Tag Archives: hiring

Don’t Play Amateur Psychologist

From the Ask Tom mailbag – gleaned from a colleague’s mail list.

Question:
Do you have anything on Meta Competencies, if you have never heard of them, they’re personal indicators of future potential for higher up jobs. All part of our talent management project, which is based on “being good enough at your current job doesn’t mean you have potential to do a higher up job.”

Response:
This is a noble question which leads us astray for the answer. It is a sucker punch which assumes there is a psychological indicator for human potential. The question invites us (managers) to climb inside the head of a candidate or team member. But, once inside this head, most managers will find themselves on shaky ground. That psychology course in high school or college will abandon them. Few managers have degrees in psychology, advanced degrees or are certified to practice psychotherapy, yet here they are, inside the head of a candidate, looking for a “personal indicator of future potential.”

An alternate course, to answer this question, to identify “potential to do a higher up job” starts with how to define “a higher up job.” Talking about the job, talking about the work, now, most managers are on solid ground. Most managers can easily identify a “higher up job.” And that is where the answer is. Don’t try to climb inside the head of the candidate, focus on the work.

While we have an intuitive sense of a “higher up job,” until we can accurately define levels of work, identifying potential in a candidate will remain elusive, and indeed, allow psychologists to try to sell us all sorts of magical assessments. The instant we can accurately identify levels of work, we can get great clarity on human potential.

Focus on the work. Managers are experts on work. Let me borrow an insight from Lee Thayer. “The best measure of performance is performance.” Hint, this is NOT a circular reference.

The best measure of potential is evidence of potential (the original question). A person with potential will leave clues. All we have to do is see the clues. “Being good enough at your current job doesn’t mean you have potential to do a higher up job.” The answer is simple. Give the person a higher level of work. The best method to test a person’s potential is project work. Given a higher level of (project) work, the candidate will either effectively handle it, or not. The best measure of performance is performance.

Stop playing amateur psychologist and focus on the work. It’s all about the work.

Management Myths and Time Span

In 2001, I stumbled over some startling research.  For two years, I privately shared this research with two of my executive peer groups, who encouraged me to take it on the road.  In 2003, I presented the first public workshop called Management Myths and Time Span to a group in Plymouth MN.  Ten years and 350 presentations later, this workshop makes it to my own hometown.

Here is the press going out.

Every CEO, executive and manager struggles with this hidden key to performance, find out why!  Do any of these apply to you?

[ ] A Project Manager Blows the Deadline?  Again?
And you have to call the customer to explain that the project will be late.  There is no reason for the delay, just an excuse.

[ ] Your Top Performer Got Promoted to Manager.  Now Failing.
She has been with the company for 12 years, promoted to a game-breaker role.  What happened?  She is loyal.  Everyone likes her.  She is floundering.

[ ] You Sent Him to Manager Training.  The Same Person Came Back.
Your high hopes for this young manager are dashed.  He showed such promise.  Or did he?

[ ] A manager got promoted to his level of incompetence, WHY?
Unlock and understand the Secret behind the Peter Principle.

November 20, 2013
Everglades University
Boca Raton, FL
Management Myths and Time Span
Reserve Now

On Wednesday, November 20, Tom Foster will present the 50 years of scientific findings of Elliott Jaques.  According to Foster, “This is the missing link to human capability. This missing link is based on a simple principle and touches every element of a manager’s work.”

Date – Wednesday, November 20, 2013
8:00 – Coffee
8:30 – Program begins
Noon – Adjourn

Reserve today $200 Only $99*
Seating is limited to 60 participants.
* Vistage/TEC Member guest discount

We select our top performer and promote them to the next level, introduce them to the team as their new leader, only to find them floundering and earning no respect.

In the hopes of filling a position in the corporate org chart, we diligently interview, do personality testing and check references. We hire the person with the best of intentions only to find them failing after a few short weeks.

You just promoted Sally — she is now in your office complaining that her new boss has his head in the clouds and is completely out of touch with the real problems facing the department. Ten minutes later, Sally’s boss, Joe, is in your office complaining about Sally, his new direct report, saying that she is totally incompetent and cannot see the big picture. What did we miss?

Tom Foster will present the research and statistically significant scientific findings of the late Elliott Jaques, the psychologist who discovered a correlation between workers across industries and their internal capability to handle different levels of work.

