Menu

Hire Leaders for What They Can Do, Not What They Have Done

Fifty years have passed since the publication of The Peter Principle, but its rule still applies today. “In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties,” noted Laurence J. Peter, the educator behind this famous work. His theory postulates that most competent people are promoted until they reach a position that is above their skill level, at which point they cease to grow.

Academic studies show that promotions are still largely a reward for past performance, and that organizations continue to assume the attributes that have made someone successful so far will continue to make them successful in the future (even if their responsibilities change). This may explain why there are still a large number of incompetent leaders.

Organizations that wish to select the best people for leadership roles therefore need to change how they evaluate candidates. The next time you are filling a managerial position, ask yourself three questions:

1. Does the candidate have the skills to be a high-performing contributor or the skills to be an effective leader?

The performance level of individual contributors is measured largely through their ability, likability, and drive. Leadership, by contrast, demands a broader range of character traits, including high levels of integrity and low levels of dark-side behaviors born out of negative attributes likes narcissism or psychopathy.

The difference between these two skill sets explains why great athletes often end up being mediocre coaches (and vice versa), and why high performers often fail to succeed in leadership positions.

We all know that the most successful salespeople, software developers, and stockbrokers have exceptional technical skills, domain knowledge, discipline, and abilities to self-manage. But can those same skills be used to get a group of people to ignore their selfish agendas and cooperate effectively as a team? Probably not. Leaders do need to obtain a certain level of technical competence to establish their credibility, but too much expertise in a single area can be a handicap. Experts are often hindered by fixed mindsets and narrow views, which result from their years of experience. Great leaders, however, are able to remain open and to adapt, no matter how experienced they are. They succeed because they are able to continually learn.

This has been proved in many situations, particularly in the area of sales. A recent academic study of over 200 firms found that performance as a salesperson was negatively correlated with performance as a sales manager. If you promote your number one salesperson to management, you create two problems: You lose your top salesperson and you gain a poor manager.

2. Can I really trust this candidate’s individual performance measures?

The most common indicator of someone’s performance is a single subjective rating by a direct line manager. This makes measures of performance vulnerable to biaspolitics, and an employee’s ability to manage up. Although peer-based and network-oriented performance management is growing, it is still in its infancy. As a result, performance measures may not be as reliable as you think.

This is likely why women still tend to be promoted less than men, even when their performance is identical. Many organizations promote people into leadership positions because they “create the right impression,” even if their actual contributions are minimal.

If you ask yourself the above question, and the answer is “no,” take some time to think about what good leadership looks like at your company. Are you looking for leaders who can drive great results? Bring people together? Listen and develop others? Or are you looking for leaders who can connect, innovate, and help evolve the business? Every company needs different types of leaders at different times, and someone who performs well in their current role may not be the right person to help you reach your most immediate goals.

 

3. Am I looking forward or backward?

The secret to selecting great leaders is to predict the future, not to reward the past. Every organization faces the problem of how to identify the people who are most likely to lead your teams through growing complexity, uncertainty, and change. Such individuals may have a very different profile from those who have succeeded in the past, as well as from those who are succeeding in the present.

Avoid promoting entirely based on culture fit. Although you may have good intentions in doing it, it often results in a lack of diversity of thought and outdated leadership models. In today’s ever-changing world, businesses are expected to grow as fast as the technologies surrounding them. Their models must be in constant transformation. What worked in the past and what is working in the present may not work at all in the future. Companies, then, need to get more comfortable thinking outside the box. This means taking “misfits” or “people who think differently” and placing them into leadership roles. Give them support and time to prove themselves. This is just one way to deepen your leadership pipeline.

You should also take an extra look at the people who “may not be ready,” and analyze them on the basis of their ambition, reputation, and passion for your business. Often the youngest, most agile, and most confident people turn into incredible leaders, even though their track record may not be the best. Mark Zuckerberg, one of the most successful CEOs in decades by many measures, had almost no business experience before he started Facebook. Steve Jobs had not run a large company before Apple, yet he had the insights, connections, and drive to make it a household name.

