How effective is this person at orchestrating a corporate ensemble of functional areas?

Why Ask This Question?

Higher-level managers often oversee multiple functional areas. The lines of supervision may be direct or indirect, but the bottom line is that the organizational chart can point to only one ultimate source of responsibility. Line (revenue-producing) and staff (noncore, operational, and supportive) functions work together just like woodwinds, brass, and strings in a symphony. But what can separate a sleepy little company from a lean performer poised for growth is often a management team's shared understanding and appreciation of what it takes to run the company from a more global perspective. Senior managers must consequently see to it that their direct reports understand the financial end of the business and comprehend the way their departments connect to the rest of the company.

Analyzing the Response

This query is probably the loftiest of all the questions put forth in this book. After all, if the person isn't successful at coordinating an ensemble of functional areas—in other words, managing—then he or she should be in a different line of business! The application of this question, however, isn't as grand and lofty as you might think. Its real focus is to identify a senior management candidate's inclination toward open financials and economic advocacy—that is, the individual's willingness to share profit-and-loss information and company performance status with the rest of the management team.

It is not uncommon in small, privately held companies for owners to guard the books rigidly. ''Employees don't need to know how the company is doing—they just need to do their jobs'' is the hard-line mantra taken toward information sharing. Publicly traded companies, on the other hand, legally have to make financial performance data available. That includes documenting the number of shares of common stock the CEO has outstanding as well as the makeup of key executives' compensation packages. Still, even if the information is public, that doesn't mean that an organization will purposely disclose such data to employees. After all, if employees don't know to look at 10K, 10Q, and proxy statement filings, then they're none the worse for wear, right?

Although it's not uncommon for companies to maintain a veil of secrecy around corporate performance, cutting-edge organizations with enlightened management teams voluntarily involve their managers in global performance issues. The logic goes that if all the employees see which way the ship is sailing, they'll have a greater understanding of how their masts should be strung. And should the ship suddenly change course, they will be able to adapt more quickly to the captain's new needs if they're aware of the overall goal.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. Therefore, to make this seemingly lofty query a practical tool in the reference-checking process, ask a past supervisor:

''As CFO, Dave Tolle was overseeing human resources, the information technology group, accounting, and administrative services . . .

''How did he encourage the heads of those departments to advertise their services to other parts of the company?''

''Did he hold ongoing meetings with his direct reports to encourage them to work together, or did he discourage that kind of intermingling?''

''Did he involve his people in the financials of the organization at all and expect them to take on an ownership mentality, or was that strictly his domain?''

''Should I expect him to be very proactive at coordinating the activities of the various departments he'll oversee at this firm if I bring him aboard, or will he keep the functional areas fairly separate?''

With answers to questions like these factoring into your employment decision, you should be feeling much more confident about the kind of human being you're considering and his projected impact on your existing staff.

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