Selection – Can do or will do?
Whether recruiting new employees or putting together a work-group team, most selection activity focuses on whether a person can adequately perform the tasks that comprise a particular role. The most common way this is judged is through how much experience an applicant has had in doing that job, or something similar, or whether they have the qualification to do it. Whilst both of those considerations can be useful they do not necessarily explain how effectively they do it, whether they will do it in the desired way, what else they might bring (or lack) or how well they’ll get on with supervisors, subordinates, peers and customers. Other things employers should know include:
- What standards do they work to? What standards do they expect of others?
- How does the applicant like to work and like to be managed?
- How does the applicant behave and interact in most circumstances – and how much interaction do they need? How do they interact under stress?
- How do they deal with pressure, conflict, criticism or mistakes?
- Is the applicant likely to be supportive of the preferred workplace culture?
- How open is the applicant likely to be to change and how resilient to challenges and adversity?
- How much autonomy do they like and how accepting are they of accountability for their own work?
Finding accurate answers to those questions poses a problem for interviewers, as simply asking them is more likely to elicit the answer a candidate feels the interviewer most wants to hear, or, with more honesty, represents their own perception of themselves. As an approach it is better to ask than not, but the accuracy of the responses is likely to be unreliable.
Recruitment criteria varies between organisations, HR administrators and managers. Larger organisations tend to follow more formal processes, highly valuing things like ability, attainment and aptitude (and manageability of process), while smaller organisations tend to be less formal (and intuitive), focusing more on personality traits including honesty, integrity and interest in the role (Bartram et al, 1995). (For employers of all sizes, the confident selection of younger people can be more difficult due to a lack of a track record of productive employment, or “experience”, despite potentially intractable problems that “experience” can bring.)
Research shows that workgroup members who are selected mostly on sociometric metrics (eg, personal likability) have higher levels of communication, coordination, cohesion, peer ratings and job satisfaction than those selected mostly on ability (Colarelli and Boos, 1992), but can also bring homogeneity characterised by group-think, insularity, inflexibility and intolerance. As decision-making criteria, both are inadequate.
The blend of traits and behaviours that might be most appropriate vary for each workplace contextually. There are also differences between roles within workplaces, as well as the time or context a selection decision is made – for example:
- Does role success depend more on technical skill or social interaction? What’s the balance?
- Does the organisation need new attitudes, perspectives or other changes in interpersonal behaviours and culture?
- Is it preferable to enlist people who already match current skillsets, bring new skills or are willing to be taught?
- Is there a wish for compliance, compassion, innovation, resilience or independence?
The answers must lie within the values, purpose, context and practical requirements of the employer or work group, along with the capability and willingness of the employer to accept diversity, create connections, reward (financially and psychologically), train and manage. (This is stated not as a judgment on any perceived weaknesses, but as a realistic understanding of what can and can’t be done in a given context).
Career and Succession Planning
Employers usually prefer to promote from within, and considering the first-hand evidence available about performance, capabilities and behaviours, we strongly support this as an approach that should, in theory at least, improve success, loyalty and workplace culture – even though in reality outcomes can be quite different. Why does this seemingly safe process so often go wrong?
In practice, career and succession planning choices usually come down to:
- The keenness of an individual for a promotion or career change;
- The impressions superiors have of an individual’s past performance, attitude, reliability and loyalty;
- Personal connections and relationships (psychological and genetic);
- The ability of an organisation to plan and train; and
- The (perceived) availability of contenders or applicants.
Whilst all of these are valid considerations, some others are often overlooked, particularly involving the changes in responsibility, activities, relationships and social positioning that accompany career change or progression. In particular, the transition from “doing” to “leading” is often overlooked, resulting in previously high performing employees moving from security, competence, confidence and job enjoyment to quite different, and often debilitating, emotional states. Common outcomes include disengagement, poor performance, workplace conflict and resignations from those who have progressed despite being unsuitable and/or under-prepared, as well as from those who have been affected, most particularly subordinates but also peers and customers.