24th June 2015

People Join Managers and Leave Managers

Late last century Marcus Buckingham gave us the insight that ‘people join companies and leave managers’.  Times have changed, people have changed and it would appear that Buckingham’s insight has been well and truly adopted by career savvy executives.

In our Executive Search practice we know the best people realise they are valuable and are very choosy, not just about where they will work, but who they will work with.  It’s time to recognise a new reality; people join managers and leave managers.  Whether you are an active or passive candidate, internal or external, your responsibility to yourself is clear; choose your next manager wisely.

What are the best questions to ask to choose a great manager?

To step into this space we did our research and found many articles on the best questions to ask at an interview.  However, these articles focussed primarily on exploring day to day responsibilities, the company culture, development opportunities and the like.  These are important.  But they don’t recognise the singular importance of the manager.

In our search and assessment work, it is common to meet people who have taken on a new role only to realise they’d made a bad move and consequently things didn’t work out well.  In line with the research, more often than not, it’s the relationship with the manager that sits at the root cause of the reason to separate.  So, what better group of people to talk to?

To identify new questions we talked to people who had reflected on the consequences of a bad job change and had successfully moved on (emotionally and in career terms) and we asked them:

“What is the one question you wished you’d asked your (future) manager at interview that might have made a difference in your decision to take that role?”

Here’s what they said and why they would ask it next time

  1. Who is the best person you’ve hired in this field and why? A clear, succinct description will show that this manager knows what s/he is looking for and they’ve done it successfully before.  This is critical if s/he is a ‘general manager’ who hasn’t come from your functional background.
  2. Of the people who’ve worked for you in the last few years which ones are you most proud of? Do people who work for this manager succeed?  Where are this manager’s alumni now?  In bigger jobs?  Does she/he stay in touch with them? Continue to mentor them?
  3. What accomplishments are you most proud of in the last two years?  This covers two areas: What’s going on under this manager and, the relative importance of the role you do to those key areas of focus.
  4. What is the core purpose of the team I’m joining and, is there one big goal you are looking to achieve in the next year?  A good manager will have a clear purpose statement for their team they lead and be working their team toward focussed, collective goals.
  5. What are the top three outcomes you are looking for from this role in the next six months?  This should be an easy one.  The things to look out for is when they can’t say it clearly or they rattle off a laundry list or they state the bleeding obvious.
  6. Describe the kinds of decision making authority or autonomy will the role have.  What the manager says and how they say it will help you establish the extent to which they will give you the authority to do the magic you do so well.
  7. (If you are an external candidate) Why is there no internal candidate for this role?  Ideally you’d like to hear something like “three of my team have been promoted in the last year, we’ve got some more great talent but I made the decision to bring in someone from outside with new perspectives to refresh the team”.
  8. How would you say this role builds my career? Yes, of course the interview will be about establishing what you can do for the manager and the organisation, but the answer to this question will indicate the extent to which s/he has thought about you as a person, and what the role, the company and they as a leader will be able to do for you.

In many cases they also said to look out not just for what they say in answer to your questions but also how they say it. It should feel like a genuine, authentic dialogue.  Be on the lookout for overuse of jargon or corporate B.S. in the answer.

These questions may put the manager (your potential new boss) on the back foot.  On face value they may feel provocative and you might feel uncomfortable asking them.  However this will be nothing like the career discomfort you will feel if you make the wrong career decision.  Practice making these questions as conversational as possible before you go to an interview.  Our tip; great managers will love answering these questions.

Do you have other questions you like to ask at interview?  We’d love to hear from you if you do.

We’re grateful for the insights and contributions to this post by Rachael McGann of Gerlan Consulting

Justin Miles,
Partner & Managing Director
The Talent Workshop

THE TALENT WORKSHOP is the leadership development arm of the Generator Talent Group and offers a collection of best-in-class programs, delivering a range of Executive Assessment & Leadership Development outcomes that transform individuals, teams and companies. Click here to visit our website

For more articles, thoughts and insights from the Generator Talent Group team click here


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