Category Archives: Hiring Talent

The Decisions of a Salesperson

“You’ve described the work of a salesperson as probing and connecting. Probing for the customer’s pain and connecting it to our product or service?” I asked, not waiting for an answer. “So, a sale that requires more than order taking likely requires a higher level of complexity?”

Marlena nodded. “We used to think we could hire anyone, give them a list of features and benefits to recite to the customer and that would be sufficient.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, sometimes they would get lucky, but our hit ratio was less than stellar,” Marlena explained. “We finally stumbled on a salesperson that was closing ninety percent. Her process was simple. In a screening phone call, she identified the customer’s pain.”

“Let me stop you there,” I interrupted. “At that point, what was the decision?”

Marlena paused. “More than one decision. Was the customer’s pain something we could solve? Was the pain strong enough to prompt the customer to take action? Would the customer see enough value in our solution to pay the price we needed to make it a win-win?”

“So, when I ask you the question, what’s the work of a salesperson, what are the problems to be solved and what are the decisions to be made, you now have a much clearer idea?”

What is the Work?

Marlena thought for a moment, changed her mind to protest some more. “But, what about a salesperson who doesn’t like to do expense reports, or doesn’t like to update our CRM program? Don’t we have to look at those things in a person’s profile, attention to administrative detail? I will tell you, when we hire a salesperson, if they can’t, or won’t pay attention to the administrative part of the job, then we won’t hire them.”

“If that is the behavior you need from a salesperson,” I shrugged. “However, I think you need to think this through a bit more carefully. What is the work of a salesperson?”

“Well, first, they have to research their market, compile a list of likely customers,” Marlena started. “Then, set appointments to see those people, do a presentation, secure a contract, follow-up to make sure the contract is delivered to the customer’s satisfaction, then make sure we get paid.” She stopped. “That’s about it. If I can get them to do that, I’m happy.”

“So, let’s think through this,” I replied.

  • Could the market research better be done by the marketing department?
  • Could appointments better be done by an administrative scheduler?
  • Could the follow-up better be done by customer service?
  • Could securing payment better be done by accounts receivable?

I would submit to you that your salesperson is doing all kinds of non-sales work, which I am sure keeps them busy from making sales. It all gets down to – What’s the work of a salesperson?

Required Behaviors

“But, what if a person doesn’t like the work in the role? What if they have a behavioral tendency against that type of work? Wouldn’t we want to know that in advance of hiring?” Marlena asked.

“Marlena, you are a manager?” I replied with a question. “Do you really like administrative work, you know, the paperwork behind the real work?”

“You mean like approving productivity reports, writing expense reports, reviewing time sheets?” Marlena chuckled. “No, I am more interested in improving productivity, reducing expenses and making sure the time we spend working together is meaningful.”

“So, if you showed me your personality profile, it might show that you are not particularly interested in paperwork?”

“I suppose not,” Marlena responded. “But, that’s just a small part of what I do. Administrative work comes with the territory.”

“Yet, the paperwork is detailed, even tedious at times. Why don’t you just stop doing it?” I asked.

“You can’t just NOT do the paperwork,” she said. “If you don’t look at the productivity reports, how do you know you are improving productivity? If you don’t review expense budgets, how do you know you are reducing expenses? I have to do those things.”

“Are you telling me there is a set of required behaviors associated with your role, that you may not like, that you may not show a behavioral tendency toward, nevertheless, you have to do them to be effective in your role?”

Marlena was silent, but her head nodded up and down.

What’s the Work?

“We have an opening on the team,” Marlena announced.

“And, you would like my help?” I asked.

“Yes, what kind of person should we hire?” she wanted to know.

“What’s the work?” I asked.

“It’s a project manager role, coordinating and organizing all the elements of projects we have in-house,” Marlena replied. “I am thinking we should hire someone who is analytical, good attention to detail, works well under pressure. Oh, and they have to work well with people, because there are people involved in all our projects. I think it is a very specific personality profile.”

