Library leadership: Search firm brings city larger pool of candidates
Rick Mauch FWBP Correspondent
Sep 8, 2017
Everyone knows the popular saying about the third time and charm, and Fort Worth officials are confident they are an example of the aphorism in hiring the city’s new director of libraries, thanks to an adjustment in their search methods.
“We had been disappointed with the results of two previous library director searches,” Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said. “We had a highly attractive job to offer, but the number and caliber of our candidates hadn’t been commensurate with that opportunity.”
After the previous searches proved disappointing, city officials turned to the firm of Mackenzie Eason & Associates. The city had previously used it in the search for some assistant positions, and now it was time to work with the firm to find the right department head. The result was the hiring of Manya Shorr. Coming from an assistant director’s position in the Washington, D.C., public library system, she succeeded Gleniece Robinson, who retired after leading the Fort Worth Public Library system since 1999.
“Manya Shorr enjoys the respect and admiration of her peers in the library profession who consider her to be among the country’s most thoughtful and innovative library leaders,” Costa said. “She’s a sound manager, a critical thinker and an excellent communicator who will be able to engage our diverse community in creative and effective ways.
“The library world will be changing rapidly in the years ahead, and we believe that Manya is the right person to lead our library system into that future.”
Shorr was the choice out of 148 candidates in a search that covered 89 days. The list was narrowed to 10 finalists and four were interviewed before Shorr was hired.
Darien George, managing partner with Mackenzie Eason, recalled the first time his firm worked with the city.
“Our first search with the city was assistant director of HR [human resources] over talent acquisition and HRIS [human resources information system]. This was an extremely difficult search and we brought a diverse national set of candidates,” George said. That led the city to hire the firm to find candidates for senior accountant positions that had been open for almost two years.
“We filled those so quickly that we then received a MSA [master services agreement] to handle all their executive search. We’ve also done two assistant director of transportation and public works searches, an assistant director of water search, the library director, and we are currently working on the water director search.”
With the library director, a position as a department head, he said some adjustments in the recruiting process were needed. These included
moving the city from a passive approach to actively recruiting candidates, revamping its interviewing and hiring techniques, using new technology in an applicant tracking system, and using assessments on all final candidates.
They also developed a new interview process that featured a one-panel interview, evaluated candidates on an equal playing field to reduce bias, added other interviewing techniques to see a candidate’s potential in the actual job, developed interview questions based on a candidate’s assessments and potential weaknesses, and developed both behavioral and situational questions.
“Mackenzie Eason’s approach was proactive, thorough and thoughtful,” Costa said. “They reached out to prospects who were successful and happy in their jobs, and who weren’t necessarily interested in moving, and persuaded them to consider the possibility of coming to Fort Worth. They conducted detailed interviews and extensive background research for each of the top candidates, and they thoughtfully considered how each candidate’s qualifications might meet our needs.
“Furthermore, knowing that Fort Worth has a distinct culture, they carefully considered how each candidate might fit into our community.”
George said the new approach was “incredibly innovative,” especially for a city government.
“When we first started working with the city, they used the same hiring process that all other municipalities utilize, as well as most private sector companies outside of Fortune 500. The change in hiring process was moving from a passive approach to an active engagement approach,” he said. “Instead of just sending out emails and newsletters and posting positions, we research the top candidates across the nation in both private sector and government, then actively reach out to each and every one of them to pitch the city and the community.
“This new approach has resulted in a much higher level of talent, diversity and new ideas and candidates from the private sector.”
George said businesses can easily apply the same approach when looking for candidates. He said all it takes is an understanding of the implementation of the techniques, which are simple.
“We base all our consulting off our scientifically proven techniques and best practices. We suggest [that] organizations look at implementing these techniques as we’ve seen the talent pool and the perception of the city of Fort Worth increase significantly,” he said.
George said the candidates who weren’t chosen for the library directorship were so impressed with the hiring and interviewing process that they’ve continued to express interest in relocating and working with the city.
“The city of Fort Worth has now positioned itself as an innovative municipality compared to both government and private sector organizations,” he said.
Meanwhile, Costa stressed that the city is happy with both the process and the end result, finding the right candidate, whom he hopes will be around for a long time.
“Fort Worth has been fortunate to have had Dr. Gleniece Robinson as our library director for the past 19 years, and we’re fortunate to have found a successor whom Dr. Robinson enthusiastically endorses,” he said. Shorr was to begin work in Fort Worth in early September.