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Start your Succession Planning in the Interview

Start your Succession Planning in the Interview

By: Alan Berson, co-author with Richard G. Stieglitz of Leadership Conversations: Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

When interviewing for your next superstar, start with the end in mind. 

Consider both short and long term organizational needs so that the person you hire today for any management or leadership position is someone who fits into your succession planning strategy. 

Here are 5 ways to hire the best candidate and usher in a new generation of leaders:

1) Focus on who they are, not what they’ve done
Assess accurately your own company culture so you have a baseline from which to evaluate a candidate. Hire someone who is interested in learning rather than in telling you how much they know. 

Look for their openness — being willing to change their mind — during the interview when you offer them new facts or scenarios.

Put more weight on how they think, the values they exhibit and their determination to grow themselves and others over time rather than how well they have accomplished tasks in the past. 

2) Determine how they progress from thoughts to action

In Leadership Conversations: Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders, we detail the three primary indicators of future leadership potential. These include:

  • Mindsets
  • Perspectives 
  • Conversation type

All three provide you with insight into how your candidate thinks and communicates to ensure their actions will connect and align them with others. 

See if the candidate has both the courage to do the right things as well as the character to do them, even when no one is watching. 

During the interview, ask: “Tell me about a time you were tempted to take a shortcut in achieving your objectives, what happened?”

3) Find the right mix of mindsets
Discern how they frame their world and think through the job responsibilities you present to them. 

For instance: Do they see their job as fixing problems or creating opportunities?  Do they naturally form trusted as well as transactional relationships?

Depending on the culture of your organization and the context of the job, determine the percentage of time they devote to management (achieving short-term objectives) versus leadership (people orientation and creating an inspirational vision). 

Every manager and leader must understand and utilize both mindsets; yet the higher the position they hold, the more they must favor the leadership one. 

Have them take the assessment during the interview — it takes only 2 to 3 minutes and provides instant results.

4) Use multiple conversation perspectives
Powerful leaders ask great questions and experienced managers provide great answers.

Look for balance between the candidate answering your questions and asking probing questions about the position and opportunity you are presenting.

Ideally the interview is a dialog, not alternating monologs. Listen to the specific words they use and the types of questions they ask. Ensure that they are as interested in the big picture and other people’s needs as they are about themselves and their personal goals. 

Ask yourself if this is a well-rounded person who will embrace diversity and change and be innovative in dealing with today’s turbulent environment, while also fulfilling the routine challenges of the position.  

Evaluate their level of curiosity by evaluating how well they prepared for the interview by researching you, the position and your company. 

Examine their individual capabilities and teaming instincts as well as their ability to see the big picture to see how well they are able to meet today’s challenges. 

During the interview process, ask: “How did you come up with the last great idea you implemented?” “What was your thought process to build upon the idea?” 

5) Focus on all four conversation types
There are four Leadership Conversations:

  • Building relationships
  • Developing others
  • Making decisions
  • Taking action 

If the candidate focuses on decision-making and taking action, ask how he or she forms business relationships and develops their direct reports. 

Unless they also embrace building relationships and developing others, they will have difficulty rallying support when a tight deadline or difficult challenge looms. 

On the other hand, if they focus on building relationships and developing others, make sure they follow up on those conversations to make good decisions and take effective actions. 

Ask a series of interview questions such as:

“What is the best decision you ever made and how did you arrive at it?”

“How well were you able to implement the actions based on that decision?”

“How agile were you when the need to change direction became apparent?”

“How did the decisions affect your relationships with your team and what did you learn while pursuing the project?”

The Ultimate Consideration
The best hiring decision is based on how well the applicant builds your trust and respect, rather than on how much you like them. 

Being liked is a personal trait, while trust and respect are a reflection of leadership.

If you finish the interview impressed with the applicant’s great questions and they respectfully pushed you into a learning zone, you have found the candidate to hire – one who will be a future leader in your organization.

Leadership Conversations: Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders by Alan Berson and Richard G. Stieglitz

Author Bio:
Alan S. Berson
is co-author of Leadership Conversations: Challenging High Potential Managers to Become Great Leaders published by Jossey-Bass; he is an Executive Coach and a Learning Director at Wharton Executive Education.

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