The first thing you need to decide when you lose a key manager is whether you need to hire a “winner” or a “potential winner” to replace this person. Winners are individuals who have demonstrated that they can do the exact job you need done. They are hard to find and they cost money, but they are relatively easy to supervise. All they need to know is what the goals are.
If the last manager was a winner and you worked well with that person, you might need to search extensively to get the same type of individual. If you can’t afford or don’t think you can find—or take the time to find—a winner, your next alternative is to hire a potential winner. Potential winners are individuals who have promise, but have not demonstrated the ability do the specific job you need done. They are less expensive to hire but they require time and training to develop the skills for the job at hand. Do you have that kind of time? Can you afford to train someone to take the last person’s place?
As you interview an individual, how do you tell whether you have a winner? Let me suggest a process you might use. When you interview job applicants, attempt to find out as much about them and their background as you can. As they explain their past, probe with appropriate questions along the way to learn how they have arrived at their current position in life. After you get a sense of the person’s personal and professional background, share with him or her the key responsibility areas in the position you have open. Be as detailed as you can regarding your concerns and expectations. This process will give you an initial sense of the quality of person you are dealing with.
After this phase of interviewing, you will be able to narrow down the field to the best potential candidates for the job.
During the second interview, give the person a pad and pencil and have him or her prepare a strategy to follow if he or she were to get the job—that is, what would be done first, followed by what would be done within the next three, six and nine months. Give the applicant an hour to complete this task. Tell him or her that you will want to read the prepared statement as well as listen to an oral presentation. This will give you not only a sense of the person’s ability to think and plan, but it will also indicate his or her level of initiative, organization, and creativity as well as ability to communicate and present ideas verbally and in writing.
After you have heard the presentation, talk about it. Ask what kind of supervision he or she would need from you in each of the key responsibility areas of the position: Close supervision (known in Situational Leadership® II as a Directing leadership style); both direction and support along with participation in decision making (a Coaching leadership style); support, encouragement and listening (a Supporting leadership style); or could you leave the person alone with minimal supervision (a Delegating leadership style)?
Suggest that the amount of direction the person will need will depend on his or her level of competence in the areas of responsibility, and that the amount of support and involvement you will provide will depend on his or her level of confidence in performing each task or goal. For example, for you to effectively use a Delegating leadership style, the person would need to be highly competent and confident at the task at hand. Whereas, if the person is an “enthusiastic beginner” (SLII® language), more direction will be needed. Suggest that the person look at each of the responsibilities separately and be ready to talk with you in terms of what kind of supervision might be necessary.
While your new candidate is working on analyzing his or her own development level and the appropriate leadership style needed to be effectively supervised in each responsibility area, you would do the same in relation to what you have learned about the person. After you each have analyzed appropriate supervisory approaches on various tasks or goals, you would come together and talk about the kind of supervision that person would probably need.
What is fascinating about this exercise is that you are essentially contracting for a leadership style with the person before he or she has been hired. This way, you can find out whether this person is a winner who can be generally supervised or a potential winner who will require a greater degree of direct supervision and control.
Hiring a replacement for a key position is not a simple task—it’s something that must be done with great care. The ideas I’ve presented here have helped me many times to make the best hiring decision—I hope they help you, too!