Leading-edge companies are using the economic downturn to re-examine their employee pools - both managerial and non-managerial. Will the people on board now be able to jump ahead to capitalize on the growth potential on the horizon? Are you one of those who would survive the "new tests" that might be applied in deciding who to keep for the long haul. If you are not the owner or the owner's family member, you could be at risk.
Consider these ideas, based on the efforts of a large national client, which seems to represent the thinking of many younger innovative senior managers today.
Looking at the overall management landscape in the future, an ideal process for staffing an organization would hinge on seven major themes:
1. Rethink the job you want done in the future. Now is the time to reorganize the various functions for the new future.
2. Select the best person for the job by searching today's wider labor market. Don't merely base your decision on an interview or application.
3. Train the person over an appropriate time period, and don't be content with a few days of training and coaching.
4. Evaluate early and regularly, and assess prospects for future (do not rely on an annual assessment).
5. Retrain (on- or off-site) for improved future efforts.
6. Coach for specific problem areas, as a final saving effort.
7. Reward, demote, or be willing to remove as needed.
Items 1, 2 ,4, and 6 will likely prove the most challenging issues for many employers. Each must be better understood as senior managers prepare for further economic challenges before an upswing. First, and likely the most difficult for most managers, is just how will you take the new organization you are fashioning (reinventing) and divide the new work challenges to be in a more effective and efficient manner. It is quite possible you will need fewer people doing quite different things as well as fewer managers with a different focus.
General Motors must somehow make its massive potential reorganization work; it would have been much easier a few decades ago. Many existing top and middle managers will not be able to cope with the new "GM" organization and will need to be replaced. Yet, now is the time for all organizations to consider any gains from a reorganization; current employees will be more adaptive today than they will be tomorrow. Tom Peters, the well-known organizational consultant, suggests that even if it is not broken, consider remaking the organization to meet the anticipated future market needs (senior management's visionary skills).
Secondly, selection is an extremely important part of the employment equation, yet is often merely taken as a routine task. How do you determine if the current or prospective managers will be able to handle the newly organized jobs? An essential aspect of managerial and executive selection today is the need for a match between the preferences in behavior of the prospective employee and the requirements of the job. If there is not a near-match, stress will make the new employee ever-so-damaged as a manager over time.
Today, there is much research about what makes a great manager as opposed to merely an acceptable or even an unacceptable manager. Do you want an adequate manager or an extraordinary one? Do you want personally to be a great manager? Consider then these findings from Harrison Assessments (www.harrisonassessments.com). What are the most significant traits needed by a manager in a senior-management position to be a great upper management team member?
The most important trait for senior management and outstanding mid-management people is the desire and ability to take the initiative. These managers must have the ability to perceive what has to be accomplished and to proceed on their own. This is the most important trait needed in the senior management position. This is closely connected, however, with the willingness to take risks and having an optimistic outlook.
Other significant required traits include the need for a challenge to be motivated; the desire to lead, even in these uncertain times; persistence, the tendency to be tenacious despite encountering obstacles; the desire for decision-making authority and the willingness to accept decision-making responsibility.
Other notable attributes are the desire and the skill to influence others, the tolerance of both pressure and ambiguity, and true enthusiasm for life and work and for the company and its employees.
If certain behavioral traits are present, they indicate likely failure as a successful manager in today's employment world: defensiveness; impulsiveness; intimidation, threats and all forms of aggression. One or more of these traits, if present in a manager's behavioral profile, raises red flags.
As you select a manager, how do you now determine a match? The answer most employment selection consultants will suggest is via directed personality screenings. No matter the time and costs, these new personality tools usually prove a good investment. If you would like some suggestions, contact the author and he can suggest various vendors.
One commonly available personality profiles online is at www.thecolor code.com. This is a profile questionnaire used by many business firms and available in quantity at discount prices. For an individual profile, the cost is $39.95 - a quite reasonable price for such a profile summary. A well-known personality profile is the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI). An abridged version of this internationally known tool is available free at www.human metrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm (Use left side of page: Jung Typology Test).
Once the job of the manager (or worker) is described in an up-to-date company document, the training must begin and should be spread over weeks and months for the person to learn the new expectations on the redesigned job. Then comes the part of the employment relationship that most executives and managers hate and thus often execute poorly. The initial performance appraisals usually will be informal talks about progress in the new assignment and what problems are being encountered.
Many of the readers here likely have no formal managerial appraisal system. Most managers avoid meeting with subordinates to discuss performance issues; this is not unlike the discomfort we feel as parents in developing expectations and then taking actions when they have not been met in the home. In the workplace, it is even more difficult for many ... both on the giving and receiving ends.
What do you do when you believe you made a good selection? When you believe there was adequate training for the manager in question? When you believe your performance appraisal was good at identifying the manager's weaknesses as well as strengths? But, after all of that, the weaknesses have not improved even after additional training. You are at your wits end.
A major national grocery chain, for which I'm a consultant, has the philosophy of investing in the redesign of a job after each vacancy occurs, in the selection process with various screening tools, investing in training and retraining as needed. But the strong point then is the coaching component as a final effort by the organization to salvage its investment in the manager.
Coaching is an effort to determine just why the perceived match of qualifications and job requirements has not yet been successful. For an organization with a professional human resources department, coaching may come from within that unit. Often an outsider can be of more assistance and would be viewed as more unbiased than someone within the company. The local Chamber of Commerce may suggest someone, or the local community college or university may have a faculty member with coaching skills and credentials. There are usually mediation and conflict resolution centers in larger cities, and a staff member often will specialize in executive coaching. If all else fails, the author may be able to suggest a suitable coach for you.
If coaching is successful in bringing about the behavioral changes needed, suitable rewards and recognition should be awarded. How long should you wait for the change? Perhaps three to six months. But what if the coaching is not successful? The senior manager must be willing to take decisive action or risk losing the support of other managers and employees who can see the manager's behavioral problems.
Are you ready to start the process now?
Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus - international management at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu.
This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.