Particular areas that will be addressed are:

  • Most hiring managers underestimate the level of capability required for success in the role.
  • Personality conflicts in an organization are often smokescreens for a misalignment in structure.
  • Most CEOs mis-understand the true nature of executive work and often, are drawn into activity that pulls them away from higher-levels of work.
  • The flat organization is a misguided management fad — organizational hierarchy is essential and exists for very specific reasons.

Note: Participants may find it helpful to bring a current organization chart, starting with the CEO and driving down three levels.  And if they exist, a short paragraph description for the CEO role and each senior management position.

 Biography: Tom Foster works mostly with CEOs in executive peer groups.  He conducts classroom training for managers and supervisors in the areas of delegation, planning and communication skills. He spent 14 years in the television production industry and another 10 years with a large CPA firm. A Vistage Chair since 1995 and former trainer with Dale Carnegie Training, Tom holds a B.S. in radio-television-film and a master’s degree in communication, both from the University of Texas at Austin.

Reserve your space now.

How to Hire an Energetic Project Manager

“We think our problem is not having enough candidates respond to our ad in the newspaper,” lamented Joanna. “Or maybe it’s just that the people who show up aren’t even close to the type of person we need to fill the position.”

“First, let’s look at your ad,” I said, reaching across the desk.

Looking for a construction Project Manager with 3-5 years experience. Must have positive attitude and ability to relate to building owners. Knowledge of permitting process in South Florida helpful. Health insurance and 401k. Must be a team player.

“And how would you describe the applicants you are getting? Do they have the required experience?”

Joanna nodded, “Oh, yes, they have 3-5 years experience, but they aren’t very energetic. They wouldn’t last around here for more than a week.”

“Tell me Joanna, what kind of energy do you think you have in the ad? Does the writing portray the sense of urgency that goes on around here?”

“Well, not really,” she replied.

“Let’s try to put a little zip in the step.”

Commercial contractor in South Florida looking for a top-flight Project Manager. Our clients demand a quick-response person in this critical position. We work under tough building codes with stringent enforcement, so ability to get along with inspectors is important. Aggressive compensation and benefits package are part of the deal. Send us your resume or apply online through the employment section of our website. We need you now, let us hear from you today.

“Now, that’s better.”

How Do You Deal with Arrogance?

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Curtis replied. “I mean, I know why I have a long face, I just don’t know what to do about it?”

“Tell me more?”

“I have a guy in a project manager role, that I believe is over his head. Most things, he does okay, but there are times when he falls short, and I have to come to the rescue. That’s not so bad, but he is just so arrogant when things don’t go as they should.”

“What do you mean, arrogant?” I pressed.

“Well, let’s say the project is rolling along, we are about 80 percent finished, he seems to just drop the ball, like the project is finished. But the last part of project is where all the problems are. Lingering details that if they don’t get buttoned up, the project drags past the deadline. The client gets upset. We can’t send an invoice, because there are still outstanding items. We may have even pulled the crew off the job and then find out there are still incomplete issues hanging out there.”

“I thought you said the problem was arrogance?”

“That’s what I mean. The client calls me, usually hot under the collar. I confront the project manager and he starts blaming all kinds of people for things he should have under control. He acts like following up on those last few details are beneath him, that he can’t be bothered. Sometimes, he even says the client shouldn’t be so upset over something so minor, that the client should be glad that we did such a good job on the rest of the project. Then he complains that the work crew should have picked up those details and that if we would just hire better people, then I would be able to see just what a good project manager he is. When he is talking like this, he gets loud, insistent, just plain arrogant.”

“Tell me,” I nodded, “is this project manager effective on the projects you have assigned to him? Can he make the grade, based on his performance?”

“No,” Curtis explained. “On smaller projects he does okay, but these longer projects, he falls short.”

“If your project manager can’t make the grade, based on his performance, then how does he survive on your team?”

Curtis began to shake his head. “You are right, he survives, because I hate to confront him. Sometimes, I even cover for him with the client, just so I don’t have to talk to him. He becomes arrogant, so I won’t talk to him, that’s how he survives.”

“So, he engages in arrogant behavior because he is mis-matched in a role that is over his head. Instinctively, he knows. Instinctively, he tries to survive as best he can. Arrogance has probably worked for him in this circumstance, most of his life, so, as a coping behavior, he can survive. Who put him in this role?”

Curtis smiled. “I did.” Several seconds elapsed before he continued. “I guess I am the one that has to fix this.”

“I believe so. You are the manager. What is your plan? What do you think you will do? What will be your first step?”

