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How Do We Choose From Similar Candidates?

Our leadership team is looking at several managers for potential promotion. All the candidates are good, but we can only promote one. There isn’t a great deal to separate them — each person has assets and deficits. Since the margin of difference is small, what can we do to make sure we make the right choice? — Talent Scout, director of development, electronics, Scottsdale, Arizona

January 30, 2014
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Related Topics: Strategic Planning, Succession Planning, The Latest, Dear Workforce
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Dear Talent Scout:

Besides choosing the best person for the job, this decision represents a great opportunity to establish what your company values in its leaders. Bravo for giving it serious thought.

Your question implies that the candidates have relatively equal qualifications, albeit with some differences, however subtle, among them. It’s these seemingly small variations that should define the selection process and could make a big difference in the ultimate performance of the person selected and employee under the new boss’s supervision.

In looking at differentiating qualities among the candidates, we strongly encourage you to focus first and foremost on leadership skills and abilities. There are other considerations (detailed below), but none as important as this one. In our experience, organizations that make leadership ability a primary consideration in hiring and promoting managers are those with the highest levels of employee engagement — and the resulting business outcomes. For centuries, however, the more common practice has been to promote technical achievers to positions that require leadership. However, there is simply no correlation between operational skills and leadership success.

In far too many cases, good people who have excelled in their non-management jobs are promoted to positions of leadership, with little to no regard for that person’s desire, inclination or aptitude to lead others.

In your case, has any candidate emerged, more than the others, as an informal leader within the workforce? Someone who, despite lacking formal authority, is able to positively influence others by dint of character, presence and relationship building? How do they stack up in terms of other leadership traits: integrity, listening, communication, compassion, decisiveness, flexibility, etc.?

Consider also any leadership training in which the candidates have participated, especially training experiences sought out by the candidate, rather than something they were “sent to.”

If the choice still isn’t clear after putting the field of candidates through the leadership filter, here are some other questions to ponder:

1. Does this position represent a significant development step for one or more of the candidates?

2. How would appointment to this position impact each candidate’s own degree of engagement? How would it affect each’s likelihood of staying and excelling in your organization?

3. Which candidate has most earned a promotion? This one’s especially important, because others will be watching the process. A promotion generally considered to have been based on merit sends a very different message (with correspondingly different results down the line) than one that’s judged to be based on politics or other considerations.

4. If given the chance to pick their new boss, which of the candidates would be chosen by those who would report to the new manager?

5. Finally, are there any other relevant factors? For example, are women underrepresented in your management ranks? If all of the candidates truly are equally qualified, especially in the leadership department and the other areas mentioned above, does this position give you the opportunity to correct the imbalance? 

SOURCE: Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette, co-authors of “Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Engagement and Your Bottom Line,”www.contentedcows.com, Jan. 9, 2014

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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