Saturday, 31 March 2012

The choice of the Canadiens' next General Manager

As the Canadiens sift through a long list of potential candidates for their General Manager vacancy, there are a few trains of thought that can be seen in the fans.

One is the repetitive, reflexive assertion that they should hire 'the best man available regardless of language', in the face of these candidates' remarkable résumés and previous achievements. We find in the most likely candidates that two have shown the intellectual ability to obtain a law degree. A few are currently Assistant General Managers for other teams. A couple have intimate knowledge of the Collective Bargaining Agreement through their roles as NHLPA executives or as a player agent. All of them have shown talent and dedication by ascending the echelons of their profession, and at least some of the required qualifications and traits necessary to succeed as a GM.

Somehow these candidates don't satisfy the absolutists, who still feel that the team is hampering itself with an arbitrary and irrelevant language requirement, and that there are some clearly better candidates out there who will be shut out of the process because they are unilingual. When pressed to produce these budding Sam Pollocks and Bill Torreys lost in the wilderness, a few names are offered, but none that seem clearly more worthy of an interview than any of the names punted about, save for maybe Jim Nill.

Conversely, this faction discounts as meaningless or worthless the candidates' knowledge of the team's history and local market and the ability to communicate with its fans.

Another apparent misunderstanding is how the recruiting process is conducted, either generally or in the hockey world. Usually, a wide net is cast to review as many résumés and evaluate as many candidates as possible. Through various hurdles or benchmarks most are eliminated until a short list is drawn up, and these candidates get interviewed to evaluate their skills, personal abilities and potential fit within the organization. The interviewer or interview panel then may select a candidate, or maybe select a couple of finalists for another round of interviews if they are seen as being 'neck and neck', to allow for another opportunity to differentiate them.

In the end the person that is hired is sometimes clearly the best candidate and best fit, but most often there are a few candidates who would be suitable and the decision is a judgment call. It's not as if one candidate scores an 89 and everyone else is in the 60's and 70's, it's never that objective or clear cut. You end up having one candidate who impresses with her energy and enthusiasm and original ideas, and another who shows great experience and judgment and an impressive track record, and have to choose between the two.

If the choice was so obvious, if interviews were objective and categorical and not open to bias and error, there wouldn't be any dismissals. People would be hired into jobs and perform well in that role until promoted or recruited somewhere else. This is obviously not the case. Candidates are misevaluated or end up underperforming all the time. The best you can do is find a group of candidates who fit the profile and meet all the basic requirements and most of the preferred requirements, and then do your best and hope you come up with the right choice.

One of the more common errors, however, is to not winnow down your list and interview everyone. In these situations you end up with a lot of candidates that blend into a mishmash in the interview panel's mind. Those that were interviewed earlier in the process tend to fade from memory. The very first candidates and the ones who met the panel more recently tend to stand out in the panel's mind, at the expense of worthy but unlucky candidates scheduled in the long boring middle of the pack.

I remember going over candidate selection methods in a university industrial psychology course, and learning that none of them are foolproof. Interestingly, the one which recruiters or executives tend to prize the most, the interview, is one of the least accurate selection methods based on the retention rate of hirees, yet is the one that is most relied on and is the one that executives swear by. Studies demonstrated that a process which relied exclusively on résumé review and background and reference checks was a more effective way to find the right candidate than one which included an interview process. Still, it is almost impossible to convince an employer to hire a candidate without meeting them first in an interview.

Interestingly, the most effective way to select a candidate is the realistic job preview, where a candidate or group of candidates are put in the workplace and perform the duties required of them, or as near as is possible, and are evaluated thus. The realistic job preview consistently proves to be the best selection method, in that the candidate can evaluate whether the job and workplace is the right environment for herself, the potential coworkers can offer feedback to the recruiters, and the recruiters can see how the candidates perform. Practically, this selection method is hard to use in most settings, as there are problems with allowing candidates to do 'real work'. In some fields however, such as policing or the fire service or the military, cadet programs and ride-along programs serve this function and show great results.

In our case, candidates such as Marc Bergevin, Claude Loiselle and Julien Brisebois are already on their realistic job previews, in that they are performing in an Assistant GM role and can be evaluated on how they are performing in as near a position as we can come up with. Francois Giguère actually performed in the GM role and has a track record. All that would remain in their case would be to evaluate their fit within the organization.

Which brings us to another train of thought that is puzzling, which is that somehow Pierre McGuire is one of the candidates who deserves serious consideration for the position. While Mr. McGuire is an energetic broadcaster and a likable individual, he performed very poorly in an Assistant GM position with the Hartford Whalers, and has been out of the management ranks for more than a decade. If his résumé is reviewed against some of the other candidates that are bandied about, his shouldn't even make it on the short list pile.

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