How to Interview for a Bad Attitude

“We hire people for their technical skills, but we fire them for who they are.” Russell complained.

“Tell me more. What do you mean you fire them for who they are?” I asked.

“Well, they may have the right experience, know how to handle the technical part of the job, but their attitude is a little out of whack. In the beginning, attitude doesn’t show up, but after a couple of months, little things appear. After six months, this strange behavior actually begins to flourish and it’s downhill from there.”

“What do mean, strange behavior?” I was getting curious.

“Sometimes, it’s people skills. They are a little gruff at first, then a couple of people get on their bad side. Pretty soon, they become downright rude. They publicly dress people down in meetings. No one can disagree with them without a huge public confrontation.”

“Do you interview to discover this type of behavior?”

“No, usually the person is pretty well coached by a headhunter on how to handle the interview, so we don’t find out until later.” Russell stopped, his brow furrowed. “You mean you can interview for a bad attitude?”

I nodded.

“What? You can’t just ask them if they have a bad attitude,” Russell protested.

“Tell me, when does bad attitude show itself?”

“It usually stays hidden. It stays hidden, until there is a confrontation, a disagreement, a difficult problem that can’t be solved.”

“So, you can’t ask directly about attitude, but can you ask about a time when there was a disagreement on a project, a time when there was difficult problem that couldn’t be solved?” I wanted to know.

“I suppose,” Russell listened.

“For all the soft side, like attitude, character traits, just think about how that attitude will emerge as a behavior. I ask myself – How does a person with that attitude behave? Then I interview for that behavior.”

How Do You Interview for Teamwork?

“There is just something about this candidate that I can’t put my finger on,” Wendy was skeptical. “Everything checks out. This person has the technical skills, the necessary experience, seems enthusiastic, but there is something. On paper, this person should be hired, but my gut is telling me otherwise.”

“You have covered the bases on my list,” I replied. “But I would trust your intuition. Which is it?

  • Capability
  • Skill
  • Interest, Passion (value for the work)
  • Reasonable Behavior

“Which is it?”

“What do you mean, reasonable behavior?” Wendy wanted to know.

“It’s important what a person knows, technical knowledge. It’s important how a person feels toward the work, interest or passion. But to complete the tasks in the role, the person has to do something. It’s about behavior. Are there habits that people have that contribute to their effectiveness? Like always showing up early for work?”

“Yes, habits are important,” Wendy agreed.

“And do we have cultural norms for our behavior in the work that we do around here?”

Wendy nodded. “I think you got it. That’s it. We have a very strong team culture. Every company says teamwork is important, but around here, it is critical. Some of the work we do is dangerous. Every person here depends on their team members to work safely. Their lives depend on it.”

“So, if culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior in the work that we do together, what does your intuition tell you about this candidate?” I asked.

“Everything story the candidate told was about himself. I mean, the interview was obviously about the candidate, but every accomplishment seems like it was single-handedly performed. I never heard the word ‘we’ during the whole interview.”

“So, your intuition is telling you something, related to reasonable behavior. What additional questions do you want to ask?”

“Working together as a team is a critical role requirement,” Wendy explained. “I need to know how this candidate works with other people. It is as important as any of the technical skills.”

“What questions will you ask?”

“Thinking out loud, here is my list,” Wendy replied.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where teamwork was important?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How many people were on your team?
  • What was your role on the team?
  • What were the factors that made teamwork important?
  • What were the factors that put pressure on the team to work together?”
  • When the team worked well together, what were they doing?
  • When the team began to crack, when they didn’t work well together, what were they doing?
  • What was the outcome of the project?”
  • Tell me about another project, where teamwork was important?

“That ought to be a good start.” she smiled.
_____
I need some help from iPad users. How many of you are buying books out of the iBookstore as opposed to the Kindle app for iPad? Hiring Talent is available on Kindle, but I am thinking about publishing through the iBookstore.

Why People Are Not Our Most Important Asset

I had a couple of minutes in the lobby, so I was looking at all the teamwork posters on the wall.

Our people are our most important asset!!

I had seen this poster a hundred times, but for the first time, it struck me as odd. I was working with the management team to find a new Senior Project Manager. The last one didn’t work out so well and by the time they figured it out, they almost lost their biggest customer. I was having difficulty getting them to spend the right amount of time on the job description, defining the management skills necessary for this position. The last guy had the technical skills, but none of the management skills.

As I entered the conference room, I asked the management team if they agreed with the poster in the lobby. Being politically correct, they were quite enthusiastic in their support.

