When you interview, you need to ensure that you are choosing the correct person for the job – this may not always be clear from the general job description or history. Technology managers are people that will manage and lead (hopefully!) the technology personnel that fulfill your business goals. The best results are when your managers act as umbrellas – they are essentially there to protect their people from messes from above and keep them focused on providing business value. They also encourage your people to grow and become better than they are right now.
Technology personnel are exquisitely sensitive to micro-managing – the gulf in knowledge and skill between them and their management is so large that more traditional techniques aimed at controlling how the people do their work are counterproductive and, to be blunt, stupid. They damage the management relationship and do not provide a better product in the end. As the one responsible for the entire technology organization, you need to find out about these tendencies as early as possible and either correct them or remove the people showing them. To that end, here are three questions to ask during the interview. Pay attention to both the answers to these questions and how they are answered.
Questions to ask during the interview
- What is your management philosophy? This is a broad question that could theoretically be answered any way possible at all. There is no proper way to answer this question; however, listen to how the candidate talks about differentiating between people. It is truism that you should treat everyone the same; however, this is the kiss of death for managing people. There are people that require more attention and those that require less; those more comfortable with vague goals and those who like clear directions; and those that are more pull-driven (they will come to you) or push-driven (they will expect you to go to them). Your candidate should understand both that people need to be treated differently and, more importantly, that they will need to talk about it – they must own the fact that this is happening and that they have to do it.
- How do you deal with challenges in your teams? This is another broad question and again, the importance is more in how they answer. Good candidates will have experience with both remote and local teams – how your organization is structured will indicate the importance of this question. In addition, listen to what they consider challenges – is it communications? Interpersonal conflict? Productivity? This question will tie into the first one in that the answer to both will help define what the candidate sees as their areas of responsibility and control, and what they are willing to delegate to their people.
- What technologies are you familiar with? This is a bit of trick question; a technology manager does not need to have direct programming or QA experience (although it is certainly useful!) but they do need to know what it is, know the basics, and be interested in learning. Technology personnel are constantly learning and upgrading – if they are not, rethink their ongoing employment – and will have a hard time respecting someone who does not. The respect of their subordinates is critical for success – it is hard to delegate properly without it. A manager without the respect of his or her people is forced to rely on punishments to get work done. This is not a way to get discretionary effort out of people. Also, the answer to this question will serve as a proxy for how important the manager thinks ongoing learning is.
These are obviously not the only questions that you can ask; your HR department may have specific questions and you yourself will build a list of useful questions. I strongly recommend that continue to listen to how your candidates answer your questions, not just the rote output of the answers.
What other questions have you found useful in interviewing candidates for managerial positions?
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