The 2-Question Test for Assessing Leadership and Potential

Over the past few weeks I’ve written a number of posts suggesting that assessing leadership and potential needs to be part of every interview for every job.

The techniques described have been successfully used to help a not-for-profit hire 100 thousand camp counselors one summer, a quick service restaurant hire thousands of high school grads to rapidly expand its chain on the west coast, and hundreds of large and small companies hire thousands of engineers, accountants, account executives, call center reps, managers and executives regardless of industry.

In his new book, The End of Average, Harvard professor Todd Rose even suggested that the Performance-based Hiring process underlying this approach was the ideal means to break free from outdated thinking about skills and experience by emphasizing individual performance and potential.

Despite the effectiveness of the Performance-based Interview I think it’s not sufficient since it, like all interviews, emphasizes the quality of spontaneous answers rather than the quality of well-reasoned answers. That’s why I suggested adding PowerPoint-like controlled interviews, more open-ended discussions, the use of well-organized panel interviews and take-home problem-solving questions into the process. (Click here for more on these topics.)

The take-home case study incorporates all of these concepts. The idea is to give the final candidates a realistic job-related problem to evaluate as part of the final interviewing round. The candidate’s approach to the solution is then presented to the core hiring team as part of a give-and-give discussion.

Let me use a real example to describe the process. As part of a search for a VP Marketing position for a mid-size manufacturing company, there was concern the candidate did not have enough detailed product experience. To address the issue I suggested the finalist describe how he would lead the effort to put together a three-year product roadmap and present his approach at a group meeting. I was there with the CEO, VP Engineering, VP Sales, two board members and the CFO.

The candidate was told he should prepare a 15-20 minute overview of his approach covering some basic industry trends and describe how he would get the information needed to put the product roadmap together. During this presentation, the candidate was told he would be fielding questions from the interviewing team on the assumptions he used and anything regarding his overall planning and the approach taken. It took about an hour to complete this part of the case study. While the candidate didn’t have all of the answers, his approach to getting the information and knowing what he didn’t know was insightful. As important was how the candidate interfaced with the team, asked clarifying questions and presented complex information.

However, this was only the first half of the evaluation. The candidate was told ahead of time he would also be asked to describe something he accomplished that was most comparable to preparing the work that was required. This is the Anchor in the Anchor and Visualize leadership assessment questioning pattern. He used a few PowerPoint slides to describe another product roadmap effort he led when he was a product manager for a bigger company. The subsequent fact-finding questions revealed his ability to understand tough technical issues, and convince engineers to modify their approach in the face of challenging marketing conditions while addressing some overriding financial constraints of the organization.

The candidate was hired and was successful until the CEO decided he was more concerned with the product roadmap and less concerned with raising the capital needed to grow the company. Regardless, the Anchor and Visualizing questioning pattern is a great way to assess leadership. The ability to figure out a solution to a problem and put together a comprehensive plan of action is a critical first step. If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never get there, but delivering the solution is just as important.

What I’ve discovered is that there are plenty of people who can successfully handle the Anchor and Visualize questioning approach who never get the chance. The problem: In the interview they’re judged on how quickly they respond to interviewing questions, not how thoughtful their responses are. That’s why the take-home case study provides a better means to assess competency and fit. It gives the person time to consider a problem, present his/her findings and interact with the team. By anchoring the visualization question you also have confidence the person can deliver on the plan. While it takes time and organization to implement the process, it takes more time to correct a hiring mistake.