Senior Management Evaluations: Leaders, Mentors, and Effective Decision Makers

SENIORMANAGERIAL CANDIDATES come in all shapes and sizes. Some want ultimate responsibility for their operations and insist on making all the decisions themselves. Others define themselves as fiercely loyal to their people and pride themselves on the teams they build by promoting their direct reports. Some march to their own drummers without necessarily linking their agendas to the company's bottom line. Still others are more comfortable not making waves and look for sign-off from above before implementing any new programs. These are all very human inclinations, but because senior managers maintain such a high profile in corporate America, their work habits and business philosophies warrant much closer scrutiny. Few people, after all, will be able to influence your corporate culture and increase top-line revenues more than your senior management team.

Only you know how to determine profitability for your particular line of business. This chapter will consequently focus not on the nuts and bolts of revenue generation but on the people issues surrounding candidates' actions. The challenge in any senior managerial interview is to create and maintain a balance between the macro business issues and the daily operational activities encountered by each candidate. That's because translating strategic issues into tactical objectives is the measuring rod against which managerial effectiveness is gauged. As a result, your interview questioning techniques should typically look for concrete examples of candidates' people strategies'' and their track records for influencing an organization's corporate culture.

Can you give me an example of your ability to facilitate progressive change within your organization?

Why Ask This Question?

Progressive change may certainly be evidenced by technological innovations in the workplace. That's especially the case when evaluating senior information technology candidates who focus their solutions on developing client servers, implementing predictive dialing units to increase outbound call volume exponentially, or automating manual systems to expand the organization's capacity for output.

Most senior managers outside of the data-processing realm, however, will define their achievements by facilitating change according to productivity—not technological—issues. But before productivity changes can be determined, production measurements need to be established and then ratcheted up according to the talents of the workforce. Therefore, real productivity change is often tied to new expectations being established for the staff. Your focal point in assessing a candidate's response will consequently target how the individual achieved buy-in for the new programs and established more of a performance culture.

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. How do senior executives implement change management? One of the ways is by making information available to everyone and creating an entrepreneurial mentality where workers assume ownership of their projects as if they were outside consultants bidding for the company's business. Another way is to give everyone a piece of the action and tie compensation to group performance as opposed to individual productivity. Similarly, look for executives who make organizational commitments to lifelong learning and a continuous improvement ethos by encouraging their staff members to further their own professional educations and, in turn, offer the company more creativity and innovation.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. For example, let's assume you're interviewing a plant manager for your liquid and powder detergent manufacturing plant to streamline production procedures and increase plant productivity. The candidate has a track record for running a productive operation at a competitor firm—a plant that was close to extinction before she came aboard. Your interviewing mission, in this case, will be to learn how she diagnosed and solved production problems through people. You might ask:

''How did you gain a firm understanding of what was working and what wasn't when you first took over the plant?''

''How hands-on were you in working the production line and sitting in on planning meetings with the engineers?''

''How were the ideas for streamlining production developed: Did you encourage team suggestions or have a mandate from headquarters to artificially impose new production standards?''

''What kind of resistance did you encounter from your existing staff?'' ''What were the criteria you used in hiring new staff?''

''How did you improve the baseline? Without thought to how the plant was currently processing soap products, what did you need to do to make the process better?''

''What kinds of cost factors did you consider to meet the organization's redefined needs?''

''How did you negotiate with corporate to attain the necessary improvements?'' ''And finally, how effective were you at negotiating costs with vendors?''

This is an ideal setting, by the way, to implement behavioral questioning techniques:

''Tell me about your biggest obstacle—was it with people, budgets, or a stubborn and unyielding corporate culture? Give me an example of a reluctant compromise you had to make in order to reach your goal. How would the executive vice president to whom you reported grade your accomplishments in that plant's transition? Give me an example of something you would do differently if you had the chance to do it all over again.''

Does this seem like a lot to ask a candidate? Absolutely! But facilitating change is a lengthy process that defines itself by planned benchmarks and the attainment of preestablished goals. The people factor is critical at every step of the process, and this type of query allows you a window through which to measure the candidate's dealings with subordinates, superiors, and vendors. In short, it provides a prism through which you can see the future.

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