It’s A Consensus; Be Careful

In the marketplace I serve, my search and placement firm has the good fortune of recruiting for several smaller (less than 200 employees), fast-growth companies that are adopting a policy of consensus interviewing. The goals of the CEO’s instituting these policies are to reduce the amount of personal time he/she must invest in each new hire and to prevent their tunnel vision from skewing the make-up of their firm. In other words, if Mary runs the company she wants to avoid too much “Maryness,” and as the company develops its own culture her key subordinates should help acquire others that “fit” the unique chemistry of the company.

Those goals are meritorious and achievable unto themselves. But where many clients of mine, and I’m certain countless others, get themselves into trouble is by not realizing that by sharing the interview process they are also sharing the power of the whole company. Perhaps more than any other business activity, recruiting has become a high-profile responsibility because of the competitiveness of the talent market, the star-power some candidates possess, and the social nature of the majority of nascent firms. To delegate a portion of the interview process to a group of a chosen few is the clearest example of a leader’s willingness to empower select employees.

If you believe like most modern thinkers (or thought leaders like the recently departed, brilliant Peter Drucker) that a “participative management” style enables your company to endure and thrive, then consensus interviewing should be a core value. However, keep in mind that this multi-faceted, multiple personnel policy will have powerful ramifications that impact everyone and spotlight, in particular, the interviewers themselves. Despite the fact that it has become an honor to be a part of the elite team of “voting members,” the players need to understand the rules of the game that they have been invited to play in.

History teaches us that a CEO’s balloon of power needs to be strong for her to exude confidence and provide necessary vision. Sharing the helm’s power is an assertion of faith in the strength of the enterprise. But if that rare air is allowed to go to your key employees’ heads, trouble brews and the balloon will shrivel.

In a real-life example inside of one of my best clients’ environments exists two Sales Department Managers. When one department head wasn’t certain where a superstar sales interviewee was to fit into the organization and got a bit threatened by the candidate’s track record and earnings, he made the interview exceedingly tough and negative. The other Sales Department Manager took great offense to this treatment of his next coveted, quota-busting sales hire and the two Department Managers butted heads for days. Fortunately, calmer minds (and bigger wallets) prevailed and my client convinced the sales stud to join the firm once it was clear to whom he would report.

The bottom line is that these politically motivated misunderstandings will continue to happen unless the CEO establishes and articulates several ground rules for his or her consensus interview practice. My twenty-five plus years of experience as a corporate headhunter offers the following suggestion to any CEO/President/Owner/etc. who wants to consider it.

1) Do not put every candidate through a consensus interview process! Reserve your key team members’ time for “finalists” – preferably 1 or 2 per position, 3 max.

2) Remind your team that you, and you alone, still hold the final vote. Define their role – input yes, but veto power, no. If the whole team is adamant and provides substantial evidence to turn over your vote have the flexibility to change, but you call the shots. Obviously, as Chief Executive, if 3, 4 or 5 of your valued captains come to you with a specific concern or truly surprising feedback adjust your stance; that’s the value of the process. Remember that your department heads or key employees participate to help you cover your blind spots.

3) Limit your “team” of interviewers to a total of 5 (plus yourself) or less. Any more and the process becomes unwieldy, untimely, diluted, etc.

4) Keep your team consistent regardless of the nature of the hire. A “plug and play” interview team is an organizational nightmare.

5) Limit the amount of time each “team member” spends with each interviewee. Make it clear that you value their help, but that they have a job to do and interviewing is just one of their duties. This stipulation will help you avoid a heavy bias, positive or negative.

6) Inform your team about the following regarding the candidate before he/she arrives:

a. role within the org chart.
b. job description (brief).
c. reporting manager and department.
d. general compensation parameters.

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7) Do not allow team members to participate in the consensus:

a. without providing the candidate’s resume.
b. if they are not well respected throughout most of your company. (If you are unsure, the answer is no).
c. if they do not understand how to position your company in its best light.
d. if they do not know what EEOC stands for.
e. if you have a gut feeling that they may be “looking” themselves.

8 ) If you employ a trusted HR rep/manager have him on the team, have him coordinate the interview schedules and, in some (lower level) hires, gather the feedback and funnel/filter it all to you.

9) Avoid peer to peer interviews, regardless of the level of the hire. Within my customer base, the size of most employees’ egos is only surpassed by their insecurity. Besides, why put a valued employee into a position of measuring and judging a natural, but external, threat to their corporate existence? If it is your opinion that the new hire should “sit in” for a half-day to see, hear and feel what the job really is, then do it after the interview process. You can always make the final decision to go forward contingent upon the “trial day,” but rarely will the consensus get overturned post-process.

10) Before the “team round” of interviews prepare your candidate for “the experience” by congratulating him on getting this far in the process. Let him know that he should feel good about the progress he has made by passing the first or second round of cuts of candidates and to prepare himself for a lot of intense interaction with your key players. Also remind him that each employee may have their own agenda and if he has any questions about what he perceives to come to you for the answers.

11) Review “the team” bi-annually. The pace of corporate life is too hyper to expect perfection or even consistency.

12) Smile! Realize that although this process is far from simple it’s a lot more fun and enlightening than trying to run your company like an old-fashioned Autocrat!

Jordan A. Greenberg has been an everyday search consultant since 1981. He is currently the President of The Pinnacle Source, based in Denver which specializes in representing IT firms in pursuit of Sales/Marketing and Management talent in Colorado phone #303-796-9900, website www.pinnaclesource.com……..Email-jordan@pinnso.com

Jordan A. Greenberg is the president of The Pinnacle Source, Inc., a search and placement firm specializing in, but not limited to, the recruiting of sales/sales management talent for IT companies. He has been servicing this community, based in Colorado, since 1981. Contact him at (303) 796-9900, jordan@pinnso.com, or www.pinnaclesource.com.

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