It’s time to rethink the notion of leadership. If you move beyond promoting those with the most competence and start thinking more about those who can get you where you want to go, your company will thrive. In other words, start considering those who have high potential, not just top performers.


Josh Bersin is founder of Bersin by Deloitte, and now the Josh Bersin Academy, the research and professional development academy for HR and business leaders. He is a global research analyst, public speaker, and writer on the topics of corporate human resources, talent management, recruiting, leadership, technology, and the intersection between work and life.


Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. He’s the author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It). Find him on Twitter: @drtcp or at www.drtomas.com. 

Read more...

How to Reduce Personal Bias When Hiring

When it comes to hiring diverse candidates, good intentions do not necessarily lead to good results. I once met a talent acquisition leader at a large global technology company who had changed the organization’s hiring process in multiple ways to bring in more diverse candidates but was frustrated by the lack of progress. Internal analyses showed that even though the company had interviewed a higher number of non-white candidates in preliminary rounds, their final hires were still overwhelmingly white.

I’ve seen this same situation play out in multiple organizations and industries and often it’s because well-intentioned hiring managers end up inadvertently weeding out qualified candidates from underestimated backgrounds because of unconscious bias.

Changes in process and diversity initiatives alone are not going to remedy the lack of equal representation in companies. Individual managers who are often making the final hiring decisions need to address their own bias.

But how? In my experience, there are several things managers can do.

Before taking any steps, however, it’s important to accept that no one is pre-loaded with inclusive behavior; we are, in fact, biologically hardwired to align with people like us and reject those whom we consider different.

Undoing these behaviors requires moving from a fixed mindset — the belief that we’re already doing the best we possibly can to build diverse teams — to one of openness and growth, where we can deeply understand, challenge, and confront our personal biases.

Here are the specific strategies I recommend.

Accept that you have biases, especially affinity bias

Even if you head up your organization’s diversity committee, even if you are from an underrepresented community, you have biases that impact your professional decisions, especially hiring. Affinity bias — having a more favorable opinion of someone like us — is one of the most common. In hiring this often means referring or selecting a candidate who shares our same race or gender, or who went to the same school, speaks the same language, or reminds us of our younger selves.

Microsoft’s head of global talent acquisition, Chuck Edward, told me that affinity bias is widespread in hiring and often leads people to seek out, and hire, candidates who “look, act, and operate” like them. He admits falling into this trap himself. “I’ve had to be very careful to address it head on,” he says.

Create a personal learning list

Spend time reading and learning about the experience of underrepresented communities at work. Among the books I recommend are So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and What Works by Iris Bohnet, which was recommended to me by Michelle Gadsen-Williams, a managing director and the North America lead for inclusion and diversity at Accenture. I’ve found Harvard Business Review’s “Women at Work” podcast to be an excellent resource as well.

Seek out resources that you wouldn’t normally come across and look for books and articles from underrepresented communities. In the U.S., that might include books that include the perspectives of immigrants, people with disabilities, and native American and indigenous communities.

Not only will it help you uncover the biases you’re bringing to hiring decisions, it will also equip you with the framework and language to recognize, and possibly call out, bias in your company’s processes.

 

Ask: “Where is, or could, bias show up in this decision?”

One team I work with had hiring managers who would often flippantly say phrases like: “We should hire this person. I could easily see myself having beers with them after work.” Or “This candidate is qualified, but really isn’t a cultural fit.”

These comments, laden with unconscious bias, would go unchecked. When the leadership team, which was entirely male and white, asked for my help in creating guidelines to reduce bias in the hiring processes, I suggested they start candidate debrief meetings by asking, “Where could unconscious bias show up in our decisions today?” This intervention, along with other process changes, led the team to hire two women leaders.

By explicitly acknowledging that we all have unconscious biases and creating a space to call them out, there’s an opportunity to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

Reduce the influence of your peers’ opinions on your hiring decisions

In the past, Microsoft would allow hiring managers to see each other’s feedback on a candidate, before it was their turn to interview them. “Everybody on the interview loop could see what others were saying — the words that were used, what was said about a candidate — before interviewing them,” says Edward. “It’s real clear how that could lead to biases and being influenced by someone else’s views.”

