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.

Psychology is clear: We’re not.

Beautiful, mysterious woman. What is she thinking? Who is she? Industrial Organizational Psychology knows.

Perspective.

In a word, that’s as close as it gets to a synonym for psychology – at least the type I practice. Many may debate, “It’s too narrow”, or, “It’s too broad.” But that’s their perspective. {Don’t you hate clever, contrived?}

Here’s mine.

Everything we “know” (i.e., that which we perceive via our senses or cognitive processes), is psychological. Some represent psychology with a lens metaphor.  I.e., “We perceive the world through the ‘lens of psychology.’” Not bad as metaphors go, but definitely not good.

In the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” (based on the book by Sylvia Nasar), Dr. Rosen, a psychiatrist, attempts to convince and calm a defiant and skeptical, John Nash, who Dr. Rosen believes to be psychotic.

Rosen: You can’t reason your way out of this!
Nash: Why not? Why can’t I?
Rosen: Because your mind is where the problem is in the first place!

Psychology is not only the “lens” through which our viewpoint of the world passes, it’s all the “stuff” on either side of the lens as well. And that “stuff” is passing through as many other lenses as there are viewers. Your experience of the color red may be quite different from mine. Who knows? The “truth” doesn’t simply sit on one or the other side of the lens. What’s “right” is simply what’s generally accepted (i.e., conventional), not some absolute “truth.” Essentially, we choose to agree even though we don’t know if we’re agreeing on the same thing or not.

No, it isn’t 3am as I write. And I’m not cross-validating a Ken Kesey experiment. But I can see how I may have complicated things trying to “fix” a flawed metaphor. (I can hear a former colleague’s corrosive – whoa, I mean, "corrective," no, no, "constructive" -- feedback, “Don’t let great be the enemy of good.”)

Backing up.

We all make the error of John Nash. We all believe that we have some control over our mind, as surely as we do our behavior. Both beliefs are delusions. No matter how much you think you really do “know” or “control” your mind or behavior, it’s DEFINITELY less than you think.

Don’t believe me?

Try verbalizing how you tie your shoes. Can you do this in less time than it takes you to actually tie them? Didn’t think so. The reason is because you just don’t think about it when you're tying your shoes, even though you’ve done it thousands of times. (Actually, that’s precisely WHY you can’t explain it.)

Free throws are anything BUT free.

In psychology we have a very innovative term for behavior so routine it's as if it was automatic; like tying our shoes. The term is, “Automatic.” Automatic behavior falls into the category of “unconsciousness” but it's not the same. The difference between the two is that automatic thought (behavior) can be accessed (with effort), while unconscious thoughts or behaviors, can NOT. When we don’t notice anything about some behavior until it’s actively brought to our attention (e.g., a tangled knot, or a deliberate request – like my question), that’s automatic behavior. We CAN get to it. But when we do, we don't perform as well as when we let it lie. (Think "buzzer beaters" vs. "free throws." Free throws are anything BUT free. (Ask Shaq).

When asked, people underestimate the percentage of time they spend on “autopilot.” SIGNIFICANTLY. For example, while you’ve been reading this, how many times have you swallowed? You don’t know. But if I had told you beforehand that I would ask this now, you could answer.

At any given time, we’re aware of a mere speck in the spectrum of what’s sensible. And it goes beyond simple attention, but that’s another flavor of psychology.

Let's add just one more "flavor" to our model of perception: We tend to believe we know ourselves better than others do. Sometimes, yes. But mostly when it serves our need to be sensible or valued. When it comes to the "unvarnished truth?" ..., out goes self-accuracy.

The kicker is in a question made famous in my era by the rock band, “The Who.”

Who the f*ck are you?

Seriously, who are you? {sorry to paraphrase; I can't scream-sing}

A.  The you that you “know?”
B.  The you that they “know?”
C.  Both A and B.

If you answered, "C," you’re more likely to be right than not. “A” may be your identity, but “B” is your reputation. And "C" requires perspective. (If you’re wondering why I left out, “D. None of the above,” that’s a great question, better for a topic outside the realm of this article.)

A day in Chris’ life:

Subject: “They just don’t get it.”
Chris: “What do you mean?”
Subject: “I’ve explained X a hundred times and they still don’t do it right.”
Chris: “Are you sure it’s X they don’t understand?”
Subject: “You mean, maybe they don’t understand me?”
Chris: “Well, ... could be half of it.”
Subject: “What’s the other half?”
Chris:

Over 80% of my job is providing perspective; helping folks to see themselves from a “different pair of shoes” or in comparison to a larger group of folks similar to them (i.e., via norms).

And, “No,” I didn’t forget to add the last line for Chris. You already know the answer.

Like a lens to a lens, I don’t clear everything up. My aim is to provide better perspective, not perfect vision in a murky world of psychological errors, both known and unknown; accidental or deliberate.

From Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Louse,”

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

One doesn’t need to be, "some Pow'r", to do powerful things. My "giftie" is the perspective I provide from disciplined study and well-tried experience.

Which "who" matters most to you?

To close, I refer you back to "a day in Chris' life" and ask, "Which “who” matters most to you?"

{Hint: “Would you rather be right? Or influential?”}

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.

Why you’re not getting promoted

Why you're not getting promoted

Most can identify with the feeling of discontent when others seem to be getting promoted for less apparent reason than your promotion would justify. It’s natural – we want to win and a big piece of winning in organizations is getting promoted. It probably comes as no consolation to learn that there are many factors potentially influencing why you’re not getting promoted.

  1. You’re a master at your current job, but perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be "Not Ready" to assume a job at the next level.
  2. There are others more deserving of one of the limited number of promotions (again, rightly or wrongly).
  3. You haven’t “done your time” in your current level.

So how do you overcome these potentially career limiting factors?

There’s very little one can do in the short term if there is no open position above you. Organizations do NOT like to add more heads to higher levels simply because they are “ready and able.” CFOs in particular do not like to see a proliferation of senior-level jobs relative to the organization’s general growth at all levels.

Overcoming the tightly managed promotion “quota” is also highly difficult. The simple fact is that there typically aren’t enough promotions for all for whom a “truth measure” would indicate are ready. Organizations are always smaller at the top than at entry levels.

Lastly, you can’t do much about your time in position except wait. And the bad news is that spending a given amount of time at any level is no guarantee of promotion. Most will simply retire or leave the organization without making it to the coveted top positions.

There’s actually a fourth reason that you’re not being promoted: You’re not known by enough managers or executives above you. Simply impressing your boss is usually not enough unless they are truly a selfless advocate.

You’re not known by enough managers or executives above you.

But this is something you can do something about. You can improve your reputation at higher levels of the organization. Here are a few suggestions to enhance your reputation, and therefore, your promotability:

  1. Participate on as many cross-functional assignments as you can. The vast majority of promotions are not made by one’s boss alone. You need to be visible to your boss’ peers, and to some extent, your boss’ superiors. This second one can be very tricky -- you don’t want to hurt your chances by upsetting the political hierarchy, i.e., going around or above your boss.
  2. Create a career plan for yourself, or with your boss, and discuss it with them. Of particular importance: Clarify exactly what performance results and which competencies are critical to your promotability. This cannot be overstressed: Be as objective as possible about both the results and competencies associated with promotions. “Higher ups” can, and do, frequently hide behind nebulous developmental goals or achievements.
  3. Make sure you manage your “but.” I’ve sat through hundreds of “talk talent” meetings. One of the most common things I hear is, “They’re really good at {fill in this blank}, BUT… they haven’t overcome {fill in your ‘but’}."
  4. Be as likeable as possible. This may sound like a tall order, but there is a very strong correlation between liking and promoting. (Plus, I've never known someone universally unliked to get promoted.) Some of this sounds – and may well be – unfair. However, there is also a strong correlation between being liked and actually being good. One proven way to be more liked is to simply smile and laugh more. People who smile and laugh more are perceived to be more optimistic, confident and powerful in a non-threatening way.

In summary, you may be extremely good at what you’re doing now, but there are many factors potentially holding you back despite being a superstar in your current role. Don’t think about progression from the perspective of why you deserve a promotion. Instead, apply some of these tips to improve your promotability. This way when opportunity does arise, you’ve got a better chance than you’d have on your job record alone.

Get out there. Be seen working side by side with higher levels or at least the “up and coming”. Cover your “buts”. And possibly most important, be likeable.

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.

What vs How: Which is more important and why we don’t act accordingly.

Little boy playing violin

If you really want to know who a person is, would you rather know what they’ve accomplished, or how they’ve performed?

You may already have an answer in mind, but how sure are you?

Two stories from my childhood may shed a bit of light on the controversial issue of knowing what vs how.

Childhood Example #1 : “Sour notes”

When I was in third grade I picked up my Dad’s violin and began playing a few simple songs. Noting that I could make the ole fiddle produce recognizable tunes, and desperate to find something I was good at (neither academia nor sports were my thing in grade school), my folks signed me into violin lessons.

By my fourth year of lessons it was time to demonstrate my virtuosity to the rest of the school. For this grand debut, my instructor suggested I play a duet — WITH MY MOTHER! Had smartphones been around, this would have warranted a classic, “OMG” text — or worse. But I’m committed to keeping these posts at or below a PG-13 rating. {Note: That isn’t me in the picture — but that’s how I felt.}

My mother was an accomplished pianist — and she can still play — but some of the virtuosity of her material has ‘frayed’ a bit with disuse. Nevertheless, her part was easy for her (even today). As for me, despite the fact that I’d be: playing a violin, in front of my classmates, with my mother — my part was a real stretch for my skill level.

Continue reading “What vs How: Which is more important and why we don’t act accordingly.”

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”