Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Asking the Right Questions: Building the Right Team
Now you are faced with implementing work programs over a number of years that will successfully bring all this together. To do this there is just one more thing that is necessary, a complement of staff that can fulfill the long list of tasks at hand with expertise, conviction, and enthusiasm.
To have arrived at this enviable position, your organization will undoubtedly have a number of such people on hand, as they will have been instrumental in getting you here. There is a name for these kinds of individuals, leaders! Leaders not necessarily in the conventional sense, but people that are creative, self motivated, and critical thinkers, not followers. However, if you are part of the vast majority of organizations out there, these leaders are too few and far between and are not necessarily the individuals that are "in charge". So your task of implementing work programs is inherently complicated by these gaps in your team.
To solve this problem there are many strategies and techniques that can be used; for example, staff can be trained, roles and responsibilities realigned, and people can be promoted. However, one simple and effective approach that is often overlooked is the hiring process. I am not speaking of head hunting for the “right people”, filling the leadership gaps with ringers from outside. While that can work, what I am proposing is less costly, more systemic and holistic.
This primarily involves changes to interview questions. Why do so many organizations still ask inane questions like "Can you provide me with examples of how you have successfully multi-tasked?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?". Trying to gain insight into a potential team member with interview questions like that will only get you variations of lies. Will an applicant ever provide a truthful answer like "I plan on moving on from here once I have gained some experience, and I eventually get tired of your outdated approaches to things - like these question for example".
Also don't ask people about their skills and accomplishments. Some homework on your part and speaking with references can give you all of that. Ask them about YOU, YOUR organization. Ask “What needs improving?”, and then ask “HOW?” The point here is that to find people with the key qualities you need to fulfill your long term big picture goals, you need to be asking people big picture, long term questions, regardless of the positions being filled. It's your job to find the appropriate big picture questions for each role. Ask people to be critical of the organization; find out how they think; where they think their profession could go; and, what the overall potential the organization has in their eyes.
With these kinds of interview questions, the people you need will provide you more than just answers. They will provide you with questions to frame, or reframe, the original inquiry to make it fit their context. They will give you ideas about processes, policies, and practices. They will show you their level of excitement for change and improvement. They will provide you with a personal vision of the organization that is linked to their view of the world, and therefore how they fit into it. Inspiration, emotional intelligence, and buy-in for your policies and direction is what you want to test in an interview. If you want to implement a strategic sustainability plan for example, you need people that understand and believe in sustainability, not just practitioners that can go through the motions and will rely on management to come up with all the answers.
In addition to this shift in approach to interview questions there is one more thing that you need to do, especially for hiring people in professional or managerial positions. You need to check an applicant’s web presence. Not to see if they have pictures from some crazy college party, but to see what they have published; if they have spoken at a conference; what participation they have had in innovative projects; which professional forums they participate in; and what volunteer organizations they belong to. If your applicant has no web presence, find out why. This form of assessment will of course become increasingly more important and valid as the web 2.0 innovations become common place and 2010 passes into our collective memory.
The ideas I have outlined here, have the potential to be more profound in their effectiveness than other methods for getting the right staff team together on an organization wide scale for the following reasons:
- These can be used for all levels of staff, all roles, all departments, all responsibilities;
- They have the benefit of broad scale implementation during times when organizations are filling in the large impending gaps created by the boomer retirements;
- These approaches help utilize people’s internal creativity and build on the strength of self motivation;
- The incremental effects of change build over time as more staff are hired even with usual turnover rates;
- The need to “make” anyone change through retraining is eliminated as the right team evolves over time;
- The most dedicated and appropriate people to meet your challenges within the organization are promoted; and,
- These techniques are less costly than head hunting and use existing processes.
I hope this overview benefits organizations with their challenges to find the right people to help them evolve and prosper.