Navigate the minefield.
Direct reports may arrive with a negatively tinged agenda. There are many reasons why.
- Change is scary. They may worry that you’ll disrupt processes that are working for them, or even “clean house” and fire people–including them.
- They’re likely to have strong feelings about the departure of the previous manager/executive.
- They may have wanted the role you’re interviewing for.
- They may not have much influence in the hire, feeling that their participation is a sham and a waste of time.
Fortunately, the interview with direct reports tends to come late in the process, which gives you time to try to feel out such issues before you meet the team. Ask the recruiter, the hiring manager or any personal contacts you may have, “How are the team feeling about this transition? Are there any issues I should be aware of?”
On the other hand, don’t assume there’s negativity. Maybe the team are looking forward to having a new manager. Keep an open mind.
Make them comfortable. If you can honestly reassure them that you’re not going to let anyone go or make major changes, tell them so. Show that you respect the way things are working. And make it clear that if hired you’re going to do lots of listening.
Focus on rapport.
In your interviews with HR and your prospective manager you strove to sell yourself. The interview with subordinates, on the other hand, is more about learning, gaining rapport and defusing possible fears and resistance.
Some of the best advice I’ve seen about this came from an anonymous poster in an internet forum:
- Focus on listening: let the team members do most of the talking.
- Ask follow-up questions about matters they’re interested or concerned about.
- Address them by their names, making sure you pronounce them correctly.
- Make them feel important, and be sincere about it.
- Be positive and confident.
Questions to Ask Potential Direct Reports in the Interview:
Find out about their job before you talk with them. Then ask informed questions about their challenges and goals.
Here are some generic questions to start with:
- What will you miss about the (outgoing manager’s name)?
- What works well in this department, and what could be better?
- What are your hopes for this transition?
- What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the new manager?
- If you could change one thing about how this company operates, what would it be?
- If I’m hired, we’ll be having one-on-one meetings, in which I’ll be asking about your individual goals and needs. But for now, would anyone like to share something that’s important for me to know about you, so that I can help you perform at your best?
Don’t put them on the spot in front of their peers by asking overly challenging questions. But if the meeting is one-on-one and the rapport is good, you might delve a bit deeper:
- What do you enjoy most and least about your job?
- What are your goals for your work, whether in terms of learning, job satisfaction, advancement or anything else?
- If I come on board, how can I help you reach those goals?
- Thinking about managers you’ve enjoyed working with and who have brought out the best in you, what made those partnerships work well?
- Different people have different needs from their manager. How can I be an effective manager for you?
Show respect for their feelings, ideas and knowledge. Thank them for their answers, and validate them with statements like “That makes sense,” “That’s a very helpful explanation,” “I can understand how you feel,” “That’s a good question,” and “I’m glad you brought that up, it’s important.”
A little informality in these discussions can be a good thing, but at the same time you need to maintain a professional demeanor, even if your prospective reports don’t do so. They may be testing you!