I reminded them of Collins book Good to Great and asked them again, “Are our people our greatest asset?”

This team has been around me for a while, so they know when I ask a question a second time, their first response may need some rethinking. As I looked around the table, I could see the wheels churning. Finally, someone took a stab at it.

“Our people may not be our greatest asset. The right people are our greatest asset. The wrong person may be our biggest liability.”

“Good,” I replied. “Sometimes it takes a bad hire for us to realize how important this up-front work is. So, let’s get to work. What is the capability required for the level of work? What are the skills, knowledge and behaviors necessary for success in this position?”

Who to Promote, Who to Let Go?

“Yes,” Roger nodded. “Grading my sales team into these six bands of effectiveness helps me see what to do next.”

“How so?” I prompted.

Personal Effectiveness

Personal Effectiveness


“The temptation is to keep all the people in the top half of the banding and terminate the people in the bottom half. But now I have more judgments to make, as a manager.”

“There’s more?” I pressed.

“Yes. I have one salesperson, in the top of the top half, that needs leadership training. In another year, I want to move that salesperson into a more complicated product line, with a longer sales cycle, working with a special sales team.”

“And?”

“And,” Roger stopped. “And I need to terminate five out of the seventeen people I have on my team.”

“How did you reach that conclusion?” I asked.

“Again, it wasn’t difficult. I have been making excuses for them, sent them to training, tried to motivate them, offered a bonus. Funny, paying people more money doesn’t make them more competent. Once I did the analysis, it became very clear. I made some very poor hiring decisions.”
____
Barnes and Noble picked up Hiring Talent. Matching Amazon’s promotion pricing.

When Can You Start?

I don’t do a lot of book reviews, but this book caught my eye. First, the details

When Can You Start?
by Paul Freiberger
Career Upshift Productions, 2013.

Most often, I sit on the employer side of the table, talking with hiring managers and HR specialists about the hiring process. When Can You Start? is written for the job seeker, so it was interesting to see things from the other side.

Most of the book is predictable advice –

  • Show up on time for the interview
  • Practice answering questions to common interview questions
  • Never throw the first number in salary negotiations

But there were some insights I had never considered. “The fact that interviews have not been shown to have much predictive power in relation to subsequent job performance has not made the interview less important or less popular among employers.” I had to close my eyes and do some soul-searching on that one. Freiberger cites a 1994 paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Does throwing darts at a resume board yield better candidates than a job interview process? Now, that is an interesting question.

My first instinct is to discount the observation, but admittedly, after watching the interview process in a few hundred companies, I am thinking about some dartboard practice.

Freiberger’s book is to prepare the unwitting candidate to endure an interview process that is largely broken, in most cases, dysfunctional. He admits the interview is full of traps and in some cases advises the “smart candidate to play the game by answering the question without actually answering the question.”

Hiring managers don’t interview candidates often enough to get good at it, are seldom trained to conduct effective interviews and rely on faulty assumptions throughout the entire process. Most managers are unprepared. They ask the wrong questions and allow stereotypes to get in the way. They end up making a decision within the first three minutes of the interview, based on misinterpretations and incomplete data.

So, When Can You Start? is a decent primer for both the first time job seeker and the veteran job seeker who forgot what it was like sitting across the interview table.

Five Biggest Mistakes in Hiring

I started this series last week, the five biggest mistakes in hiring.

1. The manager underestimates the time span capability required for success in the role. To effectively make the hiring selection, the manager has to identify the level of work related to problem solving and decision making.

2. The manager uses the resume as the central document during the course of the interview. Using the resume allows the candidate to tell brilliant prepared stories that may or may not relate to the critical role requirements. The central document during the interview should be a list of specific written questions directly related to the work in the role.

3. The manager fails to write a complete specific role description organized into Key Result Areas. Most managers shortcut this step by substituting a job posting, using a generic job description or using a job description that was prepared years ago and stuck in a three ring binder. Organizing the role description is one of the most critical steps in the hiring process.

4. The manager fails to prepare a written list of questions specifically related to the role description, organized into Key Result Areas. Most managers think they know enough about the job, to wing their way through the interview, off the top of their head.

5. Without a list of intentional questions based on the role description, the managers asks a series of unproductive questions that fail to capture real data related to critical role requirements. This includes questions about favorite animals, hypothetical questions and future based questions.

At some point of frustration, I created a course and wrote a book to help managers navigate the interview process in building the right team. You can find out more information by following this link – Hiring Talent.