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The following is an extract from ACE member Janice Caplan’s successful book “The Value of Talent: Promoting Talent Management Across the Organization,” published by Kogan Page in 2011.

Taking a risk by reducing risk

Organizations are often risk-averse when it comes to job appointments. A Sales Manager is sought to fill a Sales Manager vacancy. Not only does such an outlook restrict the available candidate pool, it is also becoming structurally impossible. Let’s consider these points for a moment. The skills shortages that first gave rise to the ‘War for Talent’ are still there, even though in some areas they eased slightly as a result of the recession. Demographic changes mean the workforce is getting older not younger. Better health combined with worse pensions is creating a large pool of workers who years ago would have already retired. As a result of the recession, a generation of school leavers and graduates may have been denied the usual training posts, and women returners may have extended their period out of work. Increasing numbers of people are not following traditional career paths, for a whole host of reasons. The pace of change rapidly makes some skill sets obsolete and creates others not previously on the radar. And then add to this mix peoples’ expectations. Since the demise of the ‘job for life’ mentality, the psychological contract has changed. People aren’t content to progress slowly, they want development, challenge and opportunity, and they want to be able to see what the future holds for them in the organization. Not everyone is ambitious, but most people recognize that they need to keep pace with change in the environment, and they expect the organization to support this.

It has always been rare that the ideal candidate fully meeting the requirements of the role steps forward for a vacancy, especially for ‘point of entry recruitment’. This will become even less likely in the future. It is not my aim here to set out a ‘how to’ guide of recruitment and selection. There is much research and guidance available already. Rather, my aim is to raise the points that are crucial to Talent Management, especially to creating a talent mindset.

1. Assessment criteria should seek to ascertain if the person can do the job, if they fit with the cultural values of the team they would join and of the wider organization, if they can cope with the change inherent in the job, and if they might fit with a range of job roles, especially those on the horizon. For the recruitment and selection of managers in particular, emphasis needs to be placed on the capability dimensions of change, ambiguity and uncertainty, rather than of order and predictability. The capabilities discussed earlier should be able to serve this purpose.

2. Past performance is the best predictor of future performance has long been the basis of most recruitment and selection. Certainly, selection decisions should take past performance into the mix. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that some people may not yet have had the opportunity to use certain skills or behaviours. Moreover, people are affected by the system in which they operate, the way they are managed, and other factors. That one environment brought out certain behaviours is no guarantee that this will be the case again. Furthermore, as Roberts[1] argues “over-emphasis on observable behaviour ignores the personal characteristics necessary for success.” This is especially so as the capability dimensions that indicate whether the person can cope with the change inherent in the job fall within the ‘natural’ cluster, that is, innate qualities that cannot easily be trained. However, whilst personality and psychometric testing may identify whether the person possesses these raw ingredients, it does not guarantee they will successfully apply their talents. For example, personality testing may reveal someone as low on certain people skills, but the person, nonetheless, may be an outstanding line manager, having learned these behaviours, perhaps from good role-models, or perhaps from training. The reverse may be equally true.

So what is the way through these apparent contradictions?  I offer here some pointers.

1. Identify the critical capabilities and the different ways they can be assessed using Robert’s framework. Make sure that selectors are thoroughly familiar with using these capabilities as assessment criteria. A common fault with interviews and assessment centres is that selectors understand the capabilities, but are unable to assess the candidates’ responses against them.

2. Personality and psychometric testing are widely used. As long as data from such instruments is treated as tentative and inferential, they are helpful to open up areas of exploration with candidates at interview.

