In a recent post I suggested managerial fit is more important to a person’s success than cultural fit. While 95% agreed, a few people commented that when a person is assigned a new manager, things often go awry. This is sad but true. With this in mind, let me offer some advice on how to interview candidates for management positions. The idea is if more than three or four of the following caution flags are raised, you’ll likely encounter some serious morale and management problems within a few weeks after the manager starts.

  1. Emphasis on individual over management accomplishments. I always ask candidates to describe their major accomplishments at each past job. I expect managers to proactively describe their management accomplishments.
  2. The quality of the people they hire is suspect. As part of the major management accomplishment question I have managers rank the quality of each team member and to justify their rankings. Be concerned with average teams or superficial rankings.
  3. Too rigid a management style. Good managers have the ability to modify their style to meet the developmental needs of their subordinates. The “one size fits all” style of management is a huge caution flag.
  4. Has not passed through the management tipping point. I try to find out when the person got more satisfaction managing a team and developing people than from being an individual contributor. It should be in their first management position or no later than their second.
  5. Limited comparable management accomplishments. During the major management accomplishment question, dig into the scope of their responsibilities, span of control, level of sophistication, comparability of the systems involved and the scale and complexity of the work. There needs to be a reasonable fit on all of these dimensions.
  6. No formal recognition for strong management. For each major accomplishment ask candidates to describe the formal recognition they received. Get very concerned when this is vague or limited.
  7. Planning and budgeting is reactive, limited or not comparable. Have the candidate walk you through the entire planning process for one major management accomplishment. Be concerned if the person brings too much or too little to the table.
  8. Hasn’t hired any strong former staff members. Good managers have the ability to attract good people including some of their former team members. First get their names and then find out how the manager determined their quality.
  9. Hasn’t volunteered for or been assigned stretch management tasks. As part of the developmental process the best managers handle increasingly more difficult management challenges. The best managers seek out these assignments to stretch and test themselves.
  10. Magnifies rather than insulates team from stress. Find out how the person manages the team and assigns work when things get nasty. Weaker managers haven’t learned that you can’t push on a rope.
  11. A shift from internal to external and multi-functional thinking. The best managers have the ability to balance the business needs of the company and other functions with their own departmental needs. The weaker ones are too inward focused.
  12. Environmental, cultural or business misfit. This is a catch-all for everything not defined above. The point: You need to dig deep into the pressures and pace of the organization, depth of resources and support available, and any unusual cultural issues. Lack of flexibility on these factors is of concern.

Hiring managers who hire and manage other people is a big deal. Unfortunately, too often the emphasis during the interview is on assessing individual contributor skills not management skills. By digging into a candidate’s most significant management accomplishments you’ll be able to spot the problems noted above and avoid hiring weak managers. Most important, don’t eliminate candidates too soon who are quiet, thoughtful, or come from different industries and have different backgrounds. Often these are the people who make the best managers. But you’ll never find these gems unless you take the time to do it right. It will be time well spent.