by Shayne Thomas
22 Jan 2021
Hiring a Good Manager Is Not Always Easy
4 important questions to ask when interviewing for future people managers
We were not all born to be people managers. In fact, many of us have fallen into that position almost by default, whether or not we wanted to be in that position in the first place.
Here’s where the problem lies. The prevailing linear career development mindset in American work culture today, even if this is purely subconscious, has hardwired an unfortunate truism in our heads: As employees progress in their careers, part of that career progression will eventually require managing direct reports or overseeing entire teams.
There’s a lot of wrong with this thinking. First off, career paths are no longer linear. There are more possibilities now than ever before to chart a career path—or rather, ‘lattice’—that both lets employees continue to play to their strengths and work their way up to the ‘top’ without necessarily going down the people management path at any point.
This thinking also presupposes that the people who are the best at their jobs early on—and thus, get promoted up the chain by merit (or unabashed brown-nosing)—must embrace people management with open arms when bestowed the honor. It’s akin to a rite of passage. Even so, 70% of frontline managers have said that they weren’t ready for promotion into leadership ranks, while 17% only accepted the role because they felt it was the right thing to do.
But the truth is, managing people shouldn’t be a ‘rite of passage’ nor should anyone feel coerced to take on a role they aren’t ready for. People management is a critical responsibility that managers must take seriously. That’s why the best people managers in this world have had to commit to being great people managers at the exact moment when being responsible for the welfare, success, and happiness of other people became a part of their job description.
“The best organizations believe that not everyone should be a manager, and they create high-value career paths for individual contributor roles. No one should feel like their progress depends on being promoted to manager.”
— Gallup, 4 Factors Driving Record-High Employee Engagement in U.S.
Employees quit because of their managers
According to DDI’s Frontline Leader Project, 57% of employees have left their companies because of their experience with a boss or manager. And another 79% of employees cite leaving their jobs because of a lack of appreciation from managers and senior leaders.
This all points to one thing: Employees don’t leave companies, they leave their managers. Of course, this is not new news. However, what’s most troubling here is that, in spite of hearing this same drum beat over the last few years, nothing has really changed.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that employee engagement continues to be low. Since Gallup began tracking employee engagement in 2000, “active disengagement” fell to an all-time low of 13% in 2019, while “active engagement” hit an all-time high of 35%. Unfortunately, the remaining 52% fall into the “not engaged” category, showing that there’s still some work to do.
Lastly, and perhaps most problematically, is that managers are not typically set up for success. In fact, a study by CareerBuilder.com revealed that 58% of managers surveyed said they didn’t receive any management training. So while those people may have risen to leadership ranks because they were good at their jobs, they were suddenly tossed into those positions without any real training whatsoever. Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton even found that “leaders everywhere in the world have a tendency to name the wrong person manager and then train them on administrative things—not how to maximize human potential."
All of this creates a perfect storm around employee dissatisfaction—both for managers and the people they manage. But how can business finally turn the tide?
Hiring people managers must be done with a critical eye
Finding, recruiting, and eventually hiring the right talent to manage people and teams is more critical than ever before. The stats around employee engagement—or the lack thereof—is a testament to that. Whether promoting employees internally or looking outside to breathe new life into a team’s dynamic, hiring managers must do some serious due diligence to ensure that the people they hire—regardless of how good they are at their day-to-day jobs—can truly excel in a newfound people management role.
Remember, anyone can say that they are excited about the opportunity to manage people or a team during the interview process. And just because someone hasn’t managed people before shouldn’t automatically disqualify them from taking this next important step in their careers. If someone is willing to learn the ropes and take on this added responsibility with open arms, the right training and support can go a long way.
However, if you only ask the standard, run-of-the-mill interview questions, you are going to get standard, run-of-the-mill answers—none that will help you determine whether someone is truly fit and ready to be a people manager. So to weed out the people who can make a difference in their teams’ lives, here are the interview questions you need to ask:
1. Who was your favorite person to work for—and why?
While the list of “best bosses” probably is quite small compared to “nightmare bosses” (again, the data speaks for itself), our most loved managers typically leave an indelible mark in our minds. Why? Because, for one reason or another, they set a positive example of what it means to be a good boss and, through workplace osmosis, trained us to lead in their footsteps. Asking this question is, therefore, a good indicator of what potential new hires may see as the leadership or management style that will best represent them once they assume their new role.
2. Do you consider yourself competitive?
This is a tricky question—and one that can quickly spell disaster for some candidates who don’t see the brilliant nuance baked into it. Here’s why. A competitive instinct isn’t a bad thing. We all have goals to achieve—even as teams—and, to a certain extent, need our bosses to motivate us and be our biggest cheerleaders in hitting and even surpassing those goals whenever we can. But too much is too much. Someone with a deeply ingrained competitive spirit can create a team dynamic that’s focused squarely on achieving results above all else, leaving the more human aspect of people management to slowly die on the vine. Even worse, these competitive types, while typically having the best of intentions, may inadvertently cause their employees to feel bad or less worthy when they fail to meet expectations. This can create a toxic environment that, you guessed it, will have employees planning their exit strategy, fast.
3. When were you really proud of someone else in the workplace?
Many candidates come to interviews ready to talk about themselves and their own achievements. Asking this question is a complete curveball. Not only does it force them to be quick on their feet, but it also gives them an opportunity to show their more empathetic side. A strong manager is someone who thrives on celebrating the wins of the people on their team and are genuinely invested in their success. To be honest, you don’t need to be a manager to embody these traits—and this is exactly what this question gets at.
Even if someone has only been an individual contributor up to this point, and perhaps have had to do a lot of fending for themselves in those roles, they have also likely had myriad opportunities to celebrate their team members’ wins. (Preferably, without jealousy or resentment.) Someone who understands the value in working towards the greater good and sees the world as “the sum of its parts” is well-positioned to be a solid manager. The only caveat here is that, while this more empathetic approach to people management is important, it can’t get in the way of goal-setting and achieving results. It’s a fine balance!
4. How often will you talk about performance and development?
All research points to employees thriving most when managers provide continuous feedback and are truly invested in helping them achieve their professional goals. If a candidate leans too heavily on the annual review process, they may not be equipped with the right tools or even feel comfortable having feedback-driven conversations. How candidates respond to this question can give a pretty solid indication of how much they value feedback, how they handle difficult conversations, how much time they’re willing to carve out of their own day-to-day to manage their team’s development and growth, and so on.
Now keep in mind that some candidates may come from workplaces without a culture of continuous feedback, so they may not know any better. This shouldn’t automatically put them on the chopping block. Parts of being a great manager require ongoing training—and if they show a willingness to learn, then that’s already half of the battle won. In this case, however, you may have to prod a little more, asking them about how they feel about continuous feedback, in order to assess how well they’ll fit in your company’s management culture.
Don’t risk hiring the wrong manager
The stakes are high. There’s a big difference between hiring the right manager and the wrong manager. And you certainly can’t afford to let the latter happen. By asking the right questions upfront, you can begin to weed out the candidates, identifying those who will make the best managers and, as a result, help keep your employees productive, motivated, happy, and, of course, around for the long haul.
If you need some help training your leaders and managers to be the best they can possibly be, good news for you: We’ve got tons of great resources in Cornerstone Learning for your team to take advantage of immediately. Reach out to our HR experts today to learn more!