3. Even more advantages can be achieved through assessment centres. These assist the whole process by giving candidates experience of parts of a job, giving them the possibility of getting to know the organization, whilst giving selectors the opportunity to assess existing performance and predict potential. The term ‘assessment centre’ refers to a technique rather than a place and a centre may be run just for an individual, or for several candidates at any one time. The assessment centre approach combines a range of techniques - interviews, psychometric tests, exercises, role-plays and simulations - to give the fullest possible picture of a candidate. It is the use of simulations that distinguishes them from other selection techniques, by making it possible to observe the person ‘at work.’ Assessment centres must be professionally run, fair, ethical, reflect the ethos of the organization, use skilled and trained assessors, assess the key organizational capabilities, and give sensitive and supportive feedback to candidates afterwards. They should reflect the reality of the job and the organization. They are especially valuable for ‘new world’ recruitment, as a well-structured centre can enable recruiters to focus on the new capability dimensions of change, whilst also assessing cognitive ability and job specific capabilities. Assessment centres produce a vast range of information about the candidate, gained through different processes and from different sources. This is especially helpful when it comes to assessing older workers and others who may previously have been doing something different, or those who have not followed traditional career paths, or younger workers with little work experience and those for whom the new role represents a big leap forwards. This means they are helpful in enabling organizations to take a risk on someone.

As with all selection methods, assessment centres are not foolproof. Fincham and Rhodes[2]point out that assessment centres “very often do not deliver on their promise or the considerable resources invested in running them.” The reasons they cite for this are concerned with the difficulty of rating people, especially doing so consistently. Fincham and Rhodes[3] also believe assessors tend to mark exercises rather than the dimension the exercises are supposed to be measuring. These problems, however, are also often present in interviewing. Ensuring observers are well trained and have opportunity to build their skills helps overcome these problems. Designing assessment centres so they produce evidence of a candidate’s behaviour from a multitude of sources also reduces these problems, by providing corroborative evidence.

Assessment centres enable you to widen your candidate pool, but being less risk-averse also requires different attitudes and understanding on the part of recruiting managers, and a more open-minded approach to drawing up job and candidate specifications. It also requires a talent mindset, where line managers go deeper than education and track record and seek to understand someone’s abilities and aspirations, and are prepared to support them whilst they rise to new challenges. Training line managers and using them as observers on assessment centres is a valuable way of giving line managers this understanding. This also reaps other benefits, as it gives them a better understanding of the organization’s capabilities and significantly develops their skills of giving feedback.

An important part of being able to take a risk on someone, however, is how much the person wants the opportunity. This brings me to my next point, that enabling people to self-select is vital.

Make ‘point of entry selection’ a collaborative endeavour.

With any selection both parties have to make a decision. From my experience, when new recruits fail, a common reason is they had not fully understood what the job entailed, or perhaps this had not been put across to them well enough. Giving people information to help them make a decision may sound obvious, but rarely happens in practice.

The candidate is the best placed of everyone in the recruitment process to assess whether they can do the job, whether it fits their aspirations, and whether they will fit in to the team and the organization.  Moreover, from my experience as an interviewer, you are able to gain better quality information from people who have had an opportunity to find out about the job and the company beforehand and this gives you more to go on when assessing their suitability.  New technologies enable organizations to provide much better information than ever before. Podcasts, videos, possibilities to interact, social networking opportunities with people the candidate will be working with are just some of the ways of providing information to candidates to enable them to self-select.

Learning points:

Assessment criteria should include capabilities that are essential for success in today’s environment: solving problems, creating new knowledge, learning adapting, being open to new ideas, and handling conflict and managing relationships.

Increasingly people are not following traditional career paths. Different and broader methods to assess if someone has the transferable skills, or the innate qualities for the role are required and assessment centres can be beneficial for this.

Assessment centres are also beneficial for achieving global consistency, as well as facilitating induction and initial development. Assessment centres bring robustness to the selection process, and open areas for exploration with the candidate.

Giving people ample information and possibility for interaction so that they are able to self-select for jobs is valuable and is facilitated by the growth in technological solutions.

 

 

 



[1] ibid

[2] Fincham R, Rhodes P, (2005) Principles of Organizational Behaviour, Fourth edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford UK

[3] ibid

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