Tag Archives: hiring talent

Role Mis-Match?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

How do you deal (humanely) with someone who clearly is holding an S-IV role, but only appears to have S-III capability?

First, understand that this person is doing their best, and the mistake was made by the manager (I assume that is you) who promoted this person into that role without proper due diligence.

Now, what to do?

Pull out the role description and carefully examine those Key Result Areas that describe decision making and problem solving at S-IV (multi-system analysis and system integration). Using the role description, you can either manicure the role to reassign those accountabilities to someone else or choose to transfer the person to another role which better matches their capability.

The most important part of this managerial move is to understand, the discussion centers around the tasks, activities, decisions and problem solving. The discussion does NOT center around the stratum level capability of the person. This is an important nuance.

As the manager you have the following authority –

  • Determine the level of work in the role.
  • Determine the effectiveness of the person in the role.

As the manager, you do NOT have the authority –

  • To guess the stratum level of capability of the person.
  • To guess the potential capability of the person.

As the manager, you may have an intuitive judgment about a person’s capability or potential capability. You may take action related to that judgment ONLY by testing the candidate against effectiveness in the role (or testing the candidate with project work similar to the level of work in the role). It’s all about the work, not about a number.

Who Gets on the Team?

“You will never be able to work on larger problems until your team becomes competent at the smaller problems,” I repeated. “You can never be promoted to a higher level role until you find someone to take responsibilities in your current role.”

“Yes, but who?” Drew replied.

“That’s for you to decide. In addition to making sure that production gets done, as a manager, one of your primary roles is to build the team.”

“You mean like team building?”

“More like a talent scout, except you get to observe all the time. Here are your levers.

  • Selection
  • Task assignment (what, by when, resources)
  • Assessment
  • Coaching
  • De-selection (if you made a mistake in the first step)

“Okay,” Drew hesitated.

“Start with selection. You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. You can’t pick your friend’s nose, but you can pick who is on your team. That’s where it starts. If you do this job well, the rest is easy. You do this job poorly, the rest is miserable.”

“But, sometimes, I feel like I don’t get to pick who is on my team. They just sort of show up from HR,” Drew protested.

“Candidates may come in sideways. I know your hiring protocol. HR does a great job at trying to source candidates for your production team. I know your manager screens those candidates and several other people conduct interviews and give you their feedback. But, at the end of the day, you pick. As the hiring manager, you have, at a minimum, veto authority as to who is on the team.”

How Do You Know?

“You are the manager, so, why don’t you know if there is anyone on the line that has the potential to step up to a supervisory role?” I repeated.

“Well, I let the supervisor handle that.  He knows his team,” Denny explained.

“But, if the supervisor disappears, and you have to hire a new supervisor, how are you going to make that decision?”

“What do you mean, if the supervisor disappears?” Denny pushed back.

“Nothing is forever,” I replied.  “All managerial relationships are terminal.  The best person on your supervisor team is likely to get promoted.  One of them might quit and go work for a competitor.  One of them might go fly-fishing in Montana and call in well.”

“Okay, okay.  If one of my supervisors quits, I am the hiring manager.  What’s your point?” Denny challenged.

“If you don’t have a relationship with any of the production team, how will you know if any of them could step up and be effective in the role of supervisor?”

A New Look

In the next few days, you will see a new look to the email version of this blog.  We have been publishing since 2004, almost 1,900 posts.  While we cover a breadth of management topics (and occasionally cycling), one topic has emerged that now requires its own space.  In March, 2013, we published the book Hiring TalentHiring Talent was born out of a classroom course, migrated to an online program, and finally published as a book.

Its website hiringtalent.com was released last Friday, along with its own blog (blog.hiringtalent.com).  Later this week, the email version of Hiring Talent Blog will arrive, alternating with Management Skills Blog.  You don’t need to do anything special to subscribe, and since we use Mail Chimp, you will be able to manage your subscription at the bottom of each email.

To mark this announcement, we are offering the online course, Hiring Talent 2013 at a special rate, $100 off the regular price of $499.  If you would like to take advantage of this offer, follow this link to find out more details.  Hiringtalent.com

Looking forward to seeing you there.  -Tom

How to Evaluate Capability in a Candidate

From the Ask Tom mailbag –


How can I test to see if a person has Stratum II or Stratum III capability?


If you are looking for a paper and pencil test, there is none.  There is no test with a set of answers that you shove into a computer that divines a person’s capability.  Elliott chuckled when this question was posed.  Most psychometric instruments, he observed, have, at best, a .66 correlation with reality.  Most are based on personality, or behavior, or behavior connected to temperament.  While those tests, or profiles have statistical significance for repeatability and in most cases, a stunningly accurate description of a person’s tendencies or behaviors, their evidence of predictability, a specific profile for a specific role has significance barely above flipping a coin (.5 correlation).

Elliott conjectured, if there were a paper and pencil test for capability, its likelihood to stand the same test would likely yield no more than the same .66 correlation with reality.

