Ask the CHO: How do you hire a happy manager?

Ask the CHONixon McInnes is a happy workplace. This web design agency based in Brighton in the UK have some great policies including:

  • No dress code
  • Employees set their own working hours
  • open salaries (ie. everyone knows what everyone else is paid)

They’re also doing very well and will be needing another manager soon, so director Tom Nixon wrote me an email asking how a happy company should hire its managers:

This year Iím going to be recruiting a manager to oversee the website design and development side of our business and lead the team. Itís important to me that we hire someone who will make the team (and clients) HAPPY.

Iíve been borrowing ideas from Semler about inviting the employees who will report to this manager to submit criteria against which we should judge candidates and involving them in the interview process.

But do you have any more ideas/tips for company directors or CEOs who want to hire managers that will make their employees happy?

That’s a great question. Traditional ways to hire a manager fall short because they focus too much on finding a person with the right professional skills and an impressive CV and not enough on happiness at work.

When you hire a new manager the most important thing is to find one who will make the employees happy at work. This makes great bottom-line sense because happy employees are much more productive.

Here are my thoughts on some alternative ways to hire a happy manager that will help you find a manager who will:

  • Fit well into the company’s culture
  • Enjoy working in the company
  • Make employees happy at work
  • Make the customers happy

1: Let the employees do it
Few companies have taken this further than Semco, so emulating them is definitely a good place to start. Tom and I are both member of the unofficial Ricardo Semler Fanclub, but for those who haven’t heard of his fantastic management style, one of the things his company does is let employees hire their own managers.

Employees define what qualifications the new boss should have and they conduct the job interview. They’re done as group interviews where multiple candidates are interviewed at the same time by the employees.

This seems radical but it has worked extremely well for Semco where people are so happy at work the employee turnover is typically around 1%.

You can read all about Semco in Ricardo Semler’s fantastic book The Seven-Day Weekend. It is without a doubt the single best business book I have ever read.

2: Let the employees formulate some tricky scenarios
If you don’t want to take it quite as far, how about letting the employees formulate some scenarios that applicants can then respond to in the job interviews.

As in “A customer does this, employees react like that, the whole situation is now in deadlock, what do you do?”

These scenarios should preferably be based on specific tricky situations from the company’s past, so you know they’re relevant. Let the employees specify both the scenarios and their preferred solutions.

The cool thing about this is also that it would get employees talking about their expectations for the new manager and let them have a chance to think about the manager’s responsibilities.

3: Ask your customers
How about asking some of your preferred, long-term customers what kind of manager they would like to work with..? Would that be totally weird or..?

It sounds like this manager will be working closely with the customers, so getting their input might be very valuable. It may also make the customers feel valued because you show that you care about their opinion.

4: Look for the right personal strengths
I previously wrote about the VIA strength questionnaire, a test which will reveal your most 5 important personal strengths out of a total of 24.

I suggest having a conversation inside the company about which top 5 strengths your ideal manager should have. Should she possess curiosity or is forgiveness more important? Is humor central or does capacity to be loved matter more?

This conversation is interesting to have in itself and it can give you a much clearer picture of what your new manager should be like.

5: Base it on people’s “Best boss ever”
Start a conversation in the company around these question: “Who has been your best boss ever? What did he/she do? What did you like about that person? How did that person affect you and your work? How did this make you happy at work?”

This will uncover people’s previous experiences with good leadership and give you a profile of the ideal boss.

6: Hire no jerks. Ever!
Hire no jerks, no matter how good they look on paper. Jerks make everyone unhappy at work.

Your ideas?
What about you? Do you know of some cool ways to hire the right manager – one who will make employees and customers happy?

Oh, and if you’re in the web business, Nixon McInnes are currently looking for more talent. Check’em out, they are a great place to work :o)

8 thoughts on “Ask the CHO: How do you hire a happy manager?”

  1. Great ideas!

    One twist I would offer is that each finalist for the opening should be invited to meet with the team for some semi-structured interaction. This should be a good way for the team to get a sense of…
    – the candidate’s interpersonal skills
    – how much “fun” the candidate is


  2. I agree with your ideas, especially the first one. Since most of the time employees don’t agree with their managers. I think it would be great if employees choose the manager. As long as the employees are responsible enough to choose the right one, there’s no problem

  3. I think psychological structure might be relevant. An extrovert might do a better job. Also a Sensory-Logical might be a better fit than an Intuitive-Ethical. For management you need a Tactician not a Strategist.

  4. There is one sentence in this article that i just love:
    “Hire no jerks. Ever!”

    It’s should be so incredibly logical, but still… Jerks are being hired all the time.

  5. I think it’s reasonable and logical. Since managers are responsible in managing the employees, I think it’s only appropriate for the employee to choose the right manager. This way, they don’t have any reason to complain about the behavior and the way their manager is doing his/her job..

  6. How about having each of the candidates literally work together on a piece of a real project with the team?

    The reality of goals, interaction, deadlines, and creativity would surface at least hints of “jerkiness” and allow everyone–including the candidate–to get a feel for the fit.

  7. More companies need to take some approach like this. It would probably increase their bottom line that they all are worried about. Having happy employees and happy customers makes your business happy.

  8. Excellent ideas. I believe that the 5th one on the list will work out well. We know that experience is a great teacher and will be our great source of our ideas for a good manager

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