I chuckled. “So, this person would only be able to work in the project manager role you have in mind?”

“Not necessarily, there may be other things they could do, but you have to be a special sort of person to be a project manager. There’s a lot of multi-tasking, to make sure none of the balls get dropped.”

“Marlena, the things you describe are character traits for most all jobs. Most every role requires someone who is reasonably analytical, reasonably organized, has reasonable attention to detail and can reasonably pace a project so that it meets internal deadlines. You seem to be focused on things you might describe as character traits. I want you to shift your focus to behaviors. Behaviors is how work gets done. My first question to you was – What’s the work? We often get carried away trying to climb inside the personality heads of candidates without a clear understanding of What’s the work?

The Best Measure of Performance

“We started this conversation trying to figure out the size of the role and the size of the person,” I clarified. “I think we have established that we can measure size of role with timespan. So how do we measure the size of person?”

“It’s a trick question,” Pablo immediately responded. “I don’t judge people, I only judge the work.”

“But, if we are trying to match the size of the role with the size of the person?”

My question was cut short. “We are misled when we try to judge the size of a person. People are too complicated, and besides, at the end of the day, does it matter? The only thing that matters, is the person effective in the work of the role? Think about it. We come up with all kinds of descriptors like foresight, agility, conscientiousness, tenacity, initiative, motivation, flexibility. We give these things a score. As if we can measure the absolute score of a human being? We say a person needs more of this and less of that. What does that have to do with work?”

“Let me change my question,” I recalibrated. “Instead of measuring the size of the person, how do we match the person with the complexity, with the level of work in the role?”

“Now, you have a case. In this discussion, the central question is, compared to what?” Pablo asserted.

“Okay, compared to what?” I parroted.

“You cannot measure the qualities of a person with some absolute number, because people change inside the context of the moment. Compared to what? Compared to the work in the role? I only care, can they do the work?” Pablo stopped, then picked up again. “The best measure of performance is performance.”

Questions for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
This is a follow-up on Interviewing for Soft Skills. You said to interview for behaviors connected to soft skills.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

What do the questions sound like?

Response:
Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave? Answer that question first.
A person who fits our organization shows up for work early, always finishes tasks assignments and double-checks their work for accuracy.

Shows up for work early.
At your previous position, what was the start time in the morning?
What were the first things you did when you got to work, coffee, check e-mail, meetings?
Think about a time you worked on a time-sensitive important project?
Step me through your day when you worked on that project?

Always finishes a task completely, doesn’t leave things undone for someone else to finish.
Tell me about a time when you worked on a complex project that had phases with multiple steps inside.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
How were the phases and tasks on the project organized?
How did the team know when each task was completed?
How did the project leader know when each task was completed?
In this project, was there re-work or items missed?
How was re-work identified? How was re-work placed back on the project schedule?
In this project, how were missed items identified?
How were missed items placed back on the project schedule?

Double-checks their work for accuracy so someone else doesn’t have to look for mistakes.
Tell me about a project where accuracy and attention to detail was mission critical.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
What elements of the project made accuracy and detail mission critical?
How were those elements identified?
How were those elements tracked?
What was the quality standard?
How was the quality standard measured?
How often was the quality standard measured?
Was the quality standard sign-off formal or informal?
What happened when defects were discovered?

How to Interview for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag.

Question:
I think I know how to interview for technical knowledge, but how do I interview for soft skills, that are difficult to pin down. Specifically, how well will the candidate fit with our existing team? Does the candidate share our organizational values? Will the candidate bring the right attitude?

Response:
These ideas are actually good ideas, noble characteristics to find in a candidate. Here is the rub. How can the hiring manager, who is not a psychologist, evaluate the candidate on fit, values and attitude?

You have to get down to behaviors. You are not a psychologist, but you can spot positive behavior and negative behavior in the workplace. Observing and evaluating behavior is what managers do. Play to your strength. Interview for behaviors.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

Now, interview for those behaviors. Yes, fuzzy stuff can be important, a valuable part of the interview and the criteria for hiring.

