It is not often that one finds sage communications advice in the sports pages of the local newspaper. But that’s exactly what turned up in an online column by the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham yesterday. After writing about potential candidates in the search for a new Red Sox manager to replace Terry Francona, he concluded this way:
“One suggestion for the Red Sox: Make your candidates available to the media when they come to town for interviews. It makes sense as an evaluation tool. A big part of being manager of a team like the Red Sox is having the ability to be an effective team spokesman twice a day for 162 days and all of spring training. There’s not much point in hiring a manager who can’t deal with the media. That only leads to trouble.”
That’s great advice for the Red Sox Ownership Brain Trust, but it is also a valuable point for communicators and hiring managers in other fields. In fact, there are several useful lessons in this brief paragraph.
Being a communicator is a special skill. Just because someone has excellent business acumen and superior leadership skills does not mean they make for a good spokesperson. If you’re hiring someone to be CEO or other leadership position and media interaction is vital to the role, make sure you know how that person will perform. Unlike the Red Sox, you may not be able to trot them out in front of your own media constituency since your job search may be more private, but you need to test them in some other way during your process, perhaps in a mock press conference environment or by studying their performance in previous similar interactions.
Know which skills really matter when you are hiring. One would think that the next manager of the Red Sox needs to be baseball savvy, with knowledge of how to win big games. And he does. But the Red Sox, along with a handful of other major league teams, exists in a brutal media environment with a 24/7/365 spotlight and no tolerance for failure. Abraham recognizes that the manager of the Red Sox is as much a media punching bag as an on-field general. It isn’t always obvious what you need when you hire someone, so think carefully about it in advance.
Find creative ways to evaluate necessary skills. Putting a job candidate in front of the media during the hiring process isn’t exactly the most obvious way to make an employment decision. But in this case, it would surely benefit both the Red Sox and whomever they eventually bring on board. Rather than running your own job candidates through the typical interview gauntlet, try to find real-world situations to put them in. Don’t give a basic writing test, but rather try to create a scenario similar to what an actual employee might face. For instance, when I was first hired as an intern on Capitol Hill 20 years ago this month, my first assignment was to take 30 minutes and write a 1 minute speech for the Member to deliver on the floor of the House. It was a creative way to test my ability to learn an issue (passive loss tax rules, if you’re interested) and then write a speech under incredible time pressure. I guess I passed — or at least I didn’t fail too miserably. In any case, think about your own hiring decisions in a similar way.
Communications matters in far more jobs than most people think. Sure people know that it is important to hire managers who can communicate internally. (That’s not to say that it always happens, of course, but you won’t likely find someone who says a manager doesn’t need to be a good internal communicator.) But far too often external communications skills are overlooked. This makes things more difficult for the professional communicators in an organization because to be truly effective they must work with other leaders in other departments to get the word out. A great public relations strategist who can’t give a good pitch can be a liability. A good business product manager who can’t speak effectively at important industry events can be a liability. A non-profit leader who can’t speak effectively to groups of donors can be a liability. You get the point. Communications matters and we all need to work to help those who are outside of their comfort zone in this area within our organizations to get better at it.
Now, hopefully the Red Sox will take Peter Abraham’s advice and hire a great new manager. Meanwhile, we can all take his advice, too.