As discussed in part one of this two-part series of articles, it is important to understand ‘what good looks like’ in your organisation, not least because there is a cost involved in not doing so.
But what exactly can do we do in practical terms to make sure that we are on top of the issue?
Understanding ‘what good looks like’ starts with knowing the business, its leadership, its culture, systems and processes. Every organisation is different, which means that ‘what good looks like’ will be different for each one.
That’s right – the potential performance of an individual is not fixed. We do not believe that great people were born that way or that they can be great anywhere. Performance is situational which, in turn, means that the ability of individuals to perform is situational. The best talent will manifest itself in an environment that is right for it.
A real world example of this theory can be seen with a global information services business, which had serious attrition and performance issues within its sales force.
The firm’s hiring activity was largely focused on two categories of people- the first were entry-level but bright graduates, while the second group were recruited for their experience, generally directly from the competition. Sound familiar?
As for the environment in which they operated, this could be described as having:
- Top down, autocratic management, which made it more like a military than a commercial organisation
- Rigid sales processes and governance procedures
- Fixed pricing
- High daily call volume expectations
- Low deal volumes, but high deal frequency
- Territories that were run on a ‘franchise’ kind of model.
So what kind of people would be likely to excel in this type of culture? Those who:
- Enjoy planning and are good at it
- Like clear structures and systems
- Don’t mind being told what to do and when
- Manage their time well
- Cope with repetitive tasks
- Like working on their own for most of the time
- Work well under pressure, especially in the face of financial targets
- Believe in building their own ‘book of work’.
After identifying such requirements, the next step is to ask what level of intellect an individual would need to have; what kind of values they should espouse; what might motivate them and how they should behave? For example, would a high performer with a high degree of intellectual horsepower be required in the environment as described above? No. Intellect was not found to be a predictor of success among the company’s top performers.
Some ‘good’ factors
Moreover, simply the fact that an individual was a graduate – which is not an accurate measure of intellect in and of itself – likewise did not make it any easier to forecast performance, an issue that raises the question of why a potential talent pool should be restricted to such criteria?
But there are also factors to be considered from a values perspective such as are you likely to require a conformist or a non-conformist and someone with a 50,000 foot view or a 50 foot view? Would you want an individual who sees time as simply a human construct to ignore or someone who takes pride in being in the right place at the right time?
Moreover, from a motivational standpoint, do you need someone who is attracted to risk and reward? Do you need a team player or would a self-motivated loner be more of what you’re after?
To answer these questions and find someone who will excel in a given role, you need to understand both the nature of that role as well as the company’s culture and working environment. But once you understand such matters, you can choose some tools to measure them.
The tool used to identify potential high performers in the case of the global information services business was Edgar Schein’s career anchor questionnaire
. Here an individual was statistically more likely to be a higher performer if their primary career anchor was ‘lifestyle’ and their secondary one was ‘entrepreneurial creativity’.
Conversely, people were more likely to be low performers if their primary career anchor was ‘lifestyle’ but their secondary one was ‘security’. (As an aside, this questionnaire is fabulous for identifying the latest, and very trendy, intrapreneur employee profile, where "the owners are not the renters" – if only businesses knew.)
But individuals were also more likely to be high performers if they scored highly on the ‘conformity’ and ‘detail’ scale. They also generally demonstrated strengths in how they ‘gathered information’ and how they ‘planned and measured’ their own performance.
By being clear about ‘what good looks like’ and measuring only those factors that affected an individual’s ability to perform, it was possible to shorten the firm’s recruitment process by providing its resourcing team with the necessary data and enabling it to identify and exploit untapped talent pools. As previously mentioned, however, prior experience proved not to a good predictor of current and future performance.
By understanding and measuring ‘what good looks like’, organisations can improve their business performance. In the case of this particular company, sales increased and attrition rates were drastically reduced. In other organisations, the productivity of IT teams has improved by more than 300%, while sales teams have boosted revenues by over 250%.
But going down this route can also help to enhance the diversity of the workforce in terms of gender, race and physical abilities. A key upside of building hiring processes around ‘what good looks like’ is that there is no room for human prejudice. If a candidate is right, they are right. And that’s it.
Roger Philby is founder and chief executive of talent management consultancy, The Chemistry Group.