“My lead manager suddenly resigned and I am looking for a replacement.” In this top-down autocratic company my friend added that he didn’t know if the opening would be filled with somebody from his own team or from another division. I suggested that he could use this unexpected vacancy as an opportunity to engage the people most affected — his Department Managers — in the selection process. Done right, the process would reveal the best candidate and further develop the division’s culture. Here’s what we discussed.
Invite the Department Managers to a meeting, “To discuss the selection of your new leader“. In the meeting, outline this group decision process. With your leadership they will:
- Develop and agree on the selection criteria for the new lead manager.
- Rank-order their selection criteria.
- Rate each other (everyone in the room) against the criteria.
- Discuss the results.
Be clear that the results of their discussion will not necessarily be the final decision. But at minimum what they say will be an important part of the selection decision process. Ask for their agreement before using this process. It involves peer feedback. People will be apprehensive. You might hand out copies of this paper so they better understand the process before agreeing to it. Emphasize that what is discussed in the meeting is confidential—it must “stay in the room”. Get their commitment to this.
Develop the Selection Criteria
- Ask everybody to think about the qualities they would like in their new leader.
“Think about a leader you had when you felt motivated and productive- who make your work easier. With that situation in mind, what qualities would you like in your new leader?” Allow plenty of time for discussion. Then allow five or ten minutes for everyone to separately write down his or her thoughts.
- Go around the group asking each person for one criterion. Record what they say on a flip chart. Continue until there are no more criteria. For more on this technique see Making Better Decisions.
- Ask the group to consolidate the criteria into 6 to 10 numbered items.
- Ask each person to individually rank order the numbered items on a separate piece of paper.
- Collect their rankings, tally the results, and write it on the flip chart
- Now ask the group to weight each ranked item so the total is 100. This can be done individually and the results tallied, or it can be done through general group discussion.
You can stop the process at this point with some valuable information to the group, or you can continue and rank the candidates.
Rank Order the Candidates
- On an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper turned horizontally (landscape mode), draw a rectangular grid/matrix with the criteria written on the left as horizontal rows, and each candidate (everyone in the room) as a vertical column with their initials on the top. Make one copy for everybody. This might be done during a coffee break.
- Have each person privately rank order everyone (except him or herself) against each criterion. 1 as highest. No ties. Explain that the consolidated results will be information for them as a group and individually.
- After each person has completed his or her scoring you collect them all and privately tally the results. Make a copy of the tally sheet for each person in the room. Destroy the individual ranking pages.
Discuss the Results
Each manager now knows how the group rates each person against the criteria they all developed. Some will rank high, others low. Sometimes one person stands out as the group’s clear favorite. Leave plenty of time for discussion. It may move in surprising and productive directions. For example an experienced team might decide that those scoring high in one area might coach those scoring low. Be open to developments.
Do a “Plus/Delta” on the meeting. Thank everyone for participating. Remind them of their agreement on confidentiality.
My friend the director was quite apprehensive about using this process with his managers. It is not for all groups. In a competitive or mistrusting group, the results might be used outside of the meeting as ammunition. This is dangerous and unfair. Because of the potential for misuse, discuss the process in detail with the group ahead of time. Get full understanding and honest agreement before using it.
In the right setting this process is exciting and informative. It identifies the person who can lead the team to new heights.
- Involves the people most affected—in this case the Department Managers.
- Demonstrates a new level of openness and involvement in a very sensitive area.
- By opening the selection process to scrutiny, it reduces accusations of favoritism.
- Shows the managers they are valued in new ways and encourages them to do something similar in their own departments.
- Produces a clear set of selection criteria — what is important about the job to those most affected.
- If the top ranked candidate is finally chosen, it almost guarantees his or her on-the-job success because he or she will have the support of the group.
- Informs and simplifies the selection process for the Division Director.
- Gives managers feedback from their peers on areas they should work on.
So what happened?
We worked through the process just as described. The managers were pleased and amazed at what they did and what it meant to them. Their rank ordering had no surprises, but doing it themselves built a powerful understanding and teamwork. It turned out that the corporation transferred in a new manager from outside the division. But that didn’t diminish the team’s work or the value and learning they gained from it.
More on Creative Uses for Group Decisions:
A very similar process is described in the paper Promotions and Transfers. You can use this process to pick the best candidate, satisfy everyone involved, and develop the culture. Here a volunteer group used a similar decision process to shrink itself to a workable size.
cc 327 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.