Posted tagged ‘candidates’

Establishing the Foundation for the Leadership Interview

June 22, 2010

A leadership interview is a little more delicate. In fact, I would categorize this discussion as more of a conversation than an interview. There are several reasons why this is so.

The candidate being interviewed is typically more mature. Usually, this person has managed departments or divisions, if not other companies. Therefore, this applicant is more comfortable with the proceedings.  For this level candidate, it truly is an opportunity to shine and demonstrate the depth and breadth of the knowledge and experience that has been acquired over an entire professional career.

These factors by themselves make this interview different.

It is as much about making sure that there is a stylistic and cultural match as it is about the skills that the candidate possesses. And the candidate also usually understands on some level that a poor match will not work for him or her.

To make this conversation more effective and easier, I typically explain that I am assisting n this process. My intention and goals is to find a fit so that the candidate can be happy and fulfilled for years to come and so can the company.

This allows for a conversational shift toward getting to know the person. The context and the most fundamental rule to apply is that we are here to “screen out” inappropriate candidates rather than “screening in” people.

The purpose of the questions that we outlined in the previous post is now clear. The se questions have been designed to facilitate the discussion and they are clearly in the best interests of the applicant as well as the company.

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Determining the Candidate’s Leadership Profile

June 17, 2010

One of the challenges in the interview process was the need to capture information in a meaningful way.  The plan was to interview five candidates in one day and the risk of blurring responses, characteristics and attributes was fairly high. Effective data capture was therefore important.

The tool that was built had a section for evaluating each of the core attributes highlighted in the prior post. It was to be completed after the interview and it simply asked if the candidate had the particular attribute and allowed for any additional comments or insights.

The rest of the document – and clearly the most important section – was devoted to a series of questions designed to create a conversation that would enable the candidate to share his or her views on leadership.

Here are some examples of these questions:

A. Getting to know you questions:

(1) I’m about to buy a brand named <candidate>. Describe what I just bought.

(2) What was the best job you ever had? Why?

B. Execution:

(1) How do you assure / implement accountability among your staff?

(2) What do you reward and how do you reward it?

(3) How do you convince people to change behaviors?

(4) How do you evaluate staff?

(5) Why should someone be fired?

C. Ability:

(1) What characteristics of your present job do you like?

(2) What are some of the things you don’t like?

(3) How would you change your job if you had the power to do so?

(4) Describe your perfect job?

(5) Describe your perfect boss?

(6) Give me 5 adjectives that generally describe the people who work for you.

D. Leadership:

(1) What are 3 core tenets of your management philosophy that you would never compromise?

(2) Fast forward a year —  how is our company, the one that just hired you, different?

(3) How do you hire people (i.e. what is the hiring process / what do you look for)?

(4) Talk to me about a great hiring success (what were the factors that made it successful)?

(5) Talk to me about a great hiring disaster. Why did it happen? What did you do about it? (this is a great question to learn about blindspots)

(6) How do you make important decisions?

(7) How do you go about learning new things?

(8) Describe the perfect company culture? How would you create this culture?

E. Ability to Grow and Learn:

(1) Most people have at east one tough integrity challenge in their professional lives – what was yours and how did you handle it?

(2) What is the greatest lesson that you learned in the past five years?

(3) What is the greatest professional challenge you’ve ever faced and why?

F. Vision:

(1) Tell me about three competitive trends for which we should be concerned.

(2) What is the single most important idea that you contributed to your present job?

The purpose of these questions is to learn what is important to the candidate and the thinking process that is utilized. What can be learned from these questions is the values of the candidate, how they are reinforced and the type of people with whom these leaders will surround themselves.

Getting these answers will your company know the type of leader it is engaging.

A Unique and Very Effective Interview Process

November 14, 2008

In the course of my nearly 25 years as a CEO, I have realized that skills and capabilities alone do not guarantee success. I have come to appreciate the importance of making certain that the employee reflects the values and the management philosophy of the organization.

Permit me to share with you a very practical way to implement a program that will dramatically improve your hiring process. It is one that we used so successfully that Inc. Magazine chose to publish it in one of their books.

