12

This is not so much a curveball, but a standard interview question asked repeatedly...

Background

Consulting role, operational improvement/management consulting stuff, lots of interaction with clients.

The Interview Question

Say you were at a large chain restaurant, and there is this improvement you want to implement, say automatic ordering machines should be installed.

This has been agreed with senior management, and you are at the restaurant going through the changes with the managers.

The manager is very against this change, even after explaining the logic behind the change, and how beneficial it will be to the company. The manager is almost irate, what do you do?

My Answer

I would take ownership of the situation, I obviously did not explain this well enough, or I have misunderstood. I would take a step back, ask specifically what the manager did not like, and try to address the concerns.

Response

The interviewer then, and repeatedly says, your approaches don't work, what do you do?

I continued to answer honestly, by taking a few different approaches, for example, trying to look at it from the managers perspective, employees will lose their jobs etc.. Showing the manager how his current employees will benefit from the up-skilling, additional training, more prosperous company... Even as a last resort going back to the senior management to get them to help. But this was met with,

"This is your job to explain etc.."

My Question

This is a great company, clearly full of smart people, I would like to know,

  1. What I was missing here?
  2. What improvements should I make, if a similar question comes up?
  3. A general approach to deal with a repeated question in an interview?

My Thoughts

  1. ...?
  2. Another approach could be: Leave the situation, come back after 10 mins, go grab a coffee, change the environment?
  3. It seems an indication they are looking for either a specific answer, or just a different one, so maybe pause and try to think more laterally?
  • 3
    "Kobayashi Maru" for Star Trek fans. This is plausibly a question to see how you handle yourself in an unwinnable situation. – John Spiegel Jun 6 at 17:17
  • @JohnSpiegel no the end one is fire the manager – Neuromancer Jun 6 at 20:38
28

Consider that the point of this question was not primarily to see which answer(s) you would come up with, but to see how you would react as the proposed solutions would fail, you would keep hitting roadblocks and people would keep acting unreasonably.

Would you simply give up or would you keep trying different approaches? Would you get stuck and, if so, how long until you did?

Would you be able to come up with creative solutions, perhaps even suggesting something a little out of the box?

Would you get nervous, be rattled by the situation? Or would you be able to control your emotions and keep your cool despite the mounting obstacles?

Would you shut down, or perhaps explode in anger, if pushed too far?

Perhaps the interviewer was also looking at how you would deal with difficult people, since that was part of the scenario. We've all had to deal with difficult people at some point in our careers, so perhaps drawing a parallel from your past experience would be a good way to answer. ("In the past, when I had to deal with a difficult/unreasonable person, in a situation somewhat similar to this one, I learned that so and so worked well, but so and so didn't quite work, for so and so reason.")

Considering you're quite likely to encounter similar situations in a management consulting role, I'd say it's probably quite important that the interviewer probes you to figure out how you would react in such a situation.

One last consideration is that the interviewer himself is acting as a difficult/unreasonable person (using "your approach doesn't work" and "this is your job to explain"), to see if your reaction during the interview matches your description of how you'd deal with the hypothetical situation involving that difficult/unreasonable person.

In that sense, I'd say there's not a right answer to the question itself, but it's about how you would act in such a situation.

  • 1
    Just a note.... followed this advice and have just got an offer.... I think the best thing, is saying to draw on past experiences. Cheers – jaimejg Jun 11 at 1:46
  • Hurray! Congrats @jaimejg! – filbranden Jun 11 at 1:48
13

A few things:

  1. Maybe they wanted to see how adept and creative you are at finding alternative solutions to a problem.

  2. Maybe they wanted to evaluate how consistent you are in your approach and problem solving ability, and in how firmly you stand by a decision or mandate.

  3. Maybe this was a "test" of how you would act and react in a situation like this, and therefore, there isn't a "right" answer.

  4. All of the above.

Trying to come up with a different answer every time may tell them that you are adept at finding alternative solutions, or it could tell them that you're inconsistent and non-committal.

On the other hand, sticking to the same answer every time may tell them that you're rigid and inflexible or that you lack the ability to find alternative solutions to a problem.

How you handle this scenario is probably more important than the actual "answer" or solution to the problem.

7

There is a scene in Star Trek where a character is sitting a test of command ability in the form of a simulation. They run the test many times cannot come up with a solution in which as commander they can save all their crew. Eventually they realize that is the point - they can't save everyone, and must make the decision to sacrifice some to save the others.

While I don't disagree with the other answers, and you should follow their advice, part of the point may be for you to get to the point of saying - eventually - that if the recalcitrant manager won't go along with the plan he will have to be fired.

Reaching that point too early might be bad, but never reaching it under any circumstances might be just as bad, showing you would hurt the company because of your personal feelings.

  • but never reaching it under any circumstances might be just as bad, showing you would hurt the company because of your personal feelings. or the option, or even threatening it didn't occur to you. I like this answer. – Justin Jun 6 at 7:53
  • The test is called the "Kobayashi Maru" and comes up quite often within the series; maybe adding the name or a link to it helps? – Erik Jun 6 at 14:08
  • 2
    @Erik Actually that's not the test I was thinking of. – DJClayworth Jun 6 at 14:09
  • Oh okay. Maybe even more useful to add a link if possible then, now I'm curious to see what it is :) – Erik Jun 6 at 14:10
1

In this particular case, if it is decided that a change will be made in many restaurants, and one restaurant manager doesn't understand or doesn't want to understand that the change is needed, there is the point where you tell them "the change will be made, and with a restaurant manager who understands the change. It's up to you if you will be that restaurant manager or not".

The last resort is not to go to upper management and let them do your job. The last resort is to find someone who understands the change and make them restaurant manager.

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