When working with government agencies they sometimes create such strict rules that they defeat the purpose of what they are trying to accomplish. One case in point is the interviewing process when trying “to be fair.”
When consulting to one of our Silicon Valley cities, I observed the interview process for potential new employees. There was a panel of interviewers. Each was given a specific question and their role was to ask that question of each candidate. There was to be no deviation – and no additional questions – including asking for clarification or more information – were allowed.
The result – a false sense of fairness. Candidates were graded based on their responses (often superficial) to the basic questions and at the end of the interview process little more was learned than what already appeared on their resumes.
A good interviewer will delve deeply into answers – asking for examples, additional information, clarification and anything that will enable her to really get to know the professional strengths and weaknesses of a particular candidate.
When I interview for high-level positions I might take as much as a whole day with the candidate. Now clearly I don’t spend that much time with candidates for supervisory and below positions, but I do spend a few hours getting to know if they are who they say they are and if they will be a good fit for the people and the company considering hiring them.
I’m often told about a series of 20 minute interviews with a bunch of people. I’m not sure how valuable these are – other than to weed out anyone who stands out to any of the team members doing this superficial interview.
Oftentimes, having a few highly trained and qualified interviewers spend more time is far better than a bunch of people who don’t have the insight or instincts necessary to spend a short amount of time each just to see if they like or dislike the candidate.
Nothing beats strong interview instincts and techniques – like most “soft skill” talents, the highly successful professionals are a combination of education, experience, and intuitiveness.
In my career, I’ve interviewed many C-level candidates for my clients – and those I selected were proven to be a good fit for the company and its culture. Too, I learn little things that are useful for management.
For example, I once helped hire a CFO and observed that status was far more important to him than increases in salary. He was subsequently rewarded by having a corner office, his own parking space, and other perqs that were obvious to one and all. He was a happy camper.
Observing Solves Lots of Problems
Three women were about to be fired by the Vice-President of Human Relations. The CEO intervened and asked me if I could find out what was causing the problems, since these women had previously been good employees. Now, they were taking frequent breaks and were often not available to respond to queries that needed their response.
When talking with the women I learned nothing useful. However, one day I walked into the area in which they were working. Oh! I now realized what was creating the problem. These women were working in a large window-less room and someone had piled a bunch of boxes in the room, using the extra space as storage. Without realizing it, the women had become claustrophobic and needed to leave the room frequently – thus the extra breaks.
We had facilities remove the boxes. I went to a poster store and bought some large posters, one of a seascape and another of a mountain with a lake and waterfall. We hung these on the walls. Problem solved.
In another case there was a cold war between a group of administrative workers and the men in the engineering department. Why? Well, the path between the conference room and the engineering department weaved through the area where these administrative workers had their desks. If one of the engineers was paged, he’d stop at the most convenient desk to take the call, often accidentally walking away with pen and paper from that desk.
People are territorial. They don’t like having their space invaded, or their tools taken. This was like torture since it happened all too often.
My solution: We did some furniture re-arranging. We moved the desks so that there was a clear uninterrupted path between the conference room and the engineering department and placed a small table with phone, pens and pads on the path. No longer were the administrative people annoyed or interrupted.
This reminds me of another situation where administrative assistants and engineers were at war. This turned out to be a major communication problem at a very large electrical company.
Apparently the women, many of whom had master’s degrees and all of whom were originally from the Philippines complained to upper management that they were disrespected and often ignored by these men.
I was brought in to solve the communication problems….or lack of communication as it were.
Again, observing rather than pre-summing gave me the answers.
The women were excessively polite – as was common in their culture. So, instead of merely asking for something by saying, “May I have the documents by tomorrow?” they would say something along the lines of (this is a slight exaggeration to make the point) “Excuse me, please forgive me for interrupting, I’m sorry to ask, but I do need to have the documents. Do you mind giving them to me by tomorrow. I’m sorry to have rushed you.”