Our process began with an understanding of the assignment. We then made certain that the candidate had the skills, experience, and competencies necessary to perform the assignment. We then scheduled meetings with the two most senior people available. The purpose of these meetings was to verify that the skills were present and to determine whether there was a cultural fit.

Here are some examples of the questions that we asked of these candidates.

  • What do you consider your greatest accomplishment and why?
  • Why do you think you were successful?
  • What is the single most important idea you have contributed to your present job?
  • How do you go about making important decisions?
  • If you had a magic wand and could change two things about yourself, what would they be?
  • Give some examples of how you get people to accomplish projects. How do you motivate them?
  • Describe the importance of your job within the company’s overall business plan.
  • How do you go about learning something new?
  • Who was the best boss you ever had? Why?
  • Name something you have really wanted to do, but have never been able to do, even when there was an opportunity.

Nearly all of these questions are designed to elicit information about the personal behavioral styles and values of the candidate.

After explaining how our company accomplishes its mission, we reviewed the management philosophy, a written document that articulates how we conduct our business. This is important because it is imperative that the candidate believes that s/he can also fit into the company’s work environment. Assuming we still believed that the candidate might be a good fit for the assignment and the company, we then ask for references.

We then began the part of the process that Inc. Magazine found unusually valuable. The candidate received a tour of the office and was invited to meet with the people who worked at our company. They are encouraged to ask any questions that come to mind. This allowed the candidate to determine if we operate in a manner that is consistent with our management philosophy. The management philosophy thus comes alive for the candidate.

Equally important, we gained the insight of the people who might be working with the candidate. These people really ask the most difficult questions because their questions reflect very pragmatic concerns, such as how they will work together. This dialogue tends to be more personal and real because the context for the conversation is one of sharing and discovery by both parties. Later on, we asked our people what they thought and whether they would like to work alongside the candidate.

Before the candidate leaves for the day, we provide him or her with references concerning our company and asked him or her to call them. These references are clients who have agreed to speak with our candidates.

From these conversations, the candidate learned firsthand what signing up to be a part of our company and culture truly means. Do we really go to the extremes that we speak of to delight our clients? Do our employees really take their role as a trusted advisor seriously? Equally important, we received the benefit of yet another round of high-level, personal interviews that helped us to understand what concerns the candidate has, and most important, whether the client would welcome the opportunity to work with the candidate.

Although this particular approach is uniquely geared for external, customer-facing positions, everyone in an organization is there to meet the needs of at least one internal customer. This model may be easily modified to allow for some version of customer feedback.

Our interview process concluded with the reference check. This check was not performed by an office manager or a Human Resources staff member but rather by the person who will be the direct supervisor of the candidate, should he or she be hired. They have the strongest interest of anyone in the capabilities of the candidate because the candidate will have a direct impact on the supervisor’s own success. Of course, these people should be guided by the human resources department regarding the types of questions that they may ask.

Five Practical Guidelines when Hiring

November 9, 2008

Here are some practical considerations that are now part of my hiring process. They are a result of both experience and my research into what other executives, such as Jack Welch, have done to make their hiring process more successful.

1. Think Through the Assignment

Job descriptions may last a long time, but the assignments and the challenges associated with a position fluctuate with the changing conditions of the organization and the environment or marketplace. If the challenges are different, then the talents and skills necessary for the role will change. Undoubtedly, the role of Treasury Secretary today is different than the one of two years ago – yet the job description may well be the same. To grow a new area from scratch is very different from managing a seasoned team. If the team is getting close to retirement age, the new sales manager may need people development skills to grow the new team. As a leader, you must get to the heart of the assignment.

One of the ways to determine what is at the “heart of the assignment” is to revisit the strategic plan. By understanding the strategic goal and the tactics necessary to achieve the goal, one will be able to understand the key skills required to achieve success in a role. As a result, your thinking shifts and a new set of candidates may emerge.

2. Look at a Number of Potentially Qualified People

The key word here is number. Formal qualifications are a minimum for consideration, as their absence would eliminate the candidate. The person and the assignment need to fit each other. To make an effective decision, three to five candidates should be considered.

