By Susan Bady. Here's how to find division presidents and senior managers who are a good fit, and help them adjust to your organization.
Probe for management and cultural style. Ask thorough questions to discern a candidate's management philosophy and cultural orientation. After a screening interview and a test that measures the prospect's strengths and weaknesses against a job profile, Wayne Homes then conducts six more hours of interviews. "After that, we interview spouses at home," says COO Bill Post. "It's a policy we have for every position in the company, because we feel a career change should be a joint decision." To gauge compatibility, says consultant Scott Sedam, candidates should be interviewed by every member of the management team, as well as the secretary who will be working with the new manager. Secretaries have a perspective that no one else can provide.
Create a comprehensive orientation program. Experienced managers tend to come into a new position with the attitude, "I'm already credentialed, so just let me do my thing," says consultant Bill Carpitella. Senior executives need to communicate their expectations and how they envision the new person fitting in. For example, at The Drees Co., an action plan is prepared for the manager's first 90 days on the job. "We put in writing the things we would like that person to accomplish," says CEO David Drees. "After 90 days, we review the plan and see if the manager is meeting our expectations and fitting in with the new environment. By then, we usually have a good idea whether it's working or not."
Set aside "windshield time." The CEO should spend half a day or a full day with the new manager to answer questions and listen, not just talk.
Have monthly recap meetings. "If the [manager] has issues or concerns, sees things that are dysfunctional, or wants to point the finger, it's done behind closed doors with the CEO as opposed to blowing up the organization," Carpitella says. Such meetings also give the chief executive the opportunity to explain company history and defuse any destructive emotions.
Organize a Qamp;A session. This should involve every employee who reports directly to the new division president or manager. Choose a facilitator to solicit questions from the group. Questions might include, "What's your management style?", "How do you deal with somebody who disagrees with you?", and "What do you like to do when you're not working?" The manager then is asked to join the meeting and the facilitator helps him or her answer each question in a non-threatening way.
Utilize 360-degree feedback. Three or four months after the Qamp;A session, the manager sends a survey to everyone who reports directly to him or her, as well as his or her peers and supervisor. The survey lists the major competencies the manager is expected to have, such as building effective teams, managing conflict, and motivating others, and asks how well those expectations have been met. Surveys are filled out anonymously and returned to the manager. "It can indicate, 'I just dug myself a 20-foot hole,' or 'I fit in okay,' or 'There are some concerns, but my peers think I'm great.' It nips any problems in the bud very quickly."
Respect what they already know. Sedam suggests the following script for newly hired division presidents: "If you go with us 100 percent from the first moment, we're going to lose some of what you bring to the table. But if you stay stuck in your old company, you aren't going to adapt. So I need you to be open to our way of doing things, but not forget what you knew, because it's a very valuable perspective."
Train, train, train. Shea Homes immerses new managers in the principles of total quality management and Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." They also spend a lot of one-on-one time with departmental heads, land brokers, and off-site utility companies. At Wayne Homes, division presidents receive extensive training, including a four-week introductory program and an ongoing program that lasts about a year. "It's delivered both on site and at our corporate headquarters," says Post. And during their first three weeks at History Maker Homes, managers get a crash course in every department from title to mortgage and construction to administration.