Tag Archives: hiring talent

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.”

Avoid the Hazard

The paceline moved north, into a headwind, pulling 18mph. “Walker up!” The shout came from the lead cyclist on the nose. He pulled his right hand off the handlebars, arm straight out, pointing to the pedestrian in the bike lane. A second later, his right hand dropped, waved the pace line left, out of the bike lane into the active traffic lane. Though the group may not have seen the walker, each cyclist in the line knew about the hazard and knew to follow the lead bike into the active traffic lane to avoid it.

Intentional, agreed-upon communication. It was simple, efficient and effective. As the paceline continued north, there were other hazards to avoid, potholes, a tree branch in the road, narrowing traffic lanes, overtaking cars. Through a series of hand signals and audible shouts, the group made its way safely through urban traffic.

How does your team communicate in its daily routine? Do they have simple, efficient protocols to warn of impending hazards, delays, material shortages? Do they have agreed-upon signals to provide each other with feedback?

Chances are good that prior to a delay, prior to a material shortage, prior to a change in schedule, somebody knew. Someone could have warned the group and the group could have acted according to an agreed-upon protocol.

Get your team together and play the “what if” game. Find out what problems occur often and how they are best solved. Then create the “signal.”

“Walker up!”
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We are putting the finishing touches on Hiring Talent 2019. Pre-registration is now open.

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.

It’s a Different Skill Set

Turnover at the supervisor level was killing his floor crew. I spoke with some of the team members on the production team. They were capable at the production level, but none was up to the role of supervisor. We really did have to go outside. Russell had burned through two supervisors in the past nine months.

“Tell me what you look for in this supervisor role.” I asked.

“That’s the problem,” replied Russell. “It’s hard to find someone with the proper experience. The best guys turn out to be great equipment operators, but they cannot handle the scheduling, cycle counts or material flow.”

“Do you interview them for that?”

Russell looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“Russell, here is what I see. You interview for technical skills, which are important. But the role of the supervisor is a completely different role than that of the technician. Your breakdowns are where the skills of the supervisor are needed most, scheduling, cycle counts and material flow. That’s a critical area to interview for.”

“You want me to interview to see how a guy fills out a schedule?”

“Absolutely. Here is how it sounds.

  • Step me through your scheduling process.
  • How many people on the crew?
  • One shift or two?
  • Full time or part time?
  • How far into the future do you publish the schedule?
  • Did you have team leaders? Newbies on the crew?
  • How did you mix the experience level on each shift?
  • Did often did the production schedule change?
  • How did production schedule changes impact the work schedule?
  • In addition to the people, how did you schedule equipment required?
  • Was the equipment dedicated to your crew, or did you have to share resources with other teams?
  • How did you schedule materials?
  • How did you relieve inventory for each day’s production?
  • How did you know your inventory was correct?
  • How did you manage minimum quantities and re-order points in your inventory?
  • What were the lead times on your critical path inventory SKUs?
  • How did you handle sick outs?

“Russell, it’s more than filling out a paper schedule, it is how the candidate thinks, then behaves.”

Interview for a Bad Attitude

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

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

“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, it 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 curious.

“Sometimes, it’s just 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. “Do you mean, you can interview for a bad attitude?”

“Yes, you can.”

Who Controls the Interview

Kimberly almost chuckled. “What do you mean, I have power? I’m the one being interviewed for the job. How do I control that?”

“Actually, it’s pretty easy,” I said. “And understand this is not through some trickery or fancy technique, but by doing two simple things.” Kimberly was all ears.

“Since most people who conduct interviews don’t know much about hiring, you have an opportunity to help them make a better decision, and, as a candidate, it usually gives you a leg up.”

“So, what are the two things?” Kimberly prompted.

“First is to find out what the decision criteria will be based on, what knowledge, skills and abilities will be required for the job.”

“How will I find that out?”

“Ask questions, direct questions about the processes, how things work and what is expected.”

“Okay, I think I can do that,” Kimberly said confidently.

“The second thing is to draw the conversation back to specific examples of what you have done, in the past, related to those skills and abilities.”

“It sounds too simple,” she protested.

“Indeed, and it’s what the interviewer should be doing in the first place. Only by defining the specific skills and behaviors for success and then supporting those with real past experience, can the interviewer make an effective decision. And, as the candidate who helped that process along, you will have the upper hand.”

Pulled on to the Hiring Team

“The time you spent preparing for this interview has taught you more than most interviewers understand about the hiring process,” I said.

“Why is that?” Kimberly responded.

“Most managers are too busy with important adult stuff, so they don’t have time to think about hiring. Here is the way most managers get pulled into the interview process.

Hey, Joe, we have a hot candidate for that new supervisor’s position. A couple of people have talked to him and they are really impressed. Say, could spare fifteen minutes, go meet him down in the conference room, and see what you think?

“So, tell me, Kimberly, what chance does Joe have of conducting an effective interview that will give him the proper information to make a hiring decision?”

“Well, I suppose he could just see if he likes the guy.”

“Exactly, with no understanding of the job description, without sufficient thinking about the specific skills required, with no opportunity to think through effective questions, Joe will have no other choice but to make his decision on whether he likes the guy or not. One of the biggest hiring mistakes is making the decision based on gut feeling.”

“So, as a candidate, where does that leave me?” asked Kimberly.

“Armed with what you now know, you have more power than you think.”