Congratulations!  You’ve made it to a higher level management position.  You’ve likely spent the last few years developing a strong set of skills: coaching individual contributors to do their best work, nurturing teamwork, hiring the best people, and delivering results.  You also know how to translate strategies and directives from above into tangible tactics to guide a team’s contributions to the overall objectives of your organization.  In short, you’ve mastered the role of “manager”.

Now you’ve been entrusted with a broader role in the organization.  You’re now a “Manager of Managers” and your personal responsibility has grown well beyond managing first line business units.  Indeed, a number of such units may be within your range of accountability.  Each of these must have competent leadership.  You must now identify people to fill these roles, people that can handle the same sorts of responsibilities that you so recently mastered. 


Complex Decisions

Unlike the selection process for individual contributors, where things like job-specific skills, knowledge of work processes and suitability to tasks are among the primary hiring considerations, management selection requires closer scrutiny of a candidate’s leadership potential and ability to influence others. 

Assessing an individual candidate’s past performance and determining their ability to handle the tasks associated with a given position is a relatively straightforward process: conduct an interview to gauge their skill level by asking pointed questions, confirm their stated level of educational achievement, rank them within the pool of candidates interviewing for the same position, check their references and make an offer.

Selecting a new manager is a much more complex undertaking. Getting this right is one of the most important things you can do to boost the organization’s chances of success.  Managers that can motivate people, develop the high performers on their team, and collaborate effectively with other teams are worth their weight in gold. Conversely, getting this wrong can have negative effects across a broad segment of the company.  From both a financial and a cultural perspective, making a management hiring mistake can do serious damage to the long term effectiveness of not just the immediate team, but your entire organization. It pays to proceed very carefully when selecting new managers.

Who Are They?

Misguided assumptions about the type of person that would make a great manager rank among the most familiar of business clichés.  The smart person, the self-managing worker that can do the job in his or her sleep, the most senior person on the team – all of these have been identified as the ideal management type at one time or another. As you might expect, great management candidates are not so simply discovered.

Management candidates generally arise from a few consistent sources.
* Internal Personnel
* Referrals
* Search Firms

The internal pool of potential candidates is by far your most valuable resource for consideration.  These people have something that no external candidate can match: deep familiarity with your company and its culture. No matter how capable an external candidate appears to be, it will take him or her months, if not years, to fully grasp the complexities of your business and to reach the point where they can effectively maneuver the political nuances of your organization’s culture.  This shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing; it’s often worthwhile to have “new eyes” on a team and your business, but you’ll need to allow for an acclimation period when introducing external people. This is unnecessary for internal hires, in most cases.

One word of caution: your internal candidates must actually want to move into management. Whenever a management role becomes available, you can expect those who have been convinced by their peers that they should “go for it”, or those that simply feel that this would be a logical progression in their career to quickly apply.  While many of these people may be capable of doing the job, only those that have expressed interest in management will succeed.  The people that do not have a genuine interest will most likely chafe in the management role and yearn for the simplicity and predictability of individual contributor status.

Referrals are your next best source.  Ideally, these people come to your notice via your internal staff, often by word of mouth.  As such, you’ve got a reasonable level of assurance that these people are competent and that they appear to your internal people to be a good fit.  The important things to gauge are the relevance of their existing skills against your industry’s requirements, the circumstances of their departure from their last company if they are currently unemployed, and their perceived management style.  Great managers can be identified among external candidates, just be prepared for them to undergo the aforementioned acclimation period before they really hit their stride.

Lastly, you may be forced to rely on a search firm to develop a candidate pool.  This can happen for a number of reasons.  You may not be able to identify suitable candidates internally or you may need to fill the position before the referral stream yields possibilities. In any case, you must exercise caution when dealing with search firms.  You cannot always assume that the candidates being presented have been evaluated according to your requirements.  You’ll also be subject to the “spin” that these firms are able to expertly apply to bolster a candidate’s desirability.  You have to do your own aggressive evaluation of these candidates and make sure that the right people on your staff participate in the interview process to ensure a cultural fit. 


What to Look For

As previously mentioned, scrutinizing management candidates is quite a different exercise when compared with evaluating individual contributors.  You need to both determine whether the candidate has the skills and abilities to manage the business side of the role, and gauge the likelihood of their capacity for motivating and leading a group of individuals with widely varying personalities. After careful evaluation, your best indicator will really be your gut.  You must have reached a point where your judgment tells you that a candidate is a good choice to fill the role. 

A few proven techniques can help to guide your decision making process.

  • Find out if they understand your organization and industry.  Have they worked in this field or a similar one for a significant period of time?  If not, are their core skills strong enough that you feel they can come to grasp a new industry quickly?  Do they know the key issues facing your business and can they offer meaningful opinions on possible approaches to addressing them?
  • Determine whether they’ve demonstrated leadership in the past.  Have they spent a considerable amount of time in a management role?  If they haven’t, is there evidence they can offer of wielding influence without authority?  Can they see the bigger picture from a business perspective? You can often uncover this using a hypothetical, scenario based business problem to formulate a series of pointed questions.
  • Find out if they understand the importance of people development.  If a candidate is selected, he or she will hold the future of the people on their team on their hands. Do they know how to identify high performers?  How would they manage these people differently?  In what ways would they guide the development of every team member? What is their philosophy on evaluating performance and distributing rewards?   


Once you’ve made a selection, reference checking becomes very important. Too often, this consists of a rote procedure whereby listed references are contacted and a cursory round of questions is asked and answered. Many times, information that could influence your decision is not uncovered. 

The hiring manager should perform the reference checking personally and ensure that a thorough, meaningful conversation occurs with each listed reference to gain as much confirmation as possible of the candidate’s suitability.  Responses containing red flags as to performance history should be taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly. 

Mistakes made in hiring managers are extremely difficult to correct. Your organization will either benefit from the addition of a great manager or struggle with the challenges of enduring a less than suitable hire. Carefully evaluating candidates for the unique requirements of management can boost your chances of making great choices.