Managerial positions are extremely important to organizational performance. These roles are critical because they serve to ensure that organizations execute their strategic objectives. The importance of these positions to the organization places a premium on the use of effective hiring processes. This article provides an overview of the basic elements associated with the managerial hiring process as well as a discussion of the increasing influence technology has on this process. Defining Managerial Performance The term “manager” is widely used within the workplace and is attached to a broad range of positions. It’s often used to describe a continuum of jobs that range from first level supervision all the way to entry-level corporate leadership roles. While the specific tasks and outcomes associated with individual managerial roles may differ quite a bit between organizations, all managerial level positions share some common elements in terms of the responsibilities associated with them. These include:
- Accountability for the performance of others
- Accountability for support of strategic business initiatives
- Increased levels of responsibility associated with execution of organizational initiatives
- Responsibility for effective decision making
- Responsibilities for alignment with, and championing of, corporate culture or values
- Accountability for increased levels of technical or job specific knowledge
- Accountability for continual personal development and improvement and initiative to develop career path within the company.
While the above responsibilities outline expectations for those holding managerial roles, they do not sufficiently define the major ingredients of job performance associated with these roles. Clearly defining managerial job performance is not a simple task, as it is the result of a complex blend of attitudes, values, traits, abilities, and experience that often differ across job levels, organizations, and situations. Thus, explaining managerial level job performance requires a model that defines the human traits that allow an individual to effectively fulfill these responsibilities. While there are a large number of models that have attempted to explain managerial level performance, I feel that all types of managerial jobs can be defined by five general areas. Within each of these areas lie a variety of elements that blend together to contribute to define performance related to it. 1. Achieving results. This area involves the following:
- Leadership/management skills. This involves the ability to foster teamwork, manage the performance of others, empower others towards a common goal, have courage to make leadership decisions, and to develop leadership skills in others.
2. Dealing with people. This area involves the following:
- Communication. The ability to effectively communicate with others in the workplace. This involves both oral and written communication as well as the ability to listen effectively and present information in a clear and persuasive manner.
- Interpersonal skills. This involves the ability to build relationships with others, to have political savvy, and to be able to negotiate with and influence others in order to help achieve key business outcomes.
3. Solving problems. This area involves the following:
- Cognitive skills. These involve the ability to understand and interpret key pieces of information and to use this information to solve problems and make effective decisions. This involves the ability to understand and analyze the elements of a situation, envision the required outcome, and make decisions that will ensure the successful achievement of this outcome.
4. Managing self. This area involves the following:
- Self management. This involves the ability to manage one self and to strive for continual improvement. This requires one to remain adaptable and flexible, understand personal weaknesses, and seek out opportunities to correct them.
5. Other underlying factors. This area involves the following:
- Job-specific technical competencies. This involves the technical knowledge required to perform the technical responsibilities associated with a job or role.
- Congruent values. This involves sharing the core values of the organization and helping promote and cultivate these values amongst subordinates.
It is important to understand that the above categories are highly inter-related. For instance, while achieving results is defined primarily by leadership skills, it also requires one to posses other factors such as problem solving skills and communication skills. The high degree of inter-relationship between the factors that define managerial success make clearly defining “what it takes” to be a successful manager quite difficult. Successful managerial performance is not related to any one thing, but rather is related to a complex blend of traits that define an individual’s ability to effectively meet the responsibilities associated with managerial level jobs. Key Differences The complexity of managerial positions means that systems for selecting individuals for these positions usually differ quite a bit from that used for hourly positions. Key differences between managerial and entry level selection systems include:
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- More information is required to make accurate decisions. Managerial level jobs are inherently more complex then entry level jobs. The more complex the requirements of a job become and the more inter-related the various traits required to perform the job well, the more difficult it becomes to accurately predict performance for that job. Accurately measuring what it take to perform a job requires the use of a variety of predictors.
- Making accurate decisions is more difficult. As job complexity goes up and additional predictors are required, accurately predicting performance becomes a non-linear exercise. That is, the inter-relationship between each of the many predictors does not allow for a simple interpretation of the data collected during the selection process.
- A clinical model leveraging expert judgment is required. Interpretation of complex data requires the use of what is called a “clinical model,” an expert who is experienced in understanding assessment results relative to job requirements examines a number of pieces of data and provides a detailed, narrative report regarding an individual’s suitability for a particular position. The clinical model requires a “gestalt,” or “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” perspective in which an expert is able to make interpretations that may not be clear to someone who does not have the training and experience required to use the evidence provided by predictors to create a picture of the degree of fit between a candidate and a specific position. In short, the value of the clinical model lies in expert judgment.
- Additional time and expense is required. The need to use a variety of predictors and to use a clinical approach to interpret their results makes managerial-level selection an expensive and time-consuming proposition. This is especially true when it is compared to the typical entry-level hiring process.
- Outcomes are much less objective in nature. The complexity of the responsibilities associated with managerial-level jobs means that it is often much more difficult to evaluate performance at these jobs using objective measures. This places a premium on the use of a strong performance management system that provides a process geared towards helping organizations to better understand the value a manager is providing in terms of assisting the organization in the achievement of strategic objectives.
