Deciding on a New Manager: What Really Matters
30 June, 2020
Selecting the right people and ensuring enough support is a cornerstone for the success of any organization.
At one time, I was in need of a new Engineering Manager, and though I considered hiring both internally and externally, I first went for outside candidates. After spending some time looking for external talent, I’ve ended up promoting internally.
Deciding among multiple candidates is a challenging task and you need a framework that will allow you to make the best decision.
Before anything else, set clear expectations about the new hire. Your expectations should be precisely outlined in the job description, so make sure you have one matching your needs. Ensure you have clear expectation guidelines for both soft and hard skills, especially in manager roles. Leadership and coaching/mentoring are key responsibilities in this kind of role, might even be more important than technical knowledge.
Consider hiring both internally and externally. I would always go for both -- by going externally I would be able to learn what the talent market looks like at any particular moment, but also it would help champion merit and fairness as organizational values since promotion is not unconditionally granted to inside candidates.
By going internally, I would have an advantage of already knowing the people, their competencies and skills, but I would also benefit from their experience within the organization and their ability to get up to speed really quickly as they already know the technology stack. Each approach has its own pros and cons and looking in both directions cannot hurt.
Be honest about what you are looking for and don’t forget to account for future plans for the team. Clearly define what is important to you and why -- look at a spec and compare it with the needs of the team to which this person would be assigned. For external candidates, I usually rely on a recruiter to provide me with a reasonable number of pre-screened candidates fitting the requirements listed in a job description and our culture.
Then, obviously, come the interviews. The process is slightly easier with internal candidates and can be carried out in a more informal setting -- over a coffee, for example -- taking the pressure off the conversation. Interviewing external candidates is more formal and time-consuming, so keep your list short and sweet.
For internal candidates that have not been managers previously, it’s important you ensure they actually want to go into management and they understand what transitioning from an IC to a manager entails. Explain to the candidate what it means to make this transition, as the role and responsibilities may change from company to company. Finally, this is a good opportunity to understand what kind of support they would need in case you go ahead.
Once you’re done with interviews, go back to your expectations guidelines and use it as a reference point to rank your candidates. I still remember how on one occasion I was so much in favor of one internal candidate, but after reviewing my guidelines I decided for another person. My initial choice had robust technical skills that I was impressed with but my guidelines reminded me that I wanted to prioritize someone with excellent leadership skills.
Sometimes it’s expected you promote the most senior person on the team. Don’t succumb to the pressure and go for what is important to you. If you want to keep things mostly the way they are, promoting the most senior person is the most convenient way. But if you want to use this opportunity to promote a change, bring someone from the outside or from another team. A change in leadership is a great opportunity to change tack and head the team into new directions.
Once the process is completed and you have made your decision, spare some time to explain to unselected candidates why they haven’t been chosen. Work with internal candidates you didn’t pick and help them grow into their full potential.
- Follow your instincts and be honest with yourself about what you are looking for and what you value the most. In my case at that time, it was leadership and architecture over day-to-day coding.
- Good is not only outside, pay attention to internal candidates before rushing to see what’s available in the market outside your organization. By picking an internal candidate you will become a part of their career trajectory.
- Needless to say, but any hire you do, both internally or externally will now become part of your leadership team, you must be comfortable with this decision and ensure they bring value. You will bring them under your wing and support them every day.
- Especially for an internal hire from an IC background, ensure you have the time and support net available to help them transition into the manager role.
- Use this as an opportunity to identify potential candidates internally, and even if you don’t promote them now, you can help them grow into the role. This helps you build career paths inside the organization.
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