Tag Archives: solve problems

Magic and Fairy Dust, Notions and Potions

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

The best engineer on our team was recently promoted to VP-Engineering. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great engineer. But something is just not right. Relieved of his engineering duties, he seems to wander around, sticks his nose into a project without any background on its status. Since I was in your workshop last week, now, I understand that a VP (of anything) is an integration role. It is becoming clear that my boss made a mistake. This guy is not an integrator and we miss his contribution on the engineering team.

I don’t know the background, I don’t know your company and I don’t know what your boss had in mind when he made the promotion. Doesn’t matter. I hear these stories all the time. Here’s the problem.

Few companies take the time and effort to clearly define the role. Most companies promote without clarifying the work. Maybe your engineering team member has the right stuff to be a VP, but until we define the work, we have no clue.

Most hiring managers believe in magic and fairy dust when they make a hiring or promotion decision. Then, they are disappointed when the candidate doesn’t live up to the expectations that were never defined.

There is no magic. There is no fairy dust, just a little managerial elbow grease –

  • What is the purpose of the role? Why does it exist?
  • What are the key areas in the role? Key result areas (KRAs)?
  • In each key area, what are the tasks and activities?
  • In each key area, what is the output, goal, objective?
  • In each key area, what decisions have to be made? What problems have to be solved?
  • In each key area, what is the time span of the goal?
  • In each key area, what is the level of work?

This is the critical thinking that has to be done before you make the hire, before you make the promotion. The answers to these questions will lead you in the right direction. Without this data, there is no way to make a sound hiring or promotion decision.

But, no one wants to do the managerial work. They would rather rely on magic and fairy dust, notions and potions.

The Likelihood of Success

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

So, how do you interview for someone with the capability to think into the future?

Capability is like attitude. I cannot interview for attitude and I cannot interview for capability. I can only interview for behaviors connected to attitude and capability.

First, is the capability to think into the future, a requirement for the role? Most supervisory and managerial roles require this capability, so this is a fair area for exploration.

My bias is to ask ONLY questions about the past. I do not want the candidate to speculate or make stuff up. No hypotheticals or theories. I have enough trouble deciphering real facts from the past.

  • Tell me about a time when (my favorite opening question), you worked on a project that took some time to complete, one that required several steps with a number of moving parts?
  • How long did the project take?
  • What was the purpose of the project? The goal for the project?
  • How many people were involved?
  • Step me through the planning process?
  • Was the plan written or just in your head?
  • How was the plan shared with the project team?
  • What was your role in preparing the plan?
  • As the plan was executed, what factors pushed the plan off course?
  • Tell me how the plan accounted for factors that pushed the plan off course?
  • How did the project team respond to changes in the plan?
  • How were decisions made in response to changes in the plan?
  • How did those changes impact the budget for the plan?
  • How did those changes impact the schedule for the plan?
  • How did those changes impact the overall results of the plan?

The responses to these questions will give the interviewer insight into behaviors connected with capability to think into the future, not just think, but make decisions, solve problems, execute into the future? These responses are fact-based and do not require interpretation, yet provide evidence, which can be verified in a cooperative reference check.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. All I have to do, as an interviewer, is to find out how the candidate behaved in the past. There is great likelihood the candidate will behave the same way when they come to work for you.