Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Four Power Questions Before the Interview

It’s all about the work. Most managers make hiring mistakes because they didn’t know what they were looking for in the first place.

  • How to know what you are looking for?
  • How to transform that vague picture into specific deliverables?
  • How to communicate that picture and deliverables to the hiring team, to make sure you are right?

I will know it when I see it, sets up the hiring manager for failure. Success is based on luck.

Work is a funny notion. Many managers focus on getting in touch with candidates, all warm and fuzzy. Not my purpose. Instead, get in touch with reality. The purpose of hiring is to get some work done.

Work is making decisions and solving problems. Few hiring managers think about the problems that have to be solved and the decisions that have to be made in a team member’s role. That is where it starts. The hiring manager is looking for someone to make specific decisions and solve specific problems. Until we figure that out, we will never hire the right person.

Here are the power questions to answer before you get into the interview room –

  • In this key area, what decisions have to be made?
  • What is the time frame for those decisions?
  • In this key area, what problems have to be solved?
  • What is the time frame for those solutions?

Nagging Questions Before the Offer Letter

You are ready to extend the offer letter, but there is this nagging hesitation in your mind.

  • Is this the right person?
  • Am I making a mistake?
  • What happens if I am wrong?

But, you have a 90 day probation period, so if it doesn’t work out, no harm, no foul.

And, you will have to start over again, 90 days down the road.

  • Why do you have to wait 90 days to find out if this is the right person?
  • How can you eliminate mistakes in your hiring process?
  • How can you up your batting average, reduce the times you are wrong?
  • What separates the average hiring manager from the few who most consistently make good hires?

There is no magic, no fairy dust, just a little managerial work. Most managers make hiring mistakes because they didn’t know what they were looking for in the first place.

How to Diagnose Role Fit

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How does management ability tie into different levels of work. I’m thinking about people who are good at building (S-III) systems (flowcharts, time studies, etc.) but who are miserable at managing the people side of the equation.

Response:
In the workshop you attended, you will recall Elliott’s Four Absolutes. Your question describes one dimension of success, likely two dimensions of underperformance (failure).

Four Absolutes

  • Capability (measured in timespan)
  • Skill (technical knowledge and practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work)
  • Required behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits, culture)

A person may have the capability to be effective in the work of the role, but lack other characteristics (of equal importance).

Specifically, a person may have the capability to be effective at S-III system work, yet in a managerial role, may lack the management skills for other key areas (people related). A skill is anything that can be learned, anything that can be taught. For a manager, there is a specific set of skills related to communication, listening, delegation, decision making, team problem solving, planning, coaching, meetings.

For a manager to learn those teachable skills, they must also possess the interest and passion for that work. We have interest in and passion for that work on which we place a high value. A person who values self performance over team performance will suffer mightily as they realize there is no such thing as individual achievement.

There is no priority in the Four Absolutes, they are of equal importance.

It’s Not a Matter of Counting

Russell remained silent, then spoke. “So, I have been ignoring the most important skills during the interview?”

“Perhaps.” I said.

“But it almost seems silly. Related to cycle counts, am I supposed to ask if they can count?”

“Russell, you said that a critical break-down is in material counts for each day’s production. It is more than just counting. Try these questions.

“Tell me how you handled the materials staging for each day’s production. How many finished units did you produce in a typical day? What were the raw materials that went into each of the finished units? Where did you warehouse the materials? How did you move materials from the warehouse to the staging area? How long did that take in advance of production? When did you check on material availability for each day’s production? How did you handle a stock out?

“Russell, in response to these questions, what are you listening for?”

He smiled, “I’m listening for organizing behavior, working into the future, anticipating problems. It is more than just counting.”

Found Another Job

“I just wanted to tell you that I have to give my two weeks notice. I found another job that pays more money and I can’t turn it down.” There was an awkward silence as Barbara tried to gather her thoughts to respond to Howard, her best lead technician.

