Having a Meaningful Dialogue x Adam Zak

Next week’s podcast is a two-part series with Adam Zak, founder and CEO of Adam Zak Executive Search. He is an accomplished senior executive with more than 25 years of experience spanning the areas of management, consulting, financial and operations management and talent acquisition. He co-authored the book, Simple Excellence: Organizing and Aligning the Management Team in a Lean Transformationclip_image001 detailing the role of senior management in achieving a successful transformation to organizational excellence.

Adam is considered by many to be the most influential leader today in Lean Recruiting and Lean Executive Search. I invited Adam to discuss a few of his secrets on learning about people and engaging them in meaningful dialogue about themselves.socrates

An excerpt from the podcast:

Joe:  One of you strengths is creating meaningful dialogue. What do you attribute that to?

Adam Zak:  Well, let me answer the question this way, I think, I’ve just learned how to interview. Again that sounds like a simple answer but I think, unfortunately, too many managers today even if they are executives just have not developed that critical skill. No one ever taught them how to do it, in many companies it wasn’t considered to be a critical skill. Many people simply took for granted that it’s, you know, just like having a conversation with a colleague over a lunch or even over cocktails occasionally. On the surface it may seem a pretty simple thing to do, so people just naturally sort of wing it and they have not developed that competency. Learning and practicing how to conduct an interview is very important. So quite honestly I’ve really just taken the time to do that.

Joe:  It’s just not a plan either or a list of questions to go through?

Adam:  No, it’s not, I think, it’s a little bit more than that, so I’ll expand a little bit. I think; the best ways to understand the individual and assess their skills, their talents, their interests, motivations are by having a detailed structured focused conversation about those things. We call that interviewing. I believe that it is really fundamental, a foundation of a successful hiring process. In reality, interviewing is pretty complex, it’s a process of building relationship, it’s an advocacy process, it’s assessment and it’s judgment, all those things put together. If you do that badly, you are not going to get the information you need to make the correct hiring decision.

More often than not you’ll actually make a wrong decision. The impact on your company, your organization, can be very costly, very disruptive and, in fact, occasionally it could turn even into a devastating event in terms of your own career potential. There have been a number of senior executives who’ve lost their positions after somebody they put into a critical role, simply failed. There have been boards of director members who have resigned after a CEO hire that failed. A number of those that come to mind they were pretty high profile and even at that level people falsify their credentials or their experience of whatever can have terrible consequences.

Joe: In Lean, we talk about culture. You have to evaluate both sides of the fence. You have to evaluate the company culture that is seeking someone, and then you have to find a fit for that culture. How do you do that?

Adam: There is a way to do that and so let me just take a couple of minutes to explain what I’ve done. I’ve been doing executive search for well over 20 years. I’ve completed just under 600 executive searches, and if those averaged even five or six interviews a piece and I know many of them were, involved more people than that. That’s a lot of interviews, so I’ve developed a strategy and a methodology and actually I’ve built a fair bit of Lean thinking into that. It just works. There is a lot of structure, but it’s also agile or flexible enough, so that I can tailor it to the requirements, the circumstances for every company, every position, and every candidate. The interview approach that I use that I’ve built, it just helps to understand the candidate’s story. It’s about the candidate’s story: the skills, the experiences and the accomplishments. I ask questions about what the candidate achieved, why did it matter, questions about the kinds of decisions that he made. How he went about making them, questions about the mistakes that he made, how he recovered, what he learned from them, question about why he was basically even drawn to the company where he worked and the position he held. Then, how he considered changes and went about making those. I really get to understand both for myself as well as on behalf of my client what was going on in the process.

I think it will lead into answering your question more specifically. My process actually consists of three components or phases and interviewing is actually only one of them, the one in the middle. It’s about preparation, it’s about execution and then it’s about evaluation and if you’d like to ask questions or if you’d like me to talk about each of those phases, I’m happy to do that.

Adam appeared on the Business901 Podcast shortly after his book was published. A copy of the transcript and a link to the podcast can be found here, Lean Thinking on Value Enhancement eBook.

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