Recently, Microsoft made the feedback loop private — a hiring manager can’t log in to the tool and see their colleagues’ feedback until they’ve entered their own assessment of a candidate first. Edward says that the change has allowed people the freedom to form their own opinions, without being influenced by their peers – or their bosses.

Even if you don’t use a software tool for hiring loops, refrain from comparing notes verbally until you have formed your own point of view on a candidate. I recommend writing down your feedback on the candidate and whether you’re inclined to hire them, before you debrief with your colleagues. Again, ask yourself as you’re writing: “How could bias have impacted my assessment and recommendation?”

Use a “flip it to test” approach

In 2017, Fortune 500 executive Kristen Pressner gave a brave TEDx talk, where she admitted to harboring gender bias against women leaders, despite identifying as a woman herself. Pressner developed a technique to disrupt bias — ask yourself, if you were to swap out the candidate from an underrepresented background with one of your more typical hires, would you have the same reaction? For example, if a woman of color candidate speaks passionately, and you’re less inclined to hire her because you think of her as “angry,” would you use the same word if a white man spoke the same way?

“Flip it to test it” is a relatively easy way to call out bias as it happens. In a recent hiring decision that I was part of, a highly qualified woman of color was approached to apply formally for a role she was already informally performing the duties for. Since the organization was already familiar with her work and performance, the hiring manager saw no harm in having her skip the early parts of the hiring process. But some colleagues expressed concern about “bending the rules” for her. During the discussion, I flipped the concern by asking two questions: Would we have the same reservations if we were circumventing the traditional hiring process for a white person? In the past, when all the candidates we were considering where white men, did we focus extensively on the fairness of the hiring process? In both cases, the hiring committee unanimously answered: no. We were able to recognize our bias and eventually made an offer to the candidate.

Understand how reducing bias could personally benefit you 

Diversity in our workplace makes us smarter, more innovative, and promotes better critical thinking. It’s not only the organization that benefits, we personally have a lot to gain by working with people from all different backgrounds. By recognizing how we benefit from reducing our own bias — rather than focusing on the ROI for the company — we’re likely to be more motivated to take action.

As Gadsen-Williams told me, “A culture of equality is a multiplier. We can’t achieve a culture of equality if personal unconscious bias is not addressed first and foremost.”


Ruchika Tulshyan is the author of The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace and the founder of Candour, an inclusion strategy firm. She is also adjunct faculty at Seattle University.

Read more...

3 Questions Hiring Managers Want You to Answer

Interviews have an outsize influence on whether you land the job you want. Even though your application materials reflect your lifetime of experience, a few hours of interaction with a recruiting team often ends up being the determining factor in whether you actually get hired. So, clearly you need to stand out.

To do that, it helps to be mindful of what recruiters and hiring managers are trying to accomplish with the interview and prepare accordingly. Below are three of the questions they want answered and advice on how to address them.

“What will it be like to work with you?”

People can’t know from your résumé or cover letter what it will be like to have you work for them. You want to demonstrate to your prospective employer that you will be a valuable colleague and someone with whom they will enjoy interacting. That means that a lot of what will determine the success of the interview is social. Yes, you need to be knowledgeable about your field, but you also need to help people envision you as a member of the team.

One mistake job hunters often make is to treat interviews like exams — ones that they hope to ace, or at least not bomb. The problem with this framing is that it assumes the interviewer is doing an assessment and looking for a correct answer, which can lead people to subconsciously slip into a too-adversarial stance or work too hard to reply with what they think their counterparts want to hear.

If you instead think about interviewers as people looking to find potential colleagues, and the conversation as an opportunity for everyone to get to know one another, the relationship changes. You and the recruiter or hiring manager share the same goal, and your meeting becomes a joint problem-solving effort: Do we want to work together? You will probably display your expertise as you chat, but you will also be demonstrating your ability to establish a rapport.