But your question is still valid and there is a method to satisfy the high curiosity we have about a person’s capability related to the level of work.  There is no trick, no special technique, no psychological requirement that we climb inside the head of our candidate and play amateur psychologist.

Moreover, the validity of this method reveals between .89 and .97 inter-rater reliability.

It’s all about the work.  Focus on the work.  As you define the role, its task and activities, goals and objectives, what is the level of work?  Does the role contain Stratum II level of work or Stratum III level of work?  Examine the decisions that have to be made and the problems that have to be solved.  Examine the time-span of the goals and objectives in the role.  What is the longest time-span task in the role?

The biggest mistake most companies make is underestimating the level of work required in the role.  A defect in the definition of the level of work in the role will most assuredly result in hiring the wrong person.

Examine your role description.  What are the tasks and activities?  What are the decisions that have to be made?  What are the problems that have to be solved?  What is the time-span of the longest task assignment in the role?

Based on that definition of the role, does the candidate provide evidence of effective task completion?  It’s all about the work.

When we spend the time to accurately define the work, and accurately calibrate the level of work in the role, the questions become very simple.  Does this person work as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role?  And, in that half, does this person operate as effectively as someone in the top, middle or bottom.

When you ask the team member to do a self-assessment, ask the manager and ask the manager-once-removed (MOR) about effectiveness, the inter-rater agreement approaches .97 (.89-.97).  With this practical evaluation system, why would you want to resort to other methods that might only have a .66 correlation with reality?

It’s all about the work.

Can I Afford to Fill the Role?

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Let’s say I buy into Elliott Jaques model of Requisite Organization. But I have a small company. As you describe the layers in the organization, it is clear that I am missing some key roles. But in this recovery (are we still in recession), I have to stick to my personnel budget. I cannot afford to hire the people necessary to fill all the roles.

If you were thinking about purchasing a machine, a major expensive machine, for your operations, and you were concerned about budget, how would you make that decision?

Actually, it doesn’t matter whether you are concerned about budget, the answer is still the same. You would purchase the machine only if it were necessary for the operation. I don’t know of a single business owner or manager who would put something in place unless it was necessary.

I use necessity as a driver for many decisions. Is that machine necessary? Is that role necessary? If your business model requires a role, yet your budget will not allow the hire, then you have to modify your business model.  Or you might have to stretch a person across two roles.  And that person might be you.

Rather than questioning the validity of organizational roles and layers, let Elliott’s model help you understand what is missing and what modifications you might have to make until your company gets back in the zone of profitability and growth. You will get there faster.

How to Deal with Procrastination

“I am trying to promote this team member, Rachel, into a new role,” Janice explained. “But she seems to be dragging her feet.”

“Tell me more,” I asked.

“I think she wants the position, appears interested and excited. But you told me that I could not promote someone without clear evidence of potential. So I have been giving her longer time span projects than she has in her current role. In the delegation meeting, she is very responsive, but she never gets started.”

“What do you mean, never gets started?” I wanted clarification.

“Part of the delegation meeting, I describe the project, the vision of what it looks like when finished, including very specific performance standards of quality and deadline. I asked her to write out a step-by-step plan so we can discuss her approach to the project. That was last week. Nothing. She is dragging her feet.”

“How long is the project?”

“Six weeks. Six weeks is a reasonable amount of time to complete the project. I set a very specific deadline, but, now, that’s five weeks from now. She might still be able to get the project completed, but likely now, it will cost some overtime.”

“What do you think is going on?” I pressed.

“She is good at three week assignments. Now that you mention it, every long project she works on, takes about three weeks. Even four week projects. She procrastinates, says she works well under pressure. She’s right, she will stay late, come in early. I like her dedication, but sometimes coming in early doesn’t solve the problem of a long term project.”

“How so?”

“If you burn a week on a four week project, you can come in early, make up some time, but if there is a four week lead time on material, the project will be a week late. There will be blaming behavior, but it’s still a four week lead time for material.”

“What do you think the procrastination means?”

“I think it is an indication of capability,” Janice thought out loud. “I know you tell me to focus on the work, that capability is all about the work. If the target completion time of the project is further out than three weeks, Rachel underperforms to the deadline. It’s always a last minute scramble and something falls through the cracks.”

“So, what are you going to do, as her manager?”

“It’s a good thing we have three week projects. And for longer projects, I will have to break down some interim milestones. It means I will have to manage the longer time span elements. In the short run, that is workable. In the long run, I may have to make a different move.”
Buy the book, Hiring Talent. Take the course, Hiring Talent.

Looking for Evidence of Potential in a Candidate

“So, it’s important not to HOPE someone has potential to step into a new role. You insist, that if a person has potential, there should be evidence of potential,” Monica refocused our conversation on her own role, as a manager, in the hiring process.

“If you know what to look for,” I replied.

“What do you look for? If someone has potential to move up to the next level of work, what evidence would I look for?”

“Look for behaviors. How would a team member, who has potential, behave?”

Monica stared in the space of the room. She looked up, then nodded. “Okay, if a person has potential to move up to the next level of work, their current work must be under control. Their current work must be complete, on time and meet the quality standard for that task.”


