What have you done in your present/last position to increase your organization's top-line revenues?

Why Ask This Question?

At first glance, it appears that this query belongs in the section of this book dedicated to sales professionals. And you may very well want to employ this question in dealing with line candidates who have a direct impact on your company's bottom-line profits. The reason why this query occurs here, however, is that any member of an organization—line or staff—is capable of generating revenues for a company. It may not be in the traditional sales sense, but it makes money nonetheless.

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. A secretary, for example, may come up with the idea of adding a response mechanism to the back of a fund-raising letter so that donations could be returned immediately (rather than waiting for a fund-raiser to follow up with a phone call). A corporate travel coordinator might find that he's able to offer travel services to another company, thereby earning small commissions that can offset expenses in your travel budget. Or a training director might see a valuable market for her training programs outside of her company and generate add-on business revenues by offering on-site training workshops to other companies in the field. However you look at it, these nonsales employees have made money for their past employers and will probably bring similar creative insights to your firm.

What happens if nonsales candidates are unable to come up with an answer to this challenging query? Then use an alternative query that will help them identify how they've benefited a previous company from a cost-savings standpoint.

What have you done to reduce your department's operational costs or to save time?

Why Ask This Question?

Staff employees typically identify their achievements via their ability to reduce operational expenses (as opposed to generating revenues). Staff departments like human resources, accounting, office services, and information technology are noncore segments of a business that support the revenue-raising activities of line departments. Staff workers, therefore, focus on increasing the efficiency of the organization by building a stronger infrastructure to get things done. The more efficient the systems used to bring a product to market, the more time saved. As the saying goes, time is money. So asking a support or staff worker to identify decreased costs or saved time provides the candidate with a comfortable alternative if the question about generating revenue fails.

Analyzing the Response

This question is critical if your goal is to identify ''economic advocates'' who view your company as if it were their own. Economic advocacy theory proposes that employers totally involve their workers in the costs of running business operations and the revenues and profits currently being generated. Companies that espouse this theory practice a policy of open financials to empower workers with the necessary information to conduct the business as if it were their own. After all, sharing the monthly costs of office space, supplies, and parking passes with employees goes a long way in developing a sense of appreciation for the costs of doing business. Likewise, sharing revenue goals builds camaraderie among informed and empowered workers.

Regardless of whether (or to what degree) your particular company espouses such financial disclosure practices, finding people who look beyond their immediate functional areas to reduce costs will have a direct impact on your bottom line. Committed employees generate ideas to increase the work flow and suggest improvements outside of their departments. Such a profit-and-loss orientation should prove a significant benefit to any company wanting to redefine itself in a quickly changing marketplace.

Good Answers. A human resources manager might reduce annual cost-per-hire expenses (hiring costs divided by the number of new hires) by implementing a successful employee referral program. A production control coordinator might increase unit output by eliminating minor costs associated with rework. Or a fax attendant might have taken it upon himself to employ Post-It flyers instead of cover letters, thereby saving one facsimile page per document.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. If candidates have a difficult time coming up with ways to prove their economic advocacy tendencies, take them through a mini-questioning scenario that helps them mentally move from the features of their jobs (what they merely do to earn a paycheck) to the benefits they provide their employers. Let's look at three separate candidates to see how you could encourage candidates to attain a higher realization of their achievements:

Step 1: I assume, Mary, that as a fax attendant/plant engineer/controller, your job is to coordinate a large workload and meet very specific deadlines for your department. How do you measure your productivity?

Initial Responses

Fax attendant: ''By the number of faxes I send out and receive.''

Plant engineer: ''By the quality of the repairs I make so that problems, once fixed, don't interrupt production again.''

Controller: ''By output of my payables, receivables, and payroll staff.''

Step 2: And how does your company, in a broader sense, benefit from your achievements?

Enhanced Responses

Fax attendant: ''I facilitate communications and get the proper information into the hands of decision makers so that business gets carried out.''

Plant engineer: ''I support the manufacturing production process by calibrating test instruments to ensure that the liquids and powders flowing through the production cylinders are distributed equally.''

Controller: ''I ensure that payroll is met each pay period and maintain the integrity of our credit rating.''

Step 3: Then I would ask you to go even beyond that in terms of your ultimate impact on the company's bottom line. How have your activities reduced your company's operating expenses or saved time by increasing the work flow?

Ultimate Responses

Fax attendant: ''I've been able to juggle a higher volume of inbound and outbound faxes without error, so I've cut down on unnecessary phone calls, increased our department's monthly production numbers, and made my boss's life a lot easier.''

Plant engineer: ''The calibration mechanisms in the testing instruments that we used to measure powder and liquid distribution were refined to increase efficiencies. Those increases in efficiency measures helped the company control the production process and reduce costs associated with inaccurate container injection.''

Controller: ''I've been able to keep the financial end of my company running smoothly. I never missed a payroll deadline, I increased the effectiveness of our accounts receivable program by training my people to become actively involved collectors, and I ensured that our creditworthiness was untainted.''

Voila—a simple three-step questioning method to help uncover candidates' achievements by questioning them on a benefit-to-solution level as opposed to a more traditional evaluation that focuses strictly on the features of their respective jobs.

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