Why picky selection is even more important when pickins are slim

Duck, duck, goose: be careful with selection

We’ve been here before. In the late 90s the demand for technical talent was so great that organizations engaged in bidding wars simply to stay in business. Dubbed the War for Talent, management experts warned about the perils of relaxing standards for the selection of talent at such time as when organizations were in the most need. For most, it was too late.

Fierce negotiations and skyrocketing compensation packages were the talent-based equivalent of surging petrol prices during the great oil embargo of the 70s. For some, no amount of money could buy the talent so desperately needed. They were stuck with what they had - and what they didn’t.

Here we go again.

With unemployment rates at historic lows, organizations once again find themselves confronted by the fool’s choice: bad (or, expensive) talent or no talent? (Ironic, isn’t it, that the same organization that matches employees’ contributions to retirement plans and maintains a succession plan for top executives with two “ready” candidates, finds itself overspent and understaffed on talent?)

From a safe distance we can see the folly of hiring at a time of dire need, just like we can see the wisdom of contributing to a compounding savings fund for future financial needs. Nevertheless, the firestorm of desperation hiring burns the fuel for future growth. I see it all the time: buying at the peak of the market and selling at the first sign of a lull.

Regardless of how we got here, we must face reality. Hires must be made. Sticking with reality, that hire is going to cost you more, now that you need them, than they would’ve when you didn’t {seem to} need them so desperately. You have a choice, pay big bucks for some body or paying big bucks for the right body. The difference between the two hangs on the rigor of your hiring practice. Do you have the skill to assess talent well? Do you have the discipline to select only the well qualified?

Selection using proper psychological assessment is like pan-seared salmon; it’s both rare and well done.

Some will claim that I’m out of touch with what really happens on the streets of Poughkeepsie. After all, I am at that “safe distance” from the action. Don’t I know about fundamental economic principles of supply and demand? Don’t I understand the lunacy of forgoing business for lack of workers?

Actually, I do. And it’s still wrong to relax hiring practices or standards – especially when desperate for employees.

Desperation is a symptom, not the cause. When an organization finds itself desperate for employees, for any reason, whether surging sales or shrinking productivity, it’s the result of poor talent management and planning. The organization isn’t ready. And when an organization isn’t ready, it’s missing out on profits. Economics 101.

You don’t have time for bad firemen when Rome is burning.

But here’s why a bad hire in bad markets (sales or labor) is worse than the same hire in kinder markets. You don’t have time for bad firemen when Rome is burning. Moreover, the damage of retaining a bad hire can be seemingly apocalyptic.

Hiring talent is like a setting fishhook; it’s easy to put in but difficult to yank out.

I’ve made my case for “front end” selection, but dealing with the “back end” of desperation hiring is worse. Hiring talent is like a setting fishhook; it’s easy to put in but difficult to yank out. And it creates considerable collateral damage. A bad hire is lame at best; lethal at worst. And that doesn’t include the joys of their removal.

Two large-scale studies I did in an organization comprised of multi-unit restaurants revealed convergent results. The first found that 50% of all employees that quit did so due to their "brow beating, denigrating, micro-managing boss." {My words to approximate the emotional translation} Even if this number is inflated by sore quitters taking a free jab at their boss, it still dwarfs any other reason given for quitting, including pay and promotion opportunity. The second study found that using a validated personality test successfully predicted which new hire restaurant managers became high producers (i.e., greater sales) and better leaders (i.e., well run, low employee turnover).

But there is a limitation in my research. While the results suggest that good leaders get good results and have low team defection, the story may be more truthful centering on bad leaders that get bad results and have high team defection. Either way you look at it the results are in the same ballpark. It is possible that the bad managers pull the lion's share of the results of this study, thus lending stronger support to my argument against hiring questionable talent.

At the end of the day, you have a decision to make. It would be a mistake not to have good selection.

Why are you hiring “can do” when “will do” is what you’ll get?

Superhero or Superzero? True performance is less obvious to predict than you think.

Research confirms what most already know: When it comes to job performance, there’s a real difference between “can do” and “will do.” But how much does "can do vs will do" really influence the way you are hiring? Which person do you think shows up for your interview? Is it possible that we have a significant problem of hiring for “can do” when what we’ll eventually get is “will do?”

In scientific literature this is referred to as “Maximum” vs “Typical” performance. One of the most clever studies published illustrating the difference between Maximum and Typical performance came about partly by accident. The researchers, led by Paul Sackett, were interested in designing a valid way to assess and hire cashiers in a retail grocery store. For simplicity’s sake, I take the liberty of referencing the actual study from a story-teller’s perspective instead of a researcher’s. (Researchers, please cut me a little slack)

A given number of cashiers (say, 10) were instructed to do their best in terms of speed and accuracy when “checking out” the exact same lot of groceries. They knew they were being assessed; heck, their “supervisor” stood over them with a stopwatch! After all 10 of the cashiers had completed checking out the same items, these ‘subjects’ were thanked, business went about as usual and the study was concluded.

Or so they thought.

Later, unbeknownst to these cashiers, they were measured again for their speed and accuracy under identical conditions to the original assessment, except this time they did not know they were being assessed.