Who Makes the Hiring Decision

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about the Manager Once Removed (MOR) in the hiring process. Our company followed that advice, but now our Hiring Managers are stuck. It seems the MOR is now making the final pick without input from the Hiring Manager. The Hiring Manager is now using that as an excuse to blame a new team member, saying, “Well, I didn’t hire that person.”

Response:
To recap, the Manager Once Removed is the Hiring Manager’s manager.

Manager Once Removed (MOR)
————————–
Hiring Manager (HM)
————————–
Open Team Role

Each, the MOR and the HM have specific purpose and specific accountability in the process.

MOR Accountability
The accountability of the MOR is to improve the quality of the decision made by the HM. The MOR is ultimately accountable for the decision made by the HM. This does not mean the MOR makes the decision, but coaches the best decision from the HM.

The process starts early, when the HM states that a new team member needs to be added. It is the accountability of the MOR to question the need and ask the HM to put together a (business) case for the new hire. This decision may go back to the annual workforce plan that contemplated an increase in production volume, or it may be an emergency because a team member quit to go to a competitor.

With agreement that a new team member needs to be recruited, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure that a proper role description has been created. The HM, desperate for a new team member, may attempt to shortcut the process and use a substitute for the role description. The MOR must insist that a proper role description be written or an existing role description be updated. Note, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

With a proper role description, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure a proper set of interview questions be written, in both quantity and quality. A proper role description will contain several key result areas (KRAs) and sufficient questions in each key area should be documented. Again, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

A large part of the role of the MOR is in screening for the candidate pool. Unqualified candidates should be screened out, qualified candidates should be screened in. The end result should be a pool of qualified candidates. If the candidates in the pool are qualified for the role, the possibility for a mistake goes down.

In the end, it is the HM that must pick, with minimum veto authority for the final selection. The last thing I want to hear is, “I didn’t hire that person.”

And, We’re Back

Some of you may have noticed a service interruption for Management Blog last month. There was a problem between our RSS feed (syndication) and our SSL (socket security) configuration. Fixed now. Well, if you are reading this, as an email, it’s fixed. We published throughout the duration, so if you missed some posts, they are all available at managementblog.org all the way back to Nov 2004.

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I want to grow my company, but a bit overwhelmed at what I need to focus on. I see so much opportunity in nearby markets within a six hour drive. I think I can go into those markets without a huge initial investment, and organically grow as the business matures. Of the thousand things I need to pay attention to, what’s the focus?

Response:
I am often asked, what are the biggest constraints to growth. There are lots of them, geography, capital, market characteristics, economic cycles. The biggest, I think, is people.

We can purchase lots of things, equipment, office space, advertising. But, you can’t purchase talent. You have to find it. You have to seek it out.

We often only hire people when we have an opening, when we need to always be recruiting. You can have the brightest office space, brilliant marketing, pristine equipment, but with the wrong (not-right) people, you will still fail. Yet, with the right people, you can still be successful with Class B office space, used but serviceable equipment in a struggling economy. The biggest constraint to growth, even in otherwise challenging times, is people.

Where to Start?

Jean was upset. After two weeks of interviewing, the committee finally made an offer to a candidate for an open position. “I called her up and she laughed, said she took another position last week. So, we went to our second candidate, same thing. Our third candidate was missing two essential qualifications, but the committee didn’t want to start the process over. I just made the offer, but I am skeptical. I just hope it works out.”

“Well, hope is a strategy,” I replied. “Why did it take so long to make a decision on your first two candidates? You interviewed them almost two weeks ago.”

“Whenever the committee got together, we would argue about what was important for the position. Our meetings were more confusing than helpful.”

“The job description, wasn’t that helpful?”

Jean nodded. “It’s funny, we didn’t actually write one until this past weekend. It was only when we did, that the committee was able to agree on the qualifications and make a decision. It was just too late.”

Jean stared at the table, shook his head and smiled. “That’s where we should have started.”