“And they must be curious. If a person has potential, they will ask questions about the next level of work. They will want to know not just how things are done, but why they get done, how tasks fit together, how work is handed off. If a person has potential, when they are confronted with a problem, they will be able to clearly state the problem, the cause of the problem and provide more than one alternate solution.”

“What else?” I prompted.

“A person, who has potential, will try something new, and if they fail, they will make an adjustment and try again, and if they fail again, they will adjust and try again. And they will get faster at failing and better at adjusting until they successfully complete the project.”

“Okay, stop. You have identified several behaviors that you would look for. Now, think. In what situations might we see those behaviors? What questions can we ask to find out if those behaviors exist? Here is a hint. Tell me about a time when…”
I just checked Amazon. Reduced price on Hiring Talent. Get the whole story about levels of work and how to interview for them.

Judging Potential in a Candidate

“So, I was considered to have potential, because I got to know the inspectors at the building department?” Monica chuckled.

“That was only the tip of the iceberg,” I said. “Do you remember, as a supervisor, you were playing around with the construction schedules. One group said they would get their work done in so many days, and the next group needed that many days. And most of our projects were always coming in late.”

“Yes,” Monica nodded. “It was an interesting experiment. Everyone thought I was nuts until I brought my project in ahead of schedule. That never happens in construction.”

“And you did it without raising your voice,” I observed.

“It was funny,” she explained. “The framers said they needed three weeks, the electrical guys said they needed one week and the plumbers said they needed two weeks, and that was just for the rough-in. Then the sheetrock crew wanted a week, the trim guys wanted a week for the finish work. Then the electrical guys wanted another week for their punch list and the plumbers another week to set all the fixtures. That’s ten weeks. And I only had seven weeks for that phase of the project.”

“And do you remember what you did to accelerate the project?”

“It was easy really. I knew everyone was padding their time budgets. I call it a buffer. I asked each crew to divide their time budget into the working part and the buffer part. I mean, there are legitimate things that happen to delay projects, that’s why they build in buffers. So, every team gave me their work time budget and their buffer time budget. Each group had almost 40 percent of their time in buffers and none wanted to budge. Total work time was six weeks, total buffer time was four weeks. I told each crew that we were preserving their buffer time, but moving all buffers to the end of the project, scheduling only for work time. One thing I know, if you give a crew ten days, six days work and four days buffer, it will take them ten days to finish. Work expands to the time allotted. But if you give that same crew six days to work, they will finish in six days. So, if there was a legitimate delay, I gave them back one of their buffer days from the end of the project. Indeed, there were some delays and over the course of this phase of the project, we used an entire week of buffer. But, at the end of seven weeks, we came in on time with three weeks of buffer left over.”

“So, when we considered that you had potential to be a manager,” I explained, “we based our judgment on evidence, not hope.”

How to See Evidence of Potential in an Interview

“If you are not going to let me hope,” Monica protested, “then explain to me how I got this job? When I was promoted to manager, I had never been a manager before. If the interview had only centered around my prior role as a supervisor, then how did the interviewer make the judgment that I had the potential to be a manager?”

“Do you think the interviewer only had hope for you in this manager role?” I asked. “Monica, I watched you, in your role as a supervisor for three years. I sat in on the debriefing after you were interviewed for your current role as a manager. Do you think that decision was made based on hope?”

“Not if you were in the room,” Monica admitted. “But, then how did you know I had the potential to be a manager if I had never been a manager before?”

“Okay, let’s step through some questions. As a supervisor, do you think you were operating as effectively as someone in the top half of a supervisor’s role or the bottom half?”

Monica smiled politely, nodding, “Top.”

“And in the top half, were you operating as effectively as someone in the top third, middle third or bottom third?”

Monica continued to shake her head. “Top,” she repeated.

“What is the evidence for that?” I pressed.

“You always want evidence,” Monica replied. “My projects always came in on time, within the specs from the customer and always within budget.”

“And why did your projects always come in on time? Did you always get the easy projects or were there problems?”

“There are always problems, but you know, 90 percent of the obstacles are predictable. For example, permits are always a problem. And permits are outside my control, it’s a government agency that processes the permits. But I took the time to get to know the inspectors down at the building department. I know it is not part of my job description and sometimes they are not the easiest people to get acquainted with, but I also know it’s important.”

“So, you took the time to go beyond prescribed duties in your role as a supervisor. You anticipated obstacles that might get in the way and created alternate paths, to solve problems that might occur,” I recounted.

“Well, you know, if you don’t have a relationship with the building inspectors, then you don’t know what criteria they are using to get your project approved. And if you don’t know what they are looking for, your project can get stuck. It’s easy to blame it on the building department, but if your project is 18 months in scope, thirty days might mean the difference between an on-time finish or having to pay liquidated damages for coming in late. There is a lot of risk.”

“So, when we decided that you had the potential to be a manager, it is because we could see evidence of that potential beyond your role as a supervisor.”