Published in “Project Times” website, December 4, 2013
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In my 20+ years of experience as both a former VP of Operations of a mid-market manufacturer and as a business consultant and entrepreneur, I’ve yet to see as significant a skills gap as is emerging in today’s new normal business environment. Companies must have top talent in order to meet the increasing complexities associated with growing the business profitably. Project managers and program managers are no exception. Top talent is scarce.
Those companies that find a way to select the best talent will thrive while their competition will be left in the dust. There are several tips and strategies to achieving this objective. Thus, the top 8 strategies are as follows:
- Start with your objective: There is no need to waste time selecting the optimal project leader if you aren’t crystal clear on the objectives. One of the most successful executive recruiters I know will not think about reviewing candidates until the objectives are understood – what does the project leader need to accomplish? What are the key milestones likely required achieving it? Take the time to fully understand the objective.
- Understand the environment: What leads to success in one environment will not necessarily lead to success in the next. What is unique about your environment? Is your company growing? Rapidly growing? Focused on cost savings? Dealing with complexities not typical to your industry? Think about these factors and incorporate them into the equation as you select project managers.
- Understand your resources: What types of resources will the project leader have at his/her request? Are they technically savvy? Do they need to be? What types of skills will be met through the team’s resources? Understanding what’s available will help you determine which skills are most essential in your project leader in addition to leadership qualities!
- Identify technical skill requirements: Think carefully about the types of technical skills required in your project manager. What types of process skills would be helpful? How about systems capabilities? Project management skills? Problem solving skills? According to a skills gap survey my company recently performed, problem solving skills is often at the top of the technical skills list. Is that critical in your company?
- Identify the soft skill requirements: According to the skills gap survey, soft skills are even more important than technical skills in today’s business environment. Which skills do you require? Leadership must be a no-brainer. How about presentation skills? Persuasion skills? Influence skills? Which are most important in your company for achieving success?
- Comprehensive review of candidates: Do not overlook internal as well as external options. Some of the most valuable resources are those already familiar with your people, processes, systems and products. Does anyone stand out who has the capabilities to lead your project even if he/she requires mentoring or skill development in areas already covered with available resources? Don’t miss potential gems.
- Interviews: Whether the candidate is internal or external, don’t miss out on the opportunity to bring in experts to help with the process. Interviewing might appear simple yet is rarely so. If it were obvious, why would so many companies end up with sub-optimal candidates who appeared perfect during the interview? Since your people are your #1 asset, it’s vital to take the process seriously and invest as required to ensure long-term success. It’s amazing what we’ll put up with in order to save a few dollars! Why do we do this when we lose 30 times that amount down-the-line with poor decisions?
- Reference checks: Again, it might seem irrelevant if the candidate is internal; however, I guarantee you it is even more important to talk with the people surrounding your candidates. Do a 360 degree view – manager, peers, subordinates, etc. It might be more challenging to gain this feedback internally; however, this is exactly the reason a solid and realistic performance management process is bedrock to success. Providing good marks so that employees do not feel bad is irresponsible yet happens frequently. Instead, encourage realistic marks (not everyone should be an “A” or even a “B” if you have a realistic process in place). Document strengths and areas of opportunity. What could be worse than taking a high performer in one role and promoting him to a role he fails in? Unfortunately, as I’ve seen multiple times, knowing it is a distinct possibility given the person’s areas of opportunity and promoting them anyway. Don’t do it!
Since the project leader role is essential to any project’s success, it is in your best interest to invest the time and resources to select the right candidate. Which of these strategies do you employ when selecting a project leader?