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Crisis Management: There’s No Better Way to Judge Someone’s Real Character

Since I started in recruitment in the dotcom boom of 1998, I’ve always found it valuable to have informal interviews away from the office setting. As I found out, one day last year, this kind of interview can tell you more than you could ever learn behind closed doors.

superhero in business suit

Imagine that you’re chatting away with a contact in a coffee shop. You’ve been having an interesting discussion for an hour or so. Then suddenly they pause mid-sentence, look over your shoulder, stand up and rush across the room.

This is exactly the situation I found myself in when I met Andy Dobson for the first time last year. Over the next couple of minutes, I learned more about him than I ever could have done in the hour before.

We were meeting as I had recently joined Interim Partners. Andy is a manufacturing subject matter expert, who is well known to our business having delivered a successful operational improvement programme for one of our global pharmaceutical clients. Andy was also part of the team which brought the femidom from concept to volume manufacture.

I arranged to meet Andy for coffee as, despite the strong references, I always like to meet people in person to assess their capability for myself and create rapport. The first thing Andy did was hand me a jar of homemade jam, a great ice breaker (his partner wants it known that she made the jam, not Andy). We then began an informal competency-based interview. 

He went on to explain how he has always scored highly on 'empathy' when doing personality tests and although lean principles and operational excellence often look like they will impact headcount, he is considerate and compassionate. He states that he is "happiest at the gemba" and a kinesthetic learner – his motto is "don’t tell me, show me!". Well, what would you expect from an engineer with empathy?

We then moved on to his notable achievements: 

  • Femidom – bringing the product to volume manufacture including recruiting, training, documenting and achieving FDA approval for a new medical device
  • Rhone-Poulenc Rorer – running a successful night shift and helping bring an anti-cancer treatment into full-scale manufacture
  • Nokia – developing people and processes while scaling output ten-fold
  • Applied Kilovolts– turning around a failing business bringing it back to profitability and developing the team (60% increase in output over 18 months with minimal increase in resources)
  • GSK and Baxter – collaborating with complex supply chains and achieving significant improvements in QCD

An hour of time flew by before Andy suddenly cut the conversation short.

I turned to see a young woman who had been eating her lunch start to collapse in her chair, clearly in distress. Andy moved quickly and eased her down onto the floor and into the recovery position, another man in the coffee shop came over to assist. The staff in the coffee shop froze as Andy and the other man asked for someone to call an ambulance, I was already making the call.

I spoke to the emergency services while Andy checked her vital signs and tried to clear her airway as she was choking on her food. They were clearly struggling to get her to breathe and the situation looked bad. Eventually, she started to come around (it turned out that she had epilepsy) and they managed to get her breathing by the time the ambulance arrived.

They handed over to the ambulance staff and the young woman was sitting up shortly afterwards. Andy, myself and the other man congratulated each other on great teamwork and wished the girl well.

After that drama, we agreed to cut the meeting short and follow up at other time. I’m pleased to say I have met Andy many times since.

In the coffee shop that day, Andy demonstrated he is calm in a crisis and has great attention to detail (good peripheral vision too). The place was packed but Andy reacted first. His actions during this situation made the difference. I got the measure of him as a person more than any interview could.

Since then, Andy has collaborated with me to fundraise for our charity partners, Spear. By providing lots more jam, he’s helped us raise over £2,000.

He continues to participate as an integral part of my peer-to-peer networking group helping us move the needle within interim management through new ideas and innovation.

Get in touch to discuss engaging Andy or to share your own experiences.

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