"Frank's skill in asking the right questions is un-mistakable, and is at the core of his leadership philosophy.

The power of these questions cannot be underestimated, especially if you want to lead and not manage."
—John Cave
Westhaven Worldwide Logistics

One-on-One interviews

Ever wondered why you need One-on-One interviews and what they can do for you?


A few years ago I met with the CFO of an one time European trust.  Business was going pretty well, but costs where out of hands.  The CFO felt that most of the long standing problems were related to the existing legacy systems but the CTO was a personal friend with a friendship with the CEO.  The CFO just didn't see a way of talking to the CTO without it turning into another argument.  Even so the CTO had to report to the CFO the CFO couldn't do anything because of the CTO's ties to the CEO.

Doesn't this sound familiar: Company politics getting in the way of performance improvements?

Anyway, the CFO asked me what he could do.  So I told him it would be best to interview the employees one-on-one: To find out what they really do and to find other underlying problems.

Being an outsider I was more objective then anyone else and I would be able to get information the employees wouldn't usually give to any internal interviewer.  Besides that I would not be able to base my conclusions on existing knowledge of the company's culture.


First we had to find the most representative plant.  We both agreed that if we find problems they will be similar at most plants.  We also concluded that we would just waste time and other resources if we go to every plant and interview employees.  One representative plant should do the trick for us.  After all there were less then 10.

Little did we know about the problems we were about to dig out!

After reviewing the shocking results from the first round we decided that we had to interview employees at another plant.  Just to make sure that we didn't end up with looking at one place which was troubled worst then any other plant.  We really needed representative results to present to the CEO and get more necessary changes in place.

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Planning and Execution

The number one challenge was to make the people talk.  Talk about their work like they would talk with their family, their partners, sometimes their co-workers but not with a superior or even a consultant.  I decided to not bring the employees into a separate room, but to perform the interviews right at their working place.  That gave me the chance to investigate their environment, re-act immediately to specific situations and to ensure that statements made would not contradict given facts.  It also allowed me the immediate feedback of other employees in the same department and sometimes even other departments.  We still prepared a separate room just in case that an employee would ask for privacy during the interview.  Interestingly enough not a single employee requested it.

For interviewing purposes it actually turned out that running the interviews in their work environments was a perfect fit: Employees yelled at each others, cursed each other out, were rude to customers on the phone.  Things I would not have been able to find out when doing interviews in a closed room.  Please do not get me wrong: You have to decide this on a customer by customer basis and can not just generally say it is better to do it one way or another.

The CFO met with his managers to inform them about my coming and the interviews I would perform.  In the first plant this was already a challenge: Some of the managers didn't inform the employees about it.


Sensible interviews can and should be used to:

Too often interviews are conducted in an ill fashion - mainly to serve the purpose of management to tell the employees that interviews have been done and everything will become better. Being open to implementing changes to improve the overall performance is essential for the success of every striving business.

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