April 11, 2012
By: Ed Muzio
If you’re a staffing professional who’s looking to fill management positions, there are common managerial skills that will be crucial to find in the qualified candidate -- whether you’re hiring a regional sales manager, a retail store manager, or anyone who oversees the work of others.
Why do you need to know them? Simple: Your client might not.
When it comes to hiring a manager, it’s easy for even the savviest clients to lose their way.
Some may get so caught up in philosophical conversations about “good” management skills that they fail to list the manager skills they actually seek.
Others might focus so narrowly on writing a manager job description -- what they need THIS manager to do in THIS position -- that they fail to consider the more general question of what ALL their managers do well.
Either way, such an omission is a major one. To fill any type of manager job description, you need someone with real management skills -- including those that go beyond any one specific role.
Your knowledge of managerial skills is a core part of your own value as a staffing consultant. You might elect to teach it to your customers, or you may just decide to quietly use it in your recruitment strategies.
Either way, it will help you to provide a better fit than your competitors, because you’ll know what your customers truly require.
Here are some managerial skills worth exploring with any management candidate.
The core function of management is to get other people doing things.
Managers must be able to clearly verbalize tasks and follow up as needed.
Whether it’s a production supervisor explaining output requirements to a line worker, or a program manager speaking conceptually about product offerings and market demand, a manager must be able to make his or her team understand their work.
At first glance this sounds so obvious! Yet, anyone who has managed people can tell you that setting and articulating goals is tremendously challenging.
When it comes to goals, effective communication skills require a host of abilities including:
- Structured thinking (to define the goal)
- Clear communication (to relay it)
- Patience (to facilitate understanding of it)
- Empathic listening (to gauge acceptance of it)
That’s just the start. When goals are complex or dynamic, this process becomes even more challenging.
Make sure your screening process includes investigation of your candidates’ to articulate goals and assignments. Ask candidates about challenges in setting goals for previous groups, then gauge both their skill in goal setting and how much focus they place on it.
Or, ask prospective managers to share some of the goals of their last group, as if you were a new employee there. This will give you insight into their style of communication -- provided you understand their last position well enough to gauge their responses.
Planning and Execution
If you’ve ever worked for a micromanager -- or an absentee boss -- you know that good management is a balancing act between involvement and freedom.
A manager must strike a balance between supporting and interacting with employees while staying out of their way as they work.
This is easy to say, but difficult to do -- talented managers know that it’s more dynamic art than static science. Employee skill and commitment levels, project complexity, task urgency, performance history and a variety of other factors inform these decisions.
Where novice managers either fail to realize a balance, or blindly use the same approach every time, more sophisticated managers monitor and adjust constantly.
Managers who struggle here may well struggle to get output from their teams over time.
As you screen candidates, explore their approaches to this balance. When conducting the interview, ask interviewees to share experiences that illustrate how they decide when to intervene with employees, and when to trust them to make and execute plans themselves.
Or, ask whether prospective managers consider themselves to be “hands-on” or “hands-off,” and then probe for their willingness to allow exceptions to the rule.
Embracing the Bad News
It’s inevitable: Every team hits bumps in the road. Equipment fails, projects fall behind, customers complain and employees call in sick.
While managers should certainly work to forestall preventable problems, hiring a manager with the notion that he or she will prevent any trouble is like trying to hire someone to guarantee good weather.
Instead, your candidate should have enough managerial skills to flex when problems arise, adjust plans as needed, and deliver the best possible results given the challenges faced. To do this, managers must get and act upon good information.
Unfortunately, good information is often the opposite of good news. Managers who avoid bad news, and those who consciously or unconsciously punish messengers, are at a distinct disadvantage.
Whether it’s an early warning from a factory worker that a piece of equipment is performing just below par, or a heads-up from a project lead about a key milestone falling behind, managers who “don’t want to hear it” are left in the dark.
When screening managerial candidates, find out how they handle bad news. Ask about the worst piece of news they ever got from an employee, and how they responded.
Or, ask about situations in which their reports were running behind schedule and probe for how soon they discovered the problems.
It’s one thing to say “only bring me solutions” as a way of encouraging independent thinking. But managers who avoid problems altogether forego the opportunity to work around them.
Finding the Fit
Of course, every managerial position has its own job requirements. As staffing consultant, your job is to deliver candidates who meet client needs.
You no doubt rely heavily on those client-dictated criteria. As you search for the perfect candidate, never forget the one common truth to all staffing consultants: We owe our clients what serves them best, whether or not they can fully define it for us.
Edward G. Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics, is the author of the award-winning books Make Work Great: Supercharge Your Team, Reinvent the Culture, and Gain Influence One Person at a Time and Four Secrets to Liking Your Work: You May Not Need to Quit to Get the Job You Want. An expert in workplace improvement and its relationship to individual enjoyment, Muzio has been featured on Fox Business Network, CBS, and other national media. For more information visit Make Work Great and follow the author on Facebook.