3. Think Hard about How to Look at These Candidates

The crucial issue is to understand the focus and priority of the assignment. The primary questions are, “What strengths does each candidate possesses?” and “Are these strengths the right ones for the assignment?” While weaknesses may rule a candidate out, if the answers to these questions are that s/he is the right person for the assignment, regardless of a particular weakness, then that person gets the job. It is then the company’s responsibility to provide the additional training, talent, or skills to mitigate the effects of that weakness.

4. Discuss Each of the Candidates with Several People who have Worked with Them

One executive’s opinion is worthless. That’s because we all have biases, prejudices, likes, and dislikes. Competent executives do this routinely and informally. My former partner, a senior executive at Microsoft, has five to seven people in the interview loop. If the candidate does not meet the approval of this group, the candidate is eliminated from consideration. Each interviewer is also assigned a specific attribute or characteristic of the candidate for evaluation. One might evaluate analytical problem solving while another might evaluate collaborative skills. By following this discipline, one gains valuable additional perspectives.

5. Make Sure the Appointee Understands the Job

After the appointee has been in a new job for three or four months, he or she should be focusing on the demands of the job rather than on the requirements of preceding assignments. It is the executive’s responsibility to call that person and say, “You’ve now been manager for three months. What do you have to do to be a success in your new job? Think it through and come back to me in ten days and show it to me in writing.” It is critical that you, as a manager, assist others to think through what a job requires. Frequently, these requirements are not the traits that the performer thinks got him the job in the first place. And as we will discuss later on, if this person was promoted to this position, it is almost a one hundred per cent certainty that he will have to shift his work approach and focus in order to be successful in his new role.

On Choosing Vice Presidential Candidates and Strategic Thinking

August 31, 2008

The recent selection of Delaware Senator Joe Biden to be the Vice Presidential running mate of Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama and the selection of Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin to serve in a similar capacity by Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain are extremely interesting when perceived through the prism of strategic thought and principles. In fact when viewed in this strategic context, one could easily argue that both presidential candidates made an inappropriate choice in the selection of their running mates.

Senator Obama, a self-proclaimed candidate of change who has also been characterized as lacking experienced chose a Washington insider. Senator Biden, a career politician with 30 years of Washington political experience, was selected to compensate for the perceived weaknesses in Senator Obama’s “resume.” Senator Biden adds foreign policy know-how to another perceived limitation in Senator Obama’s background.

By selecting Governor Palin, Senator McCain, a self-proclaimed candidate of experienced leadership who had also been characterized as someone who would continue the older and more established status quo approach to governing this country, hoped to alter perceived limitations in his background. To counterbalance this perception, he chose Governor Palin, an individual who is younger than Senator Obama, is also a reformer who is not part of the Washington establishment yet is someone who lacks the experience and foreign policy expertise that would make her a clear-cut choice.

In making these choices, the two presidential candidates and their parties have blurred the distinctions between their two messages. The Democratic change agent is in partnership with the insider while the Republican man of experience is in partnership with someone, who like his Democratic rival, is light on accomplishments.

While both presidential candidates have legitimate reasons for selecting their running mates, these reasons fly in the face of more traditional strategic thinking.

Most people think of strategy as optimizing what they already do and being the best at it. This leads them to conclude that there is a singular best way to compete.

However, strategy is really about choosing to differentiate one’s product, service or brand from one’s competition. By doing so, they encourage choice and their appeal to a particualr consumer or constituency.

In the business world, failing to differentiate one’s brands, products or services from one’s competitors creates destructive competition. When there is no perceived differentiation, the only distinction becomes price. Price competition is never sustainable and is typically unwinnable.

Which brings us to why these two leaders might have made their respective choices.

For one possibility, we can turn to a book called “The Discipline of Market Leaders” by MichaelTreacy and Fred Wiersema. These two authors assert that all businesses must at least maintain threshold levels regarding key elements that a customer requires. As an example, if price was above the threshold level of what a consumer might be willing to pay, the other elements of value would not matter in the selection process. The consumer would eliminate the choice simply because it did not meet the threshold level.

It is therefore very possible that Senator Obama felt that his leadership experience was below the threshold level that the electorate might be willing to accept. Senator McCain might have believed that it was critical that he counterbalance his role in Washington with an outsider in order to compete effectively.

Still, it remains to be seen how the electorate will respond to the choices made by the two presidential candidates to blur rather than accentuate their differences.


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