Once completed, the results from the first measurement (Maximum Performance) were compared with the results of the second measurement (Typical Performance). What would you guess the correlation to be between the two?

Almost zero!

The study found that the correlation, or relationship, between what people can do vs what they will do was a mere .14! Interestingly, this is about the same as the correlation between the typical selection interview and job performance. Coincidence?

Stop for a moment and consider the implications of this simple, but profound study. Essentially, there is very little in common between what a person “can do” versus what they typically “will do.”

So I ask again: Which person do you think shows up for your interview? And next, what are the implications for your carefully screened team?

Uh, Houston, ….

Experts in the science of psychology at work are well aware of this challenge. As for myself, I tell my clients that I assess for what people “will do” in addition to what they “can do.” Obviously, this requires special expertise since almost all job applicants want to make the best impression they can. It’s not easy to see through the “Sunday Best” they can maintain for a full day of interviewing or assessment.

However: It is possible for a trained and experienced expert in psychological assessment at work to distinguish the difference between can do and will do. But this is still something that many have a hard time doing – even experts.

So, for your next hire, ask yourself: “Am I really measuring this person for what they can do, or what they will do?” You might just find that an expert in psychological assessment can help.

Psychology at work: It really makes a difference.

What if Psychology is Real?

Psychways | What if psychology is real?

“What if psychology is real?” This may seem like a rhetorical question, but I note many instances where folks act as though it isn’t. For the most part, they don’t even know it – but oftentimes they do.

Rational vs. Emotional Decision Making

Studies show that emotions are much more influential to decision making than people estimate. As such, I see many situations where individuals expect another to respond in a completely objective, rational manner. Science, and even common sense, tells us this is not the case. Without belaboring the obvious, this is why the concept of Emotional Intelligence gains credibility.

In fact, people do NOT make rational decisions most of the time. A quick read through other posts on this blog will reveal that biases, emotions and other non-rational factors weigh very heavily on decision making and behavior. To point, this is why psychology exists independent from computer science and artificial intelligence.

Basic Assessment – a typical example

As individuals we have at least two factors that obfuscate the accuracy of a basic self or other examination: bias and motivation.

Bias is the unconscious distortion of reality due to systematic errors of judgment. We can’t help being biased – sometimes even if we know about the very risk. Nevertheless, most of us fail to adequately recognize bias as a real factor when assessing others or ourselves.

As for motivation, most of us will alter our behavior when we know we are being watched. I have another blog coming specifically dedicated to this and will update this piece once it is ‘blogged out’. Simply put, if we know the results of a personal assessment will lead to a decision of interest to us, we will modify our behavior to enhance the likelihood of getting the results we want.

This is one of the reasons we favor supervisor assessments over ‘self-assessments’ when determining terms of employment. Individuals are neither accurate, nor motivated to be so, when valuable stakes are on the line.

So What?

What’s the big deal – we’re all psychologists in some way anyway, right?

May be. But how good are we – really?

“Basic principles of psychology affect world change.”

Psychological factors influence voting behavior, aggressive behavior, attitudes as well as stereotypes and a host of other factors that influence global affairs. For the biggest issues psychologists are typically employed to insure key factors are considered for the benefit of assessment and decision making not to mention world peace.

Bringing it home

What if YOU aren’t the most accurate and objective assessor of others? What if THEY aren’t motivated to present the cold, hard facts about themselves?

This is the reality, yet many decisions are made without any consideration of factors such as these. And they matter – a lot.

How crucial is it to manage talent – or yourself — wisely? How critical is it to make the best hiring decision, or personal selection decision?

Now: How often do you seek the service of a professional in work psychology to aid decisions about talent?

Psychology: It really makes a difference.

3 Reasons Why Character Matters More Than Expertise

Man holding sign that reads, "What makes you unique?"

What makes anybody unique?

To help answer this question, let’s conduct a little test.

Think of someone you’ve known at work (or non-work) who stands out as exceptional from the rest. Got someone specific in mind? Now then, what was/is it about this person that truly made/makes them remarkable?

I can just about guarantee that the list of attributes that comes to your mind features more character traits (e.g., “helpful”, “caring”, “generous”, etc.) than specialized skills or work expertise.

I’ve asked this question to many people. Over 90% of the answers I get have to do with character. To back up these ‘answers’ with a bit more evidence, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of witnessing more than a few mid- to upper-level executives “walked out” of the building — It’s never been for lack of expertise.

Why does character matter so much?

Continue reading “3 Reasons Why Character Matters More Than Expertise”

Birds of a feather? vs. Opposites attract? Attraction in selection

It’s fairly common to get this question when reviewing feedback from a personality inventory with a group. Many times people’s minds go to the effects of attraction in selection — but not always at work.

It goes something like this:

When it comes to personality types, which of the following is more true, “Birds of a feather flock together?”, or “Opposites attract?” (participant)

My first response is usually to twist this just a little bit and serve it back to the audience, “I don’t know. Would you marry yourself?”

This always gets a lot of laughs but also provokes the realization that most would not wish to spend the rest of their lives with ‘themselves.’

Why does this happen so consistently?

Continue reading “Birds of a feather? vs. Opposites attract? Attraction in selection”