Her first instinct was to find out how much more money and counter the offer, persuade Howard to stay. Patience got the better of her and she replied, “Howard, I know this was a tough decision for you. I also know that decisions like this are complicated and rarely determined by a single factor. You said you were leaving for money, but I have to believe there may be other reasons, too. Since you have made a decision to leave, would you do me a favor and spend some time talking with me about things we could do differently around here. Your thoughts might make a difference to your other team members.”

Countering an offer for higher wages seldom works. There are usually other, more compelling circumstances that drive a team member to another company. As the manager, if you cannot improve those circumstances, more money will only delay the inevitable. First, you have to fix what’s wrong.

How to Describe Work

We were kicking around the new role description for a Project Manager. Howard held a copy of the current description. Current should be taken with a grain of salt. It was created five years ago and was little more than a starting place.

“Okay,” I began. “It says here that one of the responsibilities is scheduling.
-The Project Manager is in charge of scheduling materials, equipment and personnel for the project.-

“Remember our two questions? How well should it be done and by when?” I paused. The looks around the table were puzzled. I would have to dig deeper.

“Is part of scheduling actually publishing a written schedule?” I asked, finally getting nods of agreement.

“How far in advance should the schedule go?”

Matthew raised his hand. “At least a week.” He looked around to see if he was right. No one challenged him.

“Okay, by when should this schedule be published?”

Henry jumped in first. “By Friday, the week before, so on Monday, we know what is going on.”

“What time on Friday?”

“By 5:00 o’clock.” Henry replied.

I smiled. “Why not give yourself some time on Friday to review the Project Manager’s schedule to make sure it will fly?” Henry thought a minute, then slowly his head nodded.

“By Friday at noon, the Project Manager will publish a written schedule detailing the materials, equipment and personnel requirements for each day of the following week.”

“Is that better than the Project Manager is in charge of scheduling?”

People, Asset or Liability?

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!!–
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.

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

I asked them again, “Are 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. 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 are the skills, knowledge and behaviors necessary for success in this role?”

Front End or Back End?

“It always seems like I don’t have time to prepare when we interview candidates,” complained Paula. “I don’t even have the time to write a job description for the open position. I know we are supposed to, I just don’t have the time.”

“Paula, whether you want to or not, you will spend the time,” I replied.

“What do you mean?”

“As the manager, you will either spend the time on the front end creating the job description, defining the necessary skills and behaviors, or you will spend the time on the back end trying to shape the person you hired into a role that you never defined clearly in the first place.

“You get to choose where you want to spend your time, on the front end or the back end.”

Interchangeable Commodity

If team members were not interchangeable commodities, what would change about our hiring practices (building the team)? What if, out of the candidate pool, based on the role, there was only one or two players who truly fit? What would change about our approach to recruiting?

If we weren’t so casual, so cavalier in our hiring practices, what would change?

Here is what I see –
Most companies do a poor job of truly defining the work in the role. We have only a half-baked idea what we need from this role. We have not identified the decision making in this role, nor the problem solving required. With this half-baked role idea (role description, poorly written), it is no wonder we settle for an unmatched candidate who has no clearer idea than we do of what they are supposed to do.

So, let’s start there. In the role, what are the decisions that have to be made and what are the problems that have to be solved. Once you have this figured out, then you can begin to look at candidates.

Who is on the Team?

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:
What do you feel are the most important skills that I need to think about as a new manager?

Response:
For me, hiring and firing are at the top of the list. The most important skill for any manager is team member selection. The ability to select the right team members makes all other management skills seem like a walk in the park.

The manager who selects the right team members will have a wonderful time as a manager. The manager who selects the wrong team members will forever spend time trying to fix the problems that come from hiring mis-steps. That time spent trying to motivate, coach and correct behavior will be frustrating and miserable…for a very long time.

Take a sports team and put them up against any other team. To pick the team who will win the game, you only have to know the answer to one simple question.

Who is on the team?

Hiring and firing are at the top of the list. Arguably, the most important skill.