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Time to trust your instinct

Interviewing? You seriously know.

"Die Heuernte" by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) - Christian Vöhringer – Pieter Bruegel,

Another year where the pointless “two stage” or even “three stage” process for interviewing interim managers has crept into the client side. I say pointless because I fervently believe most clients are experts in their business and know who is right or wrong within minutes of meeting them.

I was thinking about this recently whilst re-reading Michael Frayn’s 1999 novel “Headlong”. Its main protagonist and narrator, Martin, discovers what he believes to be a valuable painting in a decaying stately home. Convinced it is a long lost valuable masterpiece by Pieter Bruegel, he begins a farcical quest to surreptitiously acquire it. Along the way, he tries to convince his wife of the painting’s authenticity (she is especially doubtful given that he only laid eyes upon the picture for seconds):

“And you seriously think……..?” she begins carefully.

“No,” I say, “I don’t. I don’t seriously think at all. I seriously know”.

You have to admire Michael Frayn - he knows that people know.

This passage and book pre-dated Malcolm Gladwell’s famous work “Blink” by five whole years. Gladwell’s well-constructed premise in his equally magnificent book was that experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis”.

It talks about two art historians who look at a sculpture bought for tens of millions and instantly know that something is not right (spoiler alert: it turns out to be a fraud). There are countless other examples in the book – the fireman who knows the moment he needs to get out of a building, the marriage guidance counsellor who knows immediately if his clients have a future together.

One of my favourite pre 2008 experiences was when clients called and said “I don’t want to meet them, just send them down with a bag”. It happened often enough that we gave it a name “SNIV” (Start No Interview). They were using their instincts and trusting me to use mine. All of the SNIV assignments had successful outcomes.

There’s a myth out there that the more interviews you push a candidate through, the more likely you are to get the right person. It’s a myth on lots of different levels:

  1. The longer the process takes, the more chance you have of losing the right person - they’ll end up getting hired elsewhere, whilst you drag your heels.
  2. You could go through a full process, waste weeks of valuable time and still end up with the wrong person (as often happens).

Most senior clients looking to hire interims are experts. They should have the confidence to trust their well-developed instinct more.

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