All these words and the meaning of the sentence was lost. All these words and the men, always in a hurry tuned the women out.
I created and implemented a series of communication workshops. We taught the women to be more succinct and the men to respect cultural differences. Both groups worked at making changes and became more understanding and cooperative with each other.
Conclusion: Most of the conflict in the workplace occurs because of minor problems or misunderstandings that can be cured without making any one “right” or “wrong”. Instead of looking to punish (called sanction in the workplace) we need to take the complaints seriously and look for solutions not blame.
I was consulting to a boutique semiconductor company when I was called in to try to solve a series of problems. One of them had to do with providing people with a lack of information. Let me tell you about it – because it also reminds me of a situation with the local police department and a group of people coming out of a nightclub late at night. First the semi-conductor company.
A group of women were working on the wafer-fab assembly line and grumbling because once again they had been forced to change the configuration on the line because someone demanded that they do a special run of 100 units. The women believed their time was being wasted for no good reason.
I was curious and spoke with one of the key salesmen in the organization, asking why the line had been changed in the middle of a run – and why that happened from time to time. He replied that sometimes in order to get a big order they had to promise a quick 100 units or so.
Why, I asked weren’t the women on the line told about this need so that they would understand that it made sense. The salesman responded that no one had ever thought about telling them. Once we called them into a meeting and explained, it made perfectly good sense to them
The grumbling stopped – and the rate of cooperation increased considerably.
I was on a ride-along with the local police department late one Saturday night when we received a call to come to a nightclub in town where there had been a shooting. My young testosterone filled police officer sped down the road getting us to the site of the shooting in quick order. When we arrived we learned that the victim and the shooter had both been found and were on the way to the hospital.
As we were all milling around (lots of cops – since there is rarely any serious crime in our safe and well-run city) someone noticed a bullet casing and the group decided they needed to search for more evidence. They taped off the area of the parking lot where the shooting occurred and started looking.
Around 2:00 AM, when the nightclub closed, a group of mostly African-American women came out trying to get to their cars. Most of them were scantily dressed – nightclub garb with no coats – and it was cold outside. When they were told they couldn’t go to their cars they became angry.
We were called and told there was about to be a race riot. My young cop and I rushed back to the scene only to find a group of people behind the barrier insisting they be told whey they couldn’t get to their cars.
After I asked, and was told that “We are the police, they just have to obey us”, I went over to the crowd demanding answers and explained that there had been a shooting and that the police were still searching for evidence in that area. I suggested that they go with friends who had cars in the area not being searched and also that there was a 24 hour coffee shop nearby.
The night-clubbers thanked me, and walked off. Race riot averted.
Patients put on four-point.
While consulting to emergency rooms of Hospitals I noticed that time and time again, people with minor injuries were forced to sit in the waiting room for hours while people who came in after them received more immediate help. All too often the people waiting were poor and disenfranchised and many of them felt as though they were deliberately being ignored.
Much of the time when these people were finally taken into the inner-sanctum, they exploded from fear, anger and frustration and cursed. The nurses would get upset at the words and would call security and have them restrained on the gurneys (four-point.)
After observing several incidents of this over-reaction by both the patient and the nursing staff, I started thinking about how under strain we hold things inside and then when the opportunity for release occurs it is as though the pressure came out of the pressure cooker – and an explosion happens.
So, I asked, does anyone ever explain what triage is all about and why people are taken out of order? Has anyone ever apologized to those left for hours in the waiting room?
I taught the nursing staff that words are merely words and the expression of anger and frustration was merely a release and it was not necessary to call security and restrain these patients.
I taught the administrative staff who oversaw the waiting rooms that they needed to reach out in a courteous and customer-service oriented manner to explain and apologize. Even to provide tea or coffee to those waiting.
Once these changes were put into practice the anger, frustration and fear were significantly reduced.
Most of the time all it takes is a simple explanation as to why – or why not – something is being done to smooth things over and elicit a greater degree of cooperation from those involved.