Friday, June 15, 2012

New Managers: Know Your Existing Employees' Skill Sets

After reading Eric V. Holtzclaw's post  Keep Your Best Employees: 5 Steps  I got to thinking about manager/staff dynamics in university settings... and this question came to me:

Would you hire someone without looking at their resume or interviewing them?

Not likely... but a similar situation can happen in the university setting: it's typical for a department to have an administrator, say a VP or Director (manager) and a few admins (staff). After a few years or so the manager moves on to another position while the staff stay in place supporting their new manager; typically necessary for maintaining procedural continuity and institutional history. The new manger might ask about how the office operates in relation to the greater university but may instead  focus on office logistics  (e.g. "you will place all calls for me", "you will set memos on my desk a certain way...") and perhaps map out a few workflow choreography protocols. This transition happens without getting to know existing office staff skill sets.

To illustrate, here's an experience I had: a new manager was placed in our office who briefly met with me but didn't ask for my resume, past work experience, or ask about skills or working styles. It was a, "Hi, nice to meet you. Oh, I hear you like music..." Fast forward a few years and I'm placed on an institutional-wide project implementation team and tasked with hiring the data entry team. My manager assumed I had no experience and proceeded to micromanage the hiring process. Early on I explained that I had many years experience interviewing, hiring and managing people in the private sector; this of course was on my resume she didn't ask for. But my explanation didn't sink in immediately and I had to keep reminding her for weeks and weeks... and still I couldn't shift her thinking away from her preconception of me.

Bottom line is this: Managers run the risk of compromising their role and the office's mission by failing to get to know their existing staffs' skill sets.

Here's what I challenge new managers do with their existing staff:

1. Review and discuss their staffs' resumes and past job experiences, including past experiences in the current office.

This seems like a no-brainer but new managers can fail to do this. This step is the starting point for the two points below.

2. Sit candidly with staff one-on-one and make an effort to get to know them, both skill-wise and personality-wise.

Making the effort to reach out to staff is key to garnering their trust. Ask them to explain situations where they applied their skills to positive results.

3. Ask staff questions about themselves; this is a great way to see how they communicate.

When I  conduct interviews I begin by chatting about current events or an interest listed on their resume... This way you can see how they truly communicate using a comfortable topic.  I've hired a great team member beginning their interview with a chat about cooking!

To be fair, all this presupposes a manager is willing to see their staff as a team and, unfortunately, managers can have an uninformed preconception that their staff's purpose is only to serve them.  Who knows? These managers might be pleasantly surprised by increased office performance results if they invest a little time strategizing how best to utilize their staff...  a simple challenge at best.

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