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For Business Success, Hire Self-Managing Employees

Nicole Fallon
Updated Jul 14, 2016

One of the most common hiring philosophies among smart leaders is to find great people. By “great,” these leaders often mean hardworking, independent individuals who can essentially manage themselves.

Self-managing employees, or “self-starters,” work efficiently and well with little supervision. These driven professionals keep a company moving forward with their innovative ideas and strong work ethic.

“Promoting leadership and self-responsibility has proven to be more effective within organizations and reflects the new generation of management style,” said Lesley Walker, a global talent acquisition manager at Market America, the parent company of SHOP.COM.

“You can’t baby sit your employees,” added Lior Rachmany, the CEO and founder of Dumbo Moving + Storage. “You need them to take the initiative, complete tasks and come up with ideas to improve the company.” [See Related Story: 8 Tips for Hiring the Right Person for the Job]

What defines a self-managing employee?

Aaron Krane, the CEO and founder of Drive Motors, described self-managing employees as having the following attributes:

  • They know how and when to execute the work themselves, and when to conscript others.
  • They understand the balance between value created and resources invested for any given task.
  • They ask a lot of questions to seek strategic or tactical advice, rather than emotional reassurance.
  • They appreciate, if not welcome, criticism, because one of the most important functions of self-management is self-improvement.
  • They identify issues and propose solutions.

Finding self-starters

When interviewing candidates who claim to be self-starters, the key is to ask the right behavioral questions to determine their personality type, strengths, weaknesses and communication styles, said Walker, of Market America.

Here are a few sample questions you can ask a candidate to assess his or her ability to work independently.

Tell me about a situation at work where you needed help, but couldn’t find anyone to help you. How did you handle it? Self-reliant workers are able to proactively assess difficult situations and determine a solution on their own, Walker said. She suggested asking this behavioral question will show whether a candidate is capable of handling similar situations independently in this new role.

Tell me about the last time you learned something new for the sake of learning, and how you have benefitted as a result. Self-starters want to be really good at what they do, said John Fleischauer, a global talent acquisition manager at Halogen Software, a provider of employee performance and talent management solutions. They don’t need to be told to learn something to improve a particular skill. The right candidate can typically answer this question without hesitation, often naming several examples and resulting outcomes, he said.

“The candidates who say they’re self-starters, but aren’t really, typically trip over this question because they either don’t take initiative or have proof or outcomes of their effort,” Fleischauer added.

How would you measure and attain success for (XYZ) goal? Krane said that self-managing employees are able to take an abstract goal and come up with tactical solutions to achieve it. During the interview, propose a hypothetical goal and see if the candidate can identify a reasonable metric for success, explain the strategy in serialized tasks and recommend the resources required to achieve it.

How would you describe your ability to delegate responsibilities? Employees who like to work independently often take responsibility for a group projects and teamwork, said Dumbo’s Rachmany. Self-starters may admit that they’re not great at letting go of the reins because they want everything done well, and know they can do a good job. This is a tricky area, though, because inability to delegate may present some problems if the candidate ends up in a leadership position.

Keeping the momentum going

Once you’ve built up a team of self-managing employees, your job as a leader is to keep them feeling motivated and enthusiastic about their jobs. They won’t need a ton of guidance once you’ve given them directions, but make sure they know you support them and that you’ll give them the resources they need to succeed.

Walker reminded leaders that providing regular feedback and clear communication to employees will provide this support.

“Mentoring and listening to your employees play a vital role in leading a successful team,” she said. “Employee engagement and constructive feedback are great ways to support a team of self-managing individuals.”

Halogen Software’s Fleischauer agreed, noting that effective communication requires the alignment of your team’s goals.

“When goals are clearly communicated and transparent across the organization, you can ensure that the work of each individual employee is helping moving the company towards its long-term objectives,” he said. “This keeps everyone rowing in the same direction.”

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Nicole Fallon
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.