For decades and maybe even centuries, past performance has been a reasonably good predictor of future performance.  It still is if … the job is repetitive and routine.  Unfortunately that limits its use to primarily low-skill-low-pay.

employee motivationBut since our world is changing faster than ever before,  job responsibilities and therefore the skills to do the work is fluid. You can blame technology, the Internet, globalization and a host of other factors but the end result is the same – unprecedented accelerated pace of change. Expectations shift and reprioritize constantly. Roles are dynamic.  At times the environment is disruptive and uncertain. Past performance captured in the form of a resume has become an interesting auto-biography. It offers less and less reliability each day as a tool to predict future employee performance. Past performance has lost its credibility as a means of predicting future performance.

That gap between past and future performance forces companies to look at new qualities that might convert capability into actual on-the-job performance. Two of those qualities are agility and adaptability.

The need to assess agility and adaptability is pretty clear.  Very few functions employees perform are routine.  Each employee is faced with a lot of variables every day. They range from his own moodiness to the weather and closing bell on the stock exchange.. Working with different team members or on different teams due to new hires, absenteeism, or shifting priorities affects working dynamics. Different customers, new products, new competitors, availability of resources, changing time frames, and even bad weather can affect individual performance. As a result, each and every employee has to be agile, be adaptable, and be learning continuously.  The days of Henry Ford assembly line production are long gone when an employee could be expected to just follow a routine and process that controlled quality and consistency. Today external variables are in a constant state of flux.  And the more responsibilities an employee has, the more agile and adaptable they need to be.

And yet few companies test candidates or employees for agility or adaptability. Management seems to think that if you pave the road up the mountain, workers will follow.  They interview and test skills, abilities, and job fit but rarely are agility, adaptability, and perseverance considered during employee selection. Despite the near universal agreement that these two competencies are critical skills, hiring managers still get stuck on resumes and past performance.

Here’s a short list of circumstances that could help companies and its managers decide how important agility and adaptability is and whether past experience can be a good predictor of future performance.

Past Performance = Future Performance

  • The job is repetitive and routine
  • The job is insulated from most external variables
  • Engagement of the worker has little effect on outcomes
  • Teams are stable (little turnover)
  • Work is in same industry, in the same market, with same culture
  • Industry or company is insulated from rapid change
  • Products and services are the same
  • Available resources (physical and support) are the same
  • No new competition
  • No new technology
  • Same timeframe to complete tasks

Past Performance ≠ Future Performance

  • The job varies day to day
  • The job is impacted by external factors
  • Motivation and engagement affect productivity
  • Teams are affected by turnover, absenteeism, project need
  • Diverse customer base
  • New competitors
  • Large product inventory and/or introduction of new products
  • Fluctuations in resource availability (including support)
  • Industry or company affected by accelerating pace and/or scope of change
  • New technology changing the way work is done
  • Output and outcomes sensitive to the element of time

As you can see from these lists, few jobs are insulated from change.  That means few workers can expect to perform work the way they always have and expect the same or better result.  Successful future performance requires some level of agility and adaptability. The more complex and change sensitive the role, the more agility and adaptability will be required.

The first change companies need to make during employee selection (as well as training and development) is to understand how each employee views and responds to change. Some employees view change as exciting and filled with opportunity. Others see change as scary and threatening.  Some employees are filled with hope, others with skepticism and hopelessness.

Quality of motivation (passion vs. defeatism, caution vs. fearlessness, optimism vs pessimism) is overlooked if not downright ignored.  That’s a grave error because motivation plays a critical role in determining if an individual will act on hope or fear.  While many people intellectually grasp the need to change, emotionally and therefore motivationally they struggle moving beyond the safety and security of status quo.  (Forgive me for suggesting status quo is safe and secure because it isn’t….but that still doesn’t mean that people don’t rationalize that it is.)

What can a company do?  Most companies attempt to change the environment and adapt it to the needs of the people.  But without individual assessment that uncovers and addresses personal openness and resistance to change, cultural change will only affect the people who need the least amount of motivation and redirection.  Whether it is too much fear or not enough passion that drives resistance, the effectiveness of enterprise wide change initiatives will be hit or miss without addressing what is holding back employees.