How do you recruit a manager?

300hFor a bit more than half a year ago I decided to leave the corporate world. I moved to Ocado Technology which was starting a new office in Wroclaw at that time. I guess I forgot to boast about it.

This post won’t be about how great Ocado is or anything like that (however if you ask me, it is). I just wanted to share one thing that we did in Wroclaw, which for me was pretty awesome and quite unique when you look at other companies.

I want to share, how we hire managers.

Meet your new boss

Wherever I worked before, when the company was going to hire a manager, they just did it. Some uber managers held the interviews and finally, after time of gossips and keeping stuff super secret, the uber manager’s representative was meeting the team to share a fantastic, game-changing, long-awaited news.

‘You have new boss. Listen to him. Work with him. Finally, like him. We say he’s good.’

I have heard it more than a few times in my life – sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the manager was actually good and we liked him, sometimes he sucked and after 3 months ‘decided to follow his career outside the organisation’, as the uber manager said.

The biggest problem of this approach is that managers don’t work with other managers only. They work mostly with people they are responsible for. However, during the recruitment phase no one asks the people about anything. Often they don’t even see the candidate before he is hired and has his day one. How can you then be surprised when the people don’t simply like the new guy?

I don’t know if uber managers (never been one, so I can just make a guess) think they are so senior, experienced, skilled and strong leaders that everyone will follow without any questions just basing on their word. That they know what is the best for everyone. Isn’t it a bit conceited?

Meet the candidate for your new boss

homer-job-interviewWhen in Ocado the time came to hire a manager, we decided to do it differently. The first stage of the process was interview with the team. The candidate was put in front of all people in the office, which was quite easy as there were less than 20 of us,  and asked to give a really short presentation. Afterwards we had a simple chat together to see if there is the chemistry between us. If the team wasn’t happy about the candidate, we thanked him for his time.

Stopping the entire office for 1.5 hour may seem like a waste, but for me it’s an investment. When I remind myself the corporate world, I can only guess how much time was wasted during pointless discussions or solving conflicts with managers? Far more. How was the team’s motivation and performance affected by making a wrong recruitment decision?

If the people don’t fell like they want to work with a given candidate, does it make any difference that the guy is experienced or skilled? Even if later he passes all the other stages, you have to convince the team that they should trust recruiters instead of themselves. If the candidate makes a great impression on the team, when he actually joins the organisation, he’s not a stranger. It’s their guy, they hired him. Saying ‘yes we want to work with this guy’ builds a commitment.

Of course one can say ‘people don’t know what they want’, but if you really think so this post, even this blog is not exactly for you. I believe that people exactly know what they want, especially in IT.

Short summary

Should the team have an interview with a candidate for their manager? Yes. It’s not easy, but doable. The question is, if your organisation is happier with long-term value or short-term profit. If you want to have great people, who will do a great job, you have to invest your time and effort in recruitment process. There is no other way.



One thought on “How do you recruit a manager?

  1. I have read about that recruitment technique in “Peopleware” (by DeMarco/Lister). Although it seems hip, novel and unique at first, I personally see couple of flaws of that approach.

    1. Have you ever met someone, that made a good first impression, but turned out to be a jerk after a while?

    If you answer “yes” to the question above, it means that your Manager Hiring Process @Ocado may also be affected by that bias.
    I do believe that @Ocado you verify a number of skills of a potential candidate, and Team’s opinion is just a part of the process. But I can imagine a scenario where hard skills verification goes perfect and the soft skills verification part being delegated to the Team and they also give two thumbs up, cause they were lured by the candidate’s smoothness, politeness, etc.

    I know some managers that would easily game your rules (Hiring Process) and take advantage of it.
    The Team would love them after spending an hour with them.

    2. You better have an ultra-mature team to make such decisions 🙂

    I have come across some teams, that would not accept any new manager at all 🙂 Because people tend to be reluctant about changes, or fear the unknown 🙂

    So what would Ocado do if the Team have been rejecting new candidates for weeks, months or years…?
    As far as I’m familiar with your company, you hire only seasoned engineers with great soft skills. So this point may not be valid in your case, and unlikely to happen. But still.. it is possible 🙂

    3. Privacy

    As a manager, when I’m looking for a new job, I prefer to keep it quiet. The less people are aware of the fact that I’m about to leave my current team and employer, the better. And I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who thinks like that.
    Your solution means that my preference has to be erased 🙂 If 20 of @Ocado employees (or even more, cause your company grows constantly) would find out that I’m looking for a job, then it is not private anymore 🙂

    Has anyone ever refused to take part in your Manager Hiring Process due to privacy reasons?

    4. Lessons learned?

    “‘You have new boss. Listen to him. Work with him. Finally, like him. We say he’s good.’
    I have heard it more than a few times in my life – sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. ”

    What is interesting here is what was the reason of the fail?
    Was it because there was no chemistry between a new manager and the Team?
    If no, then I can assure you, that Team-interview would not solve the problem 🙂 The root cause is somewhere else…

    5. It is all about flexibility

    If your Team is able to cooperate only with a certain type of a manager, then maybe it makes sense to rethink how flexible your Team is.
    In the real world, a manager sometimes has to take over an existing team and has no possibility to say “Well, I’m taking over this team, but I don’t like Jan, Anna, Kasia and Piotr, so I’m erasing them from the Team”. And I believe same flexibility should apply to engineers.

    “Of course one can say ‘people don’t know what they want’, but if you really think so this post, even this blog is not exactly for you. I believe that people exactly know what they want, especially in IT.”

    I’m not saying that people don’t know what they want. They do. But…constantly letting the Team choose anything they want can result in spoiling them in the long term 🙂 And I know such cases first-hand.

    So overall, in theory such a Manager Hiring Process looks great. But in reality I’m not sure whether it brings more value or more harm. Surely I don’t think that the “old-fashioned” recruitment methods are to be blamed. After all, you had been hired by Ocado like that and they made a right choice, right? 🙂

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