Oddly when hiring people for management positions, rarely do we ask to speak to those they’ve managed. We speak to their prior supervisors, but not to those who were actually impacted by their ability to manage.
When you ask for references, ask them to include those individuals they have directly managed.
- The potential hire should easily be able to provide you with several references. If they hem and haw, you have an issue. Ideally you would like 5+ names so you have a reasonable sample size and you can promise confidentiality to those who respond. While you never have to reveal what’s said in these conversations with the potential hire, ideally they wouldn’t be able to infer anything either.
- Take the time to follow through on all of the references provided. Usually these folks are not in HR and will provide a true character reference. Your job is to get under the initial “Yeah, they were great.” Most people will not be forthright with concerns as this potential hire is someone they will use as a reference for themselves.
- The willingness and responsiveness of the references to get back to you promptly speaks volumes. If you get no response, take this as an omen.
- In the conversation with the reference, start (if you can) by promising confidentiality.
- Also share your earnestness and thoughtfulness in your desire to really find an extraordinary manager for your team. Share that you care about your team and you want them to be in good hands. People are less likely to BS someone who is sincere.
- Tell them how much you appreciate their help and guidance in making this decision.
- Ask both, “What’s one thing you loved about this person as a supervisor and what’s one thing this person could have done better as a supervisor?” If there’s a pause, let it sit until they speak. If generalities are given, ask for specifics and examples. Listen for the difference between a “meh” answer and “this is the best manager I’ve ever had.”
- Ask, “What did this supervisor do to help bring out your best work?” Listen for the capacity to motivate and inspire. Also listen for actual results and outcomes. You don’t want someone who everyone simply liked, but who wasn’t able to get results.
- Lastly, ask, “Would you hire this person to be your boss again?”
By the way, if you manage or lead a team, and are committed to self-awareness for continuous improvement, consider taking time this month to touch base with each team member and ask them a variation on the two questions in number seven: What’s one thing you really appreciate about me as a supervisor? What’s one thing I could do to be a better supervisor?
Kris Boesch is the CEO and Founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom-line. She is a nationally renowned speaker and workplace culture expert. Boesch is also the author of Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace and developer of the Choose People 360° Culture Audit. Kris is also a proud mother, dancing diva and dog lover.