Tag Archives: hiring talent

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.”

Who People Are

“But, I think understanding motivation is important for a manager,” Bailey protested.

“And so, when did you become a mind reader?” I asked.

“You know very well, I don’t pretend to be a mind reader,” Bailey continued to push back.

“Yet, there you go, looking for something inside a person that you cannot see.”

“Then, just exactly what are we supposed to do?”

“Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stay out of people’s heads. If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do. If you want to play the motivation game, you will find a ton of popular psychology, pop psychology, answers. There are books and assessments that propose to teach you the insights we should all have, as leaders, about those on our teams. But, if you want to be an effective manager, you have to think differently. And you cannot think differently if you continue your search in this invisible stuff. You will confuse yourself and those around you.

“If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, watch what they do.”*
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These were the watchwords of the late Charles Krauthammer observing the behavior of presidents and presidential candidates. “Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.”

Cause To Be Different

“But, don’t you think it’s important that a leader understands why people do what they do?” Bailey asked.

“The problem with understanding why people do what they do, is that we often look in the wrong place to find that answer,” I replied.

“What do you mean, where are we supposed to look?”

“Think about it. When you look to discover the why in someone’s behavior, what are your clues?”

“Well, first,” Bailey started, “I would look at their intentions, you know, their internal motivations.”

“And, why would that be important?”

“If I understood their motivations more clearly, perhaps I could genuinely influence their behavior toward the goals, expectations we set for the role.”

“So, you think you can cause the other person to be different?” I paused, waiting for the obligatory nod. “Bailey, I ask you to think about yourself, be honest, with yourself. How easy is it to cause yourself to be different? You think you can cause something in another person, that you find difficult to cause in yourself.”

It’s All About the Work

“Look,” I started. “You took a course in psychology in college, but you don’t have a degree in psychology. You are not certified by the state to practice psychotherapy. So, stop trying to judge a person by climbing inside their head.”

I could tell Roger was tensing up.

“But, tell me,” I continued, “can you spot positive behavior on the plant floor, in the field? Can you spot negative behavior? How long does it take you to tell the difference?”

Roger began to nod.

“Your best judgement of other people is not to understand their internal motivation, it’s whether or not they can do the work. It’s all about the work. Ask about the work.”

Misinterpretation

“I just wish I understood people better,” Roger complained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Sometimes, when I interview a candidate, I wish I could better interpret what they say. You know, their underlying motivation.”

“So, sometimes, you misinterpret what a candidate says?”

Roger thought for a minute. “More than sometimes. A lot.”

“In the interview, why do you think you misinterpret a response to your question?” I pressed.

“I told you,” Roger replied, “I just don’t understand people.”

“I think the reason you misinterpret responses, is because you ask questions that require interpretation.”

How People Think

“What do you mean?” Roger replied. “How am I going to know how people think?”

“In the interview, why do you want to know how people think?” I asked.

“I thought that’s what the interview was for,” Roger protested.

“If you want to know how people think, watch what they do. Don’t ask people questions about how they think. Ask about what they did. Ask how they did it. The more you get wrapped up in their psychological motivation for this or that, the more likely you are to misinterpret. Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stop it.”

Don’t Listen to What People Say

“And, why would you trust the outcome of a project more than a response in a promotion interview?” I asked.

“You told me before,” Marissa explained. “Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.”

“And, the two big lies in every interview?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “The two big lies. Yes, I can. And, yes, I will.”

It’s a Test

“I don’t want to go through the same experience I had with John, promoting someone to a role only to find them flailing about,” Marissa said.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I asked.

“There is a person in another department, I don’t know him, but his manager says he is ready for promotion,” Marissa thought out loud.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I repeated.

“I am certainly not going to trust the situation when I don’t even know this guy. I will, at least, interview him.”

“In addition to the interview, because this is an internal candidate, what else do you have the opportunity to do? How will you test him before you get wrapped around the axle?”

Marissa nodded. She knew the answer. “Project work. Task assignments with the same elements in the new role. I had a failed promotion and a chocolate mess. A failed project is only a failed project, and I can manage the risk in a project.”

Relieved

“I spoke with John, he is going back to be a team leader,” Marissa explained. “He was relieved, said he never wanted the promotion to supervisor in the first place. He thought he was going to get fired in his new role.”

“And, what did you do about his compensation?” I asked.

“I took your advice. I am the one who made the mistake. He was already at the highest technician rate before his promotion, so there was only $1 an hour difference. I kept his pay at the supervisor rate. He shouldn’t have to pay for my mistake.”

“Most importantly, you are on the hook for finding a new supervisor, what are you going to do differently?”

What Are You Going to Do?

“Well, I promoted him,” Marissa replied. “His former supervisor got promoted to another department, and, so, for three weeks, I had to cover. I promoted John because he was the best on the team, and, everybody liked him.”

“So, you assumed that because he was a standout performer doing one thing, that he would be a standout performer doing something else?” I asked.

“I assumed it would take a couple of weeks to get the hang of it, but it’s been a month and he is still a lost puppy.”

“So, what are you going to do? Now, that you understand the problem more clearly.”

“I don’t want to fire the guy, he’s been with us for six years. But, I don’t know if his ego would allow him to take a demotion?”

“You are in quite a pickle, aren’t you? Are you better off with him, or better off without him?”

“I would hate to lose him. I would be better off with him, but only in the right role.”

“So, what are you going to do?”