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Sally Bibb

PA Consulting


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Strengths-based recruitment: are you hiring people for the wrong jobs?


HR departments across the country are faced with the tricky task of sifting through CVs every day.

Employers need someone who loves their job and is going to excel; going above and beyond, in addition to having all the right competences. This is even more important when you consider that staff turnover is costing British businesses across a wide range of sectors such as retail, healthcare, hospitality, media and advertising as much as £4.2 billion annually. So how do you go about hiring people for the right jobs?

An approach called Strengths-Based Recruitment (SBR) has come to the fore in recent years, and is being adopted by HR and business leaders at the likes of Starbucks, Acromas Group (the former parent company of AA and Saga), The Shelford Group of NHS hospital Trusts and Standard Chartered bank.

This approach selects people on their strengths and who are a natural fit. In other words, ‘round pegs for round holes’. So you need to know what strengths are needed to be a star performer, which will involve profiling those current employees who are excelling.

Defining greatness

There are a few questions which will help you, as an HR professional, choose the right person for the right job: which employee groups are key to delivering your business objectives? What makes them great? What natural strengths do they have? How and where can you find similar candidates? How should you best engage, manage and reward them once they have been appointed? Answering these questions will help you shape your attraction and retention strategy.

You might ask why companies have adopted this concept of hiring and moved away from traditional competency-based recruitment. Well, many found that they were recruiting the wrong people for the wrong jobs, which had a knock effect on performance, customer service and staff retention. They didn’t know who their best performers were and what made them great.

Additionally, they selected people based on what they thought they needed as opposed to evidence of what makes someone excel in a particular role. And finally, they chose people on what they can do, i.e. competences, rather than what they love to do and are naturally good at. 

They chose people based on competences, rather than what they love to do.

How it works in practice

Take Starbucks, for example. They implemented SBR for baristas, using the 90-day attrition rate as a crucial metric. And the result? As Sandra Porter, former Starbucks HR Director, puts it: “the 90-day attrition rate began to improve, which was a crucial measure for the pilot. For many store managers they felt very differently about recruitment. They got it. It was now obvious to them if someone was not right for the job.”

SBR has also been implemented at call centres – one of Acromas Group’s businesses found that the staff turnover rate in the first three months of employment fell from 22% to 10.8%. And how did they manage this? They simply adhered to the age-old adage that ‘people are your greatest asset’ in the way they recruit and develop their staff. In other words, SBR.

An increasing number of companies across a wide range of industries are adopting this technique, taking an approach of understanding their employees in the same way that they try to understand their customers. They have seen the transformational benefits SBR brings. And so could yours.

3 Responses

  1. Hi Sally, how do we identify
    Hi Sally, how do we identify and measure job strengths?

    1. Hi Bob, the most robust way
      Hi Bob, the most robust way is to profile those who are great at and thrive in any given role. The goal is to discover what strengths, values and motivators they have in common. Once you have the profile you can interview others against it to identify whether they match the profile. I go into this in detail in my book but please do let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Sally

      1. Sally, you have it right. We
        Sally, you have it right. We measure the following 20 items without asking animal or crazy questions. 

        1. Thinking Styles (5 scales) 

        – Learning Index 

        – Verbal Skill 

        – Verbal Reasoning 

        – Numerical Ability 

        – Numeric Reasoning 

        2. Behavioral Traits (9 scales)
        – Energy Level 

        – Assertiveness 

        – Sociability
        – Manageability 

        – Attitude 

        – Decisiveness 

        – Accommodating 

        – Independence 

        – Objective Judgment 

        3. Occupational Interests (6 scales) 

        – Enterprising 

        – Financial/Administrative 

        – People Service
        – Technical 

        – Mechanical 

        – Creative

        Thanks again,


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Sally Bibb


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