Saturday, May 17, 2014

Talent or Skill or Something More Part II

Last time we talked about the importance of talent and skill, the differences between talent and skill and how to evaluate them. We noted that while talent and skill are critical to success, they are not enough. The application of talent and skill requires a strong work ethic as well as the right attitude. We’ve all seen talented and skilled people who lacked the work ethic to be successful. And, then there are those who have the talent, the skill and the work ethic; but their attitude is so negative or downright poisonous that it negates everything else. We proceeded to conclude that if you hire a person who has talent, skills, a strong work ethic and the right attitude; you would expect to have a winner. We noted that organizations go to great lengths to evaluate candidates with regard to these key factors. And then we asked the question: Why do we see so many poor hiring decisions?

Before addressing that question, we need to clarify what we mean here by poor hiring decisions. Just because a hire does not work out, does not mean that it’s a poor hiring decision. Sometimes an organization is so far gone, that even the most capable and qualified candidate cannot succeed. What we’re talking about here is the case where the strategy and resources are such that it is reasonable to expect a successful outcome. Under those conditions, how could a talented, skilled, hard-working professional with a great attitude not be successful?

We alluded to it last time. I called it the “situation”. A better term would be “relevant background”. Specific industry knowledge and experience are critical in certain sectors. In service industries the required knowledge and experience is very critical. And the smaller the organization, the more critical that knowledge and experience becomes. Time and again I have witnessed companies hire executives who lack the “relevant background” to succeed in their organization. It’s risky for me to give specific examples. They know who they are. But, let’s be honest we’ve all seen it. Some of us have had the painful experience of working for one of these companies. Some of us have even been hired for positions we should not have been hired for just because we could check off four out of five boxes: Talent-check, Skills-check, Work Ethic-check, Attitude-check, Background/Experience- meh…close enough.

Realistically, it can be virtually impossible to find candidates who check off every box at the optimal level. My advice to clients is to set REASONABLE REQUIREMENTS for each for these five key factors. Obviously, those requirements will vary by the level and responsibilities of the position. As a general rule, for lower level roles where you have the time and resources for training; you should focus more on talent, work ethic and attitude than skills and background/experience. But when you get to management and executive level positions, especially those closest to operational and commercial activities, you better be CHECKING ALL OF THE BOXES. Don’t get blinded by exceptional candidates who lack the relevant background and experience to succeed in the position. Set reasonable requirements for ‘background/experience’ and do not compromise.

There is a tendency, especially when “non-industry” people are involved in the hiring decision (you know who you are), to hire for the board room not for the business. While I think it’s good to have the outsiders’ perspectives on hiring, just remember…they are outsiders. Sometimes you have no choice other than to go with their decision. But, you can tilt the odds in your favor by starting out with the right specs for the position. And those specs should include industry background/experience that is clearly relevant to the position.

If you happen to be the candidate in one of these “beauty contests”, you should do your own “box checking” . If you lack the relevant background and experience, ask those with whom you interview about the importance of these key factors. And if you get short, empty answers or different answers from different interviewers, those are big red flags. Park your ego at the door and be honest with yourself. Lacking the background and experience in this specific industry segment, can you succeed in this position in this organization?

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