When job candidates don’t possess good workload management skills, the consequences can overshadow the expertise they bring to the table.
Factory workers are monitored and measured. Salaried employees are not.
A Bloomberg Business Week article described line supervisors in Hong Kong’s TAL Group who stand behind workers at sewing machines in a shirt-making factory. Supervisors holding stopwatches assess whether people are working too fast or too slow. Eugene Lee, a plant manager at TAL Group, says, “In the old days a leader used a gut feel, but a lot of times the analysis was incorrect. [Now] we’re using real data.”
(Bruce Einhorn, China Tries to Perfect the Science of the Shirt, Bloomberg Business Week, 2015)
I imagine this “gut feel” is what corporate leaders still use today in their companies to gauge whether employees are getting things done, making progress and getting results… or not.
Leaders have to use this gut feel, because unlike factory workers, salaried employees are mostly autonomous. Leaders aren’t literally monitoring how people go about their daily activities. No one is watching to see how long it takes to finish a task, find necessary information, or answer an email. No one is measuring literal output every day or every week.
But how employees work matters very much to a company’s bottom line. Systems and processes matter. Efficiency matters. Output and productivity matter. And when these are weak or altogether absent from any professional’s workday, the resulting consequences can be costly.
Find Out Before, Not After
There are two parts to a person’s job that create their progress and success, and BOTH are important to find in your job candidates:
- Expertise, experience, and education
- Workload management skills
Workload management skills are not usually considered during the interview process, but they should be since a lack of these skills can quickly overshadow the expertise, experience and education a person brings to the table.
Hiring a new employee without asking questions about HOW a person works is a mistake that can surprise you later when weekly accomplishments fall short of expectations. A lack of workload management skills hurts progress. When efficiencies are lost and productivity drops, goals and projects can often be delayed, derailed or destroyed.
Not only this, but workload management challenges have the potential to damage how new hires work with others and how they are perceived by others.
Rather than guess or go with a gut feeling AFTER a person is hired, why not ask questions during the interview process BEFORE hiring to see how job candidates think and work? Wouldn’t it be great to know up front if someone is very efficient, in addition to having the expertise needed for the job?
And even if you can’t find job candidates with this ultra-successful combination, it’s worth asking questions about how a person works, because you’ll find out if they need training to learn how to become more efficient and productive. You can also find out whether job candidates are open to improvement, growth and learning to be the best they can be.
Wages Going to Waste
Leaders may not be exploring how their employees work today, but it’s a good idea to start. For future hires, it’s even more important to start asking questions now, before someone is hired. Poor workload management skills are costly – whether for existing employees or new ones – and many leaders aren’t aware of the impact.
Do you know how much time is lost when people have difficulty managing interruptions and distractions? Basex Research predicted back in 2005 that by 2016 more than three hours per day per employee would be lost to interruptions, and this would cost more than $1 trillion dollars per year using an average salary of $40,000/year.
Do you know how much time is lost when people multi-task?
According to Realization as reported in PRNewswire in 2013, multi-tasking costs the global economy $450 billion in lost productivity each year, even though it typically goes unnoticed in large corporations.
Do you know how much time is lost when people have to stop what they’re doing to look for something they need to finish a task? In 2010, Brother International reported that more than $177 billion each year is lost due to looking for things in offices and computers.
The Best Questions to Ask Your Job Candidates
Questions about workload management skills are no different than questions about expertise, experience and education. The answers to the following questions may be quite revealing and they have the potential to open up new conversations that are also very telling about how people will work and make progress if they are hired.
- What do you use to keep track of things to do?
If your job candidates list off only one or two methods – a task app or their online calendar – they’re not aware of all the things they use to try to keep track of things to do.
First, there are the sources of to-dos – numbering almost ten – including email, voice mail, snail mail, files on the desk, meeting notes, and conversations. Then there are the many management methods, such as legal pads, spiral pads, steno pads, post-it notes, and white boards.
Trying to manage ALL to-dos from a combination of sources and management methods is impossible. There’s no way to effectively plan or prioritize and make certain progress without missing, losing or forgetting something along the way. Automatically, there’s potential for costly mistakes with task and time management.
Find out: Will job candidates be…
- Prepared and ready for anything?
- Able to prioritize well and know where their time is best spent?
- Able to turn on a dime to address a new priority without losing track of existing tasks?
- Able to deliver what’s promised on time and on target?
Studies show that confidence and trust are lost when individuals don’t exhibit capability and dependability. With good workload management skills, new hires can quickly show their level of expertise and their ability to deliver on promises.
- How do you think time is best managed?
Answers to time management questions will reveal if a person works reactively or proactively. You can bet that the more reactive a person is, the less control they believe they have of their time, and the less they will can accomplish each week.
Find out: Will job candidates…
- Know how to get the time they need to work on their priorities?
- Thrive on lots of interaction (extrovert) or wish for little interaction (introvert), or desire a mix of both? This will indicate how much time they will likely spend focusing on their work.
- Feel guilty about shutting their door or getting quiet time to focus on their work? Or do they believe in an all-day, open door policy? The latter will only leave time scraps, which makes it hard to get anything of significance accomplished, given the interruptions invited by an all-day, open-door policy.
- Feel protective of their time? Or do they want others to have easy access to it (as with shared calendars) so others are free to take what they want?
No matter how the conversation is started, it’s good to know how job candidates views their time. Aside from the fact that we could ALL use more time, there has to be a good balance between time used for meetings with others and time used for getting work done. How much control do job candidates believe they have over their time?
Also, you could ask, “If you were giving advice to someone else about how to get more time, what would you tell them?”
- How many emails are in your Inbox right now?
It’s important for employees to have their Inbox under control. Hundreds or thousands of emails backing up in the Inbox and scrolling off the screen invite more opportunity for tasks and important information to be missed, lost or forgotten.
If a person flags emails or marks them as unread to remember to come back to them later, they’re losing loads of time each day. They have to go back to reread these emails multiple times to see WHY they flagged them, and then they must determine if they can actually do the task that needs to be done right now. Multiply this by the number of emails flagged and the lost time adds up.
Find out: How is this person managing…
- Important attachments
- Other important information
- And to-dos
Tack on the question of whether this person likes the Search feature in email, too, and if you find out they can’t live without it, your candidate is lacking a good system and a streamlined process for managing emails, which is highly inefficient and unproductive.
Make Workload Management Skills a Job Requirement
The goal of filling an open position is to find the best candidate who possess a “do what it takes” attitude and who exhibits a “ready for anything” dependability. You want people who think smartly about their direction, decide carefully how to use their time, and take action regularly on the tasks and projects that matter the most to the bottom line.
When you interview, look for signs of excellence in self-management and their understanding of what focus is all about. When someone has a high sense of urgency for their most important goals – whether for the day, week, month or year – and they have a clear direction with laser focus, you’ll hear about it in the interview and, if hired, it will show up in their results, accomplishments, and ultimate goal achievement.