Hire Forward: Past Performance Isn’t Enough

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Hire Forward: Past Performance Isn’t Enough

Managers need to hire forward with the future in mind and stop hiring looking in the rear view mirror. Companies and its managers must begin to rely on potential instead of past performance. Here are the reasons why.

For centuries, “employee” selection was made based on physical attributes.  To build pyramids, cross oceans, tunnel through mountains, build canals, construct buildings, fight wars, and farm the fields, you sought out and chose the healthiest, biggest, and strongest people.  Those hiring criteria succeeded and endured very well through the Agricultural and most of the Industrial eras.

But through the later years of the industrial era and into the Computer Era, brains started to replace brawn as the essential criteria for performing work.  Despite the shift from manpower to brainpower, much of the work was still standardized. Roles were similar from one industry and one company to another. Intelligence, experience, and past performance became good predictors of future performance.

The introduction of the Knowledge (or Cyber-Mental) Era however diminished the relevance of experience and past performance. A technological revolution is replacing nearly every routine job with automation. Jobs held by human beings have become more complex. The definition of work is redefined. Experience and past performance are no longer relevant and sometimes even impediments. What makes an employee successful today might not work as well tomorrow as strategies shift, competitors change, and jobs evolve.

It’s no longer important if an employee has the right skills. What’s important is whether he has the potential to learn and the mindset and motivation to apply what he knows…for you. This is a critical shift in talent management thinking and strategy.

Many companies still tend to hire “proven” talent. It’s easier for sure.  Why not go with a proven winner?  If a candidate goes to the right school, has the right degree, and has performed well, he deserves the job, right?

Internally companies identify “high-potentials” to plan for succession and build a talent pipeline.  But these “high-potentials” are really lists of “top performers” who have done well in the past. These programs don’t truly value potential because the managers still assume that success in the past will translate to success in the future.

But given the volatile economy and uncertain times, we know that many previous formulas for success are not adequate to keep with the convergence of technology advancement, globalization, and growing complexity. Past performance and pedigree degrees are no longer safe predictors of future performance.

That calls for a fresh look at employee selection. It begins with measuring potential.  We have identified four essential ingredients to measure potential.

Métier. Now there’s a fancy word. It means “an outstanding quality or special skill.” Most jobs, especially the new ones being created, require skill. That skill might be technical. But it also could relate to critical thinking, strategic or operational planning, and relationship management. It could be as basic as time management, customer service, and team collaboration.  Depending on the role or job, “métier” could be singular or a combination of required skills. Métier is likely one place that past performance or education still has some relevance.  Typically companies and managers do a pretty good job at assessing specific skills.

Mastery. Having a skill or skills isn’t enough. Expertise is the new currency. Demonstrated proficiency and competency are essential. But “good enough” isn’t good enough in today’s world. Mastery infers excellence. It suggests the employee is not only effective at what he does but is also efficient in his use of time and resources.  Like métier, past experience may still shed some light on an employee’s or candidate’s mastery and competence.

As I suggested, most companies and managers do a fair to good job at assessing skills. But this is where a company’s mastery of employee selection seems to hit the brick wall. The next two factors are ignored or given lip service at best. Unfortunately when it comes to future performance, mindset and motivation are the difference between mediocrity and peak performance.

Mindset. Companies must determine if the candidate or employee has a fixed or growth mindset.   Fixed mindset employees believe that they have the talent …and others don’t.  They work harder to protect their reputation about being the best and the brightest than continuing to learn and grow.  They take all the credit for success and blame others for mistakes and failures. They shy away from challenges. Growth mindset employees are guided by continuous learning. They believe that success isn’t a destination but a journey.  Growth mindset employees pursue challenging roles, projects, and tasks. Mindset is a key reason why so many high-potentials disappoint and why so many star performers lose their twinkle after hired or promoted.  Past experience and past success often creates and reinforces the fixed mindset and is a deterrent for change, growth, and innovation. Few if any companies effectively screen and select for the growth mindset.

Motivation. Without the right motivation (and mindset), a candidate or employee will not apply the skill and what he knows in the new role or company. Here is where the paradigm of employee selection shifts. Motivation is a learned skill. It’s more than an emotional state, exhibited by high energy, enthusiasm, and rah-rah inspiration. Motivation has both a quantitative element as well as qualitative. Motivation can be productive…or counter-productive.  Assessing motivation was once superficial and unpredictable. It was an after-thought for many companies who assumed past performance was an indication of reliable and productive motivation. I’m here to say …it’s not.  Motivation is a predictable and measurable skill that will dictate if and how well a candidate or employee will apply what the skill and knowledge he has.

Reliance on past performance as a predictor for future success is what the x-ray is to the MRI and Cat Scan. It still works but mostly confirms what you suspect rather than exposes what you don’t know.   Companies and managers must being to focus on potential. Potential still does include an element of skills and experience but adds the critical factors of mindset and motivation.  Without the right mindset and motivational skills, high potential candidates and employees will often fall short of expectations and disappoint regardless of their skill and expertise. It’s time for managers to hire forward.

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