Hint – you don’t know.

How do you, as a manager, find out if someone is suited for a new role they are not currently doing? The answer is ALWAYS — give them project work. Give them a project that contains time span task assignments similar or identical to the work in the new role.

If they are successful, it is a simple transition from project work to a new role. The announcement is easy, based on the successful project.

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.

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.