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CIO Unplugged – 6/15/08

June 15, 2008 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

CIO reDefined: Chief Interview Officer
By Ed Marx

The roles of a CIO are as varied as the companies and sectors they serve. Even within these roles are multiple combinations and permutations that are expressed according to circumstance. The moniker “CIO” itself is not limited to “Chief Information Officer.” No, to be effective in our calling we must stretch the traditional definition beyond this commonly accepted interpretation. This post continues a series on how the “CIO 2.0” will push the boundaries of conventional thinking surrounding the role. We continue with the “Chief Interview Officer.”

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear me say that an organization’s greatest asset is having the right people in the right places. If we lived in a perfect world, this process would be occurring naturally. But we don’t. Instead, the selection and development of talent may be the single most challenging responsibility for a leader. Selection of talent is more often a quantity game than a quality endeavor. Many organizations bring in as many candidates as possible to fill numerous positions in a department with the focus being more statistical than productive. Although this has spawned a billion dollar industry that gives us tools to attract and select the right people, by the end of the day it still comes down to a 50/50 crapshoot.

As the leader, it is my responsibility to ensure my department is hiring only the top shelf of candidates, especially when it comes to senior leadership ranks. For starters, we must offer a compelling employment proposition to attract the right people, a topic I’ll tackle on another post downstream. Assuming you are reaching the right candidate pool, how do you elevate the 50/50 crapshoot to 75/25 or better?

Absolutely, you must leverage the tools typically available through your HR division. I am not big on “requirements” filters, but I see value in sophisticated “cultural fit” assessments that show a scientific correlation between candidates’ scores and performance outcomes. These tools are good grounds from which to build and make the following even more effective.

As suggested and supported by Gallop research, we create a talent profile for each leadership position. Some leaders have gone on to create talent profiles for all their positions, a practice I endorse and applaud. Determine what talents are common to your most productive and effective leaders and use these as the baseline during your interview process. Engineer correctly, your questions can help you unearth an interviewee’s talents. If they have what’s critical to the success of the position, consider everything else fluff.

Common to all leadership talent is the ability to lead, think, and communicate. Using the conventional interview, these talents are hard to access and evaluate. Anyone who has reached this point in his/her career will be good at answering questions regarding his thought processes or how she communicates, etc. Once the top 2-3 finalists have been identified, the greatest differentiator in singling out the best candidate is the “presentation.” We require each candidate to choose one of two real world business/technical scenarios. He/she then returns in a week and presents his recommended solution to a jury of peers. This separates the great from the good.

Through the “presentation” technique, you’ll observe an actual real-time demonstration of these talents. In the standard interview, any candidate can tell you that she can handle conflict and even throw in an anecdotal example. During a presentation, however, a peer will deliberately disagree with a point so you can watch how the candidate responds. Is he nervous, timid, aggressive, thoughtful, etc? During the interview, a candidate can share the academic, five-step process on how she tackles a complex situation; during the presentation, she’ll have to apply that five-step process (or not!). How much research did she do? Was her process rational? Did she communicate clearly? Did she reach out to others? Oh, the things you’ll pick up on that are impossible to discern in the conventional interview.

And the bonus? You get free consulting! Sometimes the solutions are ones you’ve missed and can now apply.

Let’s face it, interviewing to ensure you hire only the best is not easy. Ensuring that the right people are in the right places, especially at the leadership ranks, is one of the most critical functions of the Chief Interview Officer. Whatever interview process you use, those around you will follow your example and carry the tradition down through the ranks. So do it right.


Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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