IT Employment

Develop a fair process for filling a manager position from among staff

A CIO has to fill a manager spot from among several technically gifted staff members. How does he decide who has the skills to manage, and how does he avoid the hard feelings of those not chosen?

CIO Republic’s monthly column, CIO HR Corner, focuses on helping IT executives find the right answers for staffing and personnel issues. If you have a question you’d like CIO Republic columnist Peter Woolford to answer, e-mail it to us.

Question: How do I find the right candidate?
I have to fill an open manager position. I have a number of technically competent staff members who want to follow the management career track and will be applying for the open position. How do I ascertain which of them has the right skill set to be a manager?

Once I fill this position, how do I handle the possible hurt and resentful feelings of staff members who didn't get it?

Answer: Develop a fair process
Here’s the easy answer: Back up 12 months. You knew that someday you’d have a manager opening. So you moved several of the top people in your group into team lead roles. Now, you’ve had a year to see them in action. Some have taken to the leadership role. Some clearly aren’t meant for leadership, although they continue to contribute well technically. Therefore, you have a pretty short list to choose from, and an easy decision.

Based on your question, it doesn’t sound like you did that. Either you didn’t think of the team lead approach, or for some reason it wasn’t feasible. Now you’re stuck. There are two keys to the selection process:
  • Make sure the selection process produces the best person for the job.
  • Make sure everyone feels the process was fair.

Establish your process around these two keys with these steps:
  • Identify the keys to success for the manager role.
  • Declare the search open.
  • Invite staff to apply.
  • Tell the applicants what the keys to the job are.
  • Interview all the applicants.
  • Make the selection quickly.

You need to identify the critical elements of the manager’s role. These are soft skills, and the applicants may or may not have had the opportunity to demonstrate them. Don’t fall for the easy traps that often lead to the wrong selection—the best person technically, the oldest, or the one with the most longevity with the firm. Technical skills and seniority are wonderful in their own right, but they aren’t the keys to managerial success.

What are the key deliverables for the group this person will manage? Each IT group has a different focus. Is the key to the group bulletproof 24-hour service? Hitting aggressive development schedules? Managing a senior staff that is self-sufficient? Fighting budget battles? Grooming junior people to move into demanding technical roles? Being capable of hiring and firing? From these key deliverables, you can determine the managerial attributes that are most important for success.

Another way to identify the key managerial attributes is to ask the applicants to come up with them for the interview. They are on the team, so they should know what is most important about the manager’s role. You’ll just need to wade through the spin they’ll give to slant their answers toward their own strengths.

Invite all to apply for the position. The key here is to be encouraging and show fairness. Also, be prepared to draft someone who should have applied, but for some reason didn’t. Publish the keys to the job for all applicants. The key again is to show fairness.

After you’ve interviewed everyone, review the results in light of the managerial attributes you identified. In addition to what you learn from the interviews, review the past performance of the applicants. Have they had informal opportunities to demonstrate any of these managerial attributes? Have they mentored new employees? Have they provided you with appropriate critical and insightful feedback on team members? Do they go above and beyond what is expected of them in their current role? How hard do they work?

Make and announce your decision quickly. The group will be distracted while awaiting your decision.

If it makes sense for your group, have the new manager ask one or two of those who came closest to winning the role to serve as team leads. Give the new manager specific tasks to perform with the team leads right away. This will get team members working together, and may help get them past any disappointment they feel.

You asked how to handle the feelings of those who were passed over for the promotion. You will have done most of the damage, or avoided most of the potential pitfalls, in the way you handled the selection process itself. If you were prompt and fair in your selection, you shouldn’t have many disgruntled team members. On the other hand, you should realize that you can’t meet the managerial aspirations of everyone on your team. Some people may not take well to getting passed over. All you can really do is stress how much you value their contribution in their current role. Then expect and plan for some turnover.
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