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Evaluating supervisory candidates by their meeting performance.

Leadership traits are important but often elusive qualifications for a supervisory job. It is difficult to identify them in candidates who have never held a managerial position.

Some laboratory administrators try to dig out leadership traits through interviews or by asking candidates to write about the essentials of supervising. Unfortunately, mediocre applicants may talk a great game, while born leaders may omit qualities that they take for granted.

Why not instead observe leadership in action? A convenient studio exists for assessing candidates who are on the laboratory staff; it requires little of your time or effort if you're the person the new supervisor will report to.

Simply ask the candidates to moderate meetings. Several probably have done so in the past, although you missed the chance to observe them--had you been present, you would have served as moderator.

Before setting up the leadership experiment, recollect how candidates performed as committee or audience members at meetings you did attend. Even that level of involvement can tell you a lot.

Was the candidate a genuine participant at meetings, consistently helping the moderator move discussions forward without attempting to take charge? Such a role combines elements of leadership with followership, just as the supervisor's job does. Two other kinds of meeting attendees do not make good supervisor candidates: onlookers, who have no impact on the course or outcome of the meeting, and wreckers, who impede the deliberations.

Effective participants arrive on time and try to stay until the end of the session. They come prepared. They listen thoughtfully to others, trying to understand their points of view and asking for clarification when necessary. Standing up for what they think is right, they are not afraid to voice unpopular opinions. They help the moderator achieve group objectives, and they accept subcommittee or other assignments.

In contrast, onlookers may arrive late and leave early. Body language will project boredom or distraction. More blatantly, they may read unrelated material during the meeting or carry on irrelevant conversations with others. They contribute little or nothing to the discussion and give noncommittal responses when asked for an opinion.

Wreckers monopolize the discussion, interrupt speakers, and respond inappropriately. They get embroiled in nonproductive arguments. They sabotage progress by body language or tone of voice, make sarcastic and harshly critical remarks, and embarrass the moderator. They are capable of destroying recommendations.

A valued meeting participant may share some positive characteristics with supervisors and still not be leadership material. So we must now see the candidate run a meeting. Four performance parameters are to be evaluated: preparation, including a statement of purpose or goal; the way the meeting progresses; leadership traits; and reporting and follow-up. Let's explore each factor.

* Preparation. Laying proper groundwork is the most important determinant of a successful meeting. The candidate who does a thorough job of preparation shows expertise in planning, organizing, and communicating.

Answer these questions in evaluating preparation: Were the best meeting participants selected? Did they receive sufficient advance notice? Was an agenda distributed beforehand? If so, did it indicate the place, date, time, and purpose of the meeting?

Was the meeting site appropriate and reserved in advance? Were participants told what to bring with them; for example, position descriptions or manuals? If individuals were to play a special role at the meeting, did the moderator alert them beforehand?

Say the group assembled to solve a problem--was the problem clearly delineated at the meeting? Did the participants know what was expected of them? Was background information furnished? Were visual aids, flip charts, handouts, etc., provided? Was the moderator well prepared?

* The meeting process. How the meeting unfolds is a test of the candidate's skills in performing two managerial functions--directing and controlling. He or she will pass with flying colors by guiding the group smoothly to a successful conclusion.

Pay attention both to the form and content of the meeting. In the first category: Did the meeting begin and end on time? Were members seated in a circle or around a table rather than in classroom rows? Was someone appointed to record the proceedings?

As for the substance of the meeting, were discussions kept on track? Did the group explore all viable alternatives? Were conclusions reached logically? Did plans for action spell out who, where, when, and how? What provisions were made for follow-up?

* Leadership traits. Examine the moderator's performance more closely with an eye to specific elements of directing and controlling--communicating, motivating, decision making, and time management.

In general, was the moderator organized, enthusiastic, receptive, and persuasive? Did he or she: demonstrate a democratic rather than an authoritarian style; listen actively; prevent aggressive members from dominating the rest of the group; draw out nonassertive members; clarify fuzzy statements by restating or summarizing them; keep the meeeting under control; suppress trivia; withhold opinions until others stated theirs; pose questions tactfully; let attendees know what they were to do after the meeting; and thank them for their participation?

Did the moderator personally avoid such bad meeting behavior as monopolizing discussions, ridiculing positions, arguing, and getting upset?

* Reporting. When the written report of the meeting is incomplete, inaccurate, or delayed, even those who attended may be unclear about what took place and what subsequent steps are planned. We come back to a question asked in the meeting process section above: Was a recorder appointed? If so, was there ample opportunity to carry out the assignment or did the individual have to participate in the discussions to an extent that interfered with note taking? The same question obviously applies if the moderator doubled as recorder.

Was there an undue delay in preparing or distributing the report? If the moderator is also the recorder, the meeting will probably be reconstructed in part from memory. The longer the moderator waits to write the report, the likelier it is that important points will be forgotten.

Was the report concise? Did it include: who was present and who was excused; key statements describing the transactions; the group's recommendations; proposals and alternatives, rather than just the steps agreed to by the group; actions to be taken, by whom and when; names of persons who are to receive the report; and appropriate attachments?

* Follow-up. A meeting that does not result in some change in policy, procedures, or staff behavior is usually a hollow exercise. That's why it is important to document recommended actions, preferably in a conspicuous location so they won't be overlooked by those who only scan.

When persons other than members of the meeting group will consider and act upon the recommendations, the moderator has discharged his or her responsibility with submission of the report. On the other hand, when the moderator or other group members are expected to do something more, they should be expeditious about it.

If numerical comparisons of candidates are desired, the form in Figure 1 quantifies observations of meeting performance. Each appraisal category is rated on a scale of 1 to 10; with the multipliers shown for the categories, the highest possible score is 100.

In summary, observing the candidate's performance as a member of a committee or meeting group provides insight into followership ability. Most effective supervisors are also good followers--they get along well with the managers they report to.

It is even more important to observe a supervisory candidate leading a meeting. In that role, the employee gets a chance to carry out the essential supervisory functions of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. Skills in communicating, motivating, and making decisions are tested.

I don't know of any other way to learn so much about a potential supervisor with so little effort and time on a manager's part.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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