When you’re looking to hire a new leader for a team, should you let the employees interview their potential new boss and weigh in on the decision?

If you think employees should be allowed to interview their prospective boss you probably have the goal of being inclusive. After all, they have a lot at stake in the decision. The employees are the first to notice (and suffer) if you make a hiring mistake.

You may even think you’re demonstrating respect for the subordinates by including them, but there’s an inherent tension in the process. The new manager can’t ask about deficiencies on the team, the subordinate can’t ask tough follow-up questions and the whole conversation can devolve into a kabuki dance of avoided topics and a bit of a beauty contest.

I just went through an interesting interview process with a client that had been going through some significant changes and was trying to bring in a new VP of Engineering. They were consolidating some of their product lines, trying to pull the team together and potentially shrink some remote offices. In other words, change was afoot.

Through the interview process, they had come down to two candidates. One a quiet very capable individual with excellent references. The other was capable as well, but much more outgoing.

The leadership in the organization decided that they wanted to go with the quiet capable one because of his stabilizing effect. They then felt it would be worthwhile to have both candidates meet with the team. The engineering team, who were involved in a number of interviews, thought both were capable but felt the more outgoing individual would be a better leader. And thus the conundrum.

Ultimately, what subordinates say about their potential superior is often based on style rather than substance. The subordinates don’t have the perspective and judgment to accurately assess someone’s effectiveness in the management role. They won’t know where you want to go with the position long term. They won’t understand the details of what you expect in the position aside from what’s written in the job description. What they will see is a presentation style which comes with its own halo effect.

After the interview process, If you have included them but decide in a different direction and ignore their opinion, have you really shown them any real respect?

I wish this company and candidate nothing but success. Putting aside how the decision went, I think a better decision process would have been the use of an assessment tool to add ‘colour’ to their understanding of the candidate’s skills.

I am all too aware of the fact that hiring decisions are rarely binary, but bringing in the unknown biases and desires of a disparate group of employees can produce a hiring conundrum which you simply can’t get yourself out of.

If you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. My email is below.