Another benefit to this approach is that it encourages greater synchronization between your and the interviewer’s brains. This is something that happens in most conversations. People speak quickly to transmit information in a timely fashion, and your brain, to better understand what they are telling you, predicts the words, grammatical structure, and tone of voice they will use. In a positive, engaging conversation, you mirror those elements of speech back to them, and vice versa. A wonderful paper by Martin Pickering and Simon Garrod summarizes how this happens.

If you treat your interviewer the way you would a trusted colleague — smiling, leaning forward, talking in a friendly way with energy and enthusiasm, and making eye contact — they should begin to use the same language mechanisms they already use with their favorite people in the workplace, and begin to think of you as someone who belongs at the organization too.

“Can you learn?”

You probably have the basic skill set required to do the job for which you are applying, but you’ll also need to learn as you go. (And if you’re completely prepared for the role, you probably set the bar too low.) How can you demonstrate that you’re willing and able to learn?

Chances are that there will be at least one question during the interview that you are not entirely sure how to answer. Maybe it is framed in a confusing way, so you’re not sure what’s being asked. It might use unfamiliar terms. Or you might understand the question completely but have no idea what to say. Don’t be tempted to bluff your way through an answer. Good interviewers can smell a phony response. (They probably hear a lot of them.)

Instead, admit that there is something you do not know or understand. A number of organizational behavior researchers have found that people don’t like to admit ignorance because they are concerned that it will make them look weak. But interviewers want to see that potential employees will ask questions, seek additional information, give more informed responses, and show initiative in developing themselves. And as studies have shown, you cannot ask for help unless you first let other people know what you do and do not know.

When you’re stumped by a question, ask for clarification. Rephrase the question or suggest a couple of possible interpretations. If you’re still not sure how to proceed after they’ve responded, explain that you haven’t encountered this issue before.

If the question that brings you up short involves addressing a scenario from the workplace, ask the interviewer whether you should think through the question aloud so that they can see how you work on new problems, or if they would like to talk with you about how this issue is normally handled within the organization (or both). Your goal here is to show the interviewer how you approach challenges while demonstrating that you are open to learning.

Another way to show that you intend to keep expanding your skills and knowledge is to ask about continuing education opportunities. Does the company routinely offer internal classes or seminars? Does it have tuition assistance or another benefit that allows you to take classes or certificate programs? Inquiring about these resources makes it clear that you are interested in further development.

“Do you take initiative?”

Interviewers want self-starters who take initiative (so much so that it’s become a cliché). The best way to demonstrate your effort and commitment is to arrive completely prepared. You should have a very clear idea of what the company does, its history, its strengths, and its weaknesses. If you know people who work for the company (or have worked there in the past), ask them for inside information.

Then, prepare for the interview by practicing your answers to common interview questions. There is a big danger in what Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil call “the illusion of explanatory depth,” or our tendency to believe we understand the world better than we actually do. In studies, these researchers found that people had difficulty explaining devices and routines in which they thought they had expertise. Thus, going into an interview, most of us might assume we can effectively describe key aspects of our work and how it relates to our prospective employers. However, in the moment, we can’t.

That is why practice is so important. It helps you to notice gaps in your knowledge while you still have an opportunity to fill them and to recognize places where you stumble, so you can say it the right way when the time comes.

One reason people don’t practice interview answers is they worry that overpreparing will make them sound rehearsed rather than spontaneous. But you will probably get several unanticipated questions, so there will be ample opportunity to show off your improvisational skills. In addition, your preparation for the interview will be noted, and that will count significantly in your favor. So, don’t skimp on getting ready.

No matter how qualified you are for a position or how prepared you are for the interview, you still might not get the job. If you feel that you developed a good rapport with the interviewer, reach out and ask for feedback. When you make this connection, focus the conversation on what you can do to improve your interview performance. Don’t ask the company to justify why you didn’t get the job.

Ultimately, the best way to stand out in interviews is to think carefully about what prospective employers really want to know about you before you are hired. From there, you will be able to address concerns before they even have them.


Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. His new book is Bring Your Brain to Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career(HBR Press).

 

Read more...