- Linking selection to employee development is essential. There is further value in this model in that the interpretation and narrative are much the same as those yielded by high-touch leadership development programs. This allows for the use of clinical data collected during the hiring process for immediate transition into developmental planning. This is something that is much more difficult to do in systems using fewer, simpler predictors aimed at predicting basic attributes such as ensuring someone will show up for work when scheduled.
Tradeoffs The above differences clearly demonstrate the need for a more labor intensive, in-depth approach to selection. As with any selection system, the use of this type of strategy requires tradeoffs to be made. The tradeoffs associated with using a more labor intensive clinical selection model for hiring managers require organizations to understand and account for the following limitations.
- It’s time consuming. A good managerial selection system is very time consuming for all parties involved. It involves many steps and filling a position takes much longer then it does for simpler jobs.
- It’s costly. The clinical model is traditionally very expensive. Individual assessments can easily cost between $3,000 to $5,000 per candidate, more in some cases. When one considers the fact that not all candidates assessed will be selected, it is easy to see how the cost of this type of system can add up fast.
- It’s limited by the quality of the expert providing interpretation. The outcome of a managerial selection process is only as good as the information collected and the expert who interprets them. The money to be made providing expert judgment has led many unqualified persons to advertise their ability to help organizations make effective managerial hiring decisions.
- It’s not perfect. It is important to remember that predicting human performance is a very difficult proposition. This is especially true as the complexity for the job at which performance is being predicted goes up. Despite the deep investment made in expert judgment, it cannot be expected to be effective 100% of the time.
- It does not scale easily. It is very difficult to use a clinical based hiring process for high applicant volumes. This is possible however, increases in scale mean significant increases in expense and can protract the time required to fulfill positions.
- It’s hard to validate empirically. As the complexity of job performance increases, it becomes more difficult to gather direct, empirical evidence demonstrating the relationship between selection measures and the job performance of those hired using the system. The burden on demonstrating links to job performance fall on the organization’s performance management system.
- It’s labor intensive. Supporting a clinically based system requires that the organization collect and manage a great deal of materials.
- It has limited scope. Most of the time data collected during the hiring process is not leveraged to support other key organizational functions such as management of performance. This is unfortunate as the data collected using the clinical model is highly relevant to employee development initiatives.
The above weaknesses have placed the use of a clinical model out of reach for many organizations interested in creating effective managerial level selection systems. These same limitations lead other organizations to forgo the benefits of a clinically based system for lower levels of management, instead using it only for executive-level positions. This is unfortunate because the use of a careful, intensive, selection model that makes use of expert judgment to help organizations make important managerial level hiring decisions can make a significant difference in an organization’s ability to systematically select individuals who have the characteristics required to fulfill the responsibilities associated with managerial level positions and thus help to ensure the company is able to fulfill its strategic objectives. Technology Can Help Technology offers a way to help organizations overcome many of the traditional difficulties associated with effective managerial hiring. As with any type of hiring, technology alone does not provide all the answers; however, it has helped increase the efficiency and effectiveness of managerial hiring in the following ways:
- Sourcing applicants: The value of social networking. While employment branding is important for all jobs within an organization, a majority of managerial level jobs are filled via job seekers’ individual networks or the networks and research conducted by recruiters who are working to fill these jobs. Job boards are much less effective for filling these types of positions however, technology based social networking tools are extremely helpful for filling managerial level positions.
- Managing applicants: Facilitating coordination. Lower volumes of applicants and fewer positions to fill mean that dealing with volume is not the most critical area when it comes to managerial hiring. However, the ability to manage large amounts of detailed information regarding candidate suitability, the ability to manage a distributed hiring process in which many persons are involved is definitely of importance in many managerial hiring situations. This is especially true when managerial hiring initiatives are distributed across a wide range of locations.
- Predicting, managing, and ensuring applicant success: The value of expert systems. This is the area in which technology has the greatest value proposition for managerial hiring initiatives. No matter what type of job, technology offers value to the use of predictive tools because it provides the ability to more easily deploy these tools, score them, and return results to decision makers. While this is of value for any technology based assessment, technology offers additional value for more complex jobs which require the collection of more in-depth information and thus use of a larger number of predictors.
In managerial hiring the greatest value of technology lies in helping to actually interpret the data that has been collected and create meaning relative to the objective of the end user. This involves the use of technology based “expert systems.” Whatis.com defines an expert system as:
A computer program that simulates the judgment and behavior of a human or an organization that has expert knowledge and experience in a particular field. Typically, such a system contains a knowledge base containing accumulated experience and a set of rules for applying the knowledge base to each particular situation that is described to the program. Sophisticated expert systems can be enhanced with additions to the knowledge base or to the set of rules. Among the best-known expert systems have been those that assist in medical diagnosis.
Expert systems are the key to using technology to create value for managerial hiring because they facilitate the automation of the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” methodology that is critical to predicting success for positions with complex responsibilities. Typically, this methodology involves using a set of algorithms that have been created by experts to understand complex meaning associated with a set of data. These systems use knowledge to interpret higher-level meaning from this data and provide feedback that allows users to benefit from the system’s expertise. In the case of managerial selection, these systems have the capability to review assessment data and make higher order interpretations of the meaning this data has relative to managerial job performance. As with all walks of life, I feel we can expect to see an increasing number of expert systems employed as part of employee selection systems. As long as organizations do not seek to replace human decision making with these tools, I feel they have tremendous potential for helping organizations systematically make more effective hiring decisions.