Blog

The job candidate selection process is a fail. Try this.

The job candidate selection process does not work. Even Google has taken back their famed clever interview questions. There is just no data to support that the job candidate selection process is effective at screening for success or at predicting that candidates will remain with the company.

A few years ago I worked with a large, successful engineering firm (it might have been the largest in the country at the time) that had a unique way of selecting and hiring candidates.

The owner of the company told me that their approach was based on two observations:

  1. There is no telling from a job interview, or a series of interviews, whether a candidate will be good at the job, be happy in the company, and will remain for longer than x years. And, if as a company these three criteria (or any other you identify) are important to you, then job interviews are useless and a random process is just as good.
  2. Nor can you tell whether we will want a a person to remain in the company once we get to know the person and the person gets to know us.

The process

So the process they established was as follows:

  1. Identify a series of criteria that any candidate should meet. Because no criterion has proven to be predictive then pick the ones you think/feel might work;
  2. Once you have received applications, pick out the ones that meet all criteria;
  3. From those who meet all criteria, pick one randomly.

The interview

Then the owner would invite the candidate for a chat in which he would explain to the candidate what type of work they do at the firm, how they work,  and what type of values they try and uphold. The owner would then ask the candidate if they can see themselves working in such an environment. If the answer is yes, the person was hired under the following terms: You are hired for six months with full benefits.

After six months

At the end of the six months you and I will meet again and you will tell us whether

  • What we told about the type of work they do at the firm, how they work,  and what type of values they try and uphold is true; and
  • You can see yourself working here permanently.

And we will tell you

  • How well you did during the six months: your work, how you work, and how you understood and embodied the values we try and uphold based on surveys and interviews with your manager, the co-workers on your team, the peers you interface with, and (when applicable) the customers you interface with;
  • Whether we want you to stay and, if yes,
    • We will be discussing the type of projects you would like to work on in the future; and
    • Offer you a permanent position.

The added benefit

Imperfect and incomplete as it is, based on its premise of nothing being predictive of anything in matters of hiring, it is as good as any other process I am familiar with.

And I just read in the FT that it also a great way to boost diversity.


See also: How IBM does it, Writing a good (emotionally-intelligent) job posting helps, and there’s always the Monthy Python way.

 

 

U.S. workers did not share in the growth of the economy of the last forty years

According to a recent study1, unlike the growth patterns in the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of full-time workers did not share in the economic growth of the last forty years.

Had the income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) held steady in the following four decades, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

The median income for all adults with nonzero income was $42,000 in 1975 and it grew to $50,000 by 2018. Had income for this percentile grown as the same pace as the economy, it would have reached $92,000. In other words, their income growth captured only 17% of the growth that occurred in the whole economy.

 

 

 

 

  1. https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WRA516-1.html []

On paid employment, work, craft, and spare time

Even if a man’s whole day be spent as a servant of an industrial concern, in his spare time he will make something, if only a window box flower garden.1

A job is not the only work you do. Equating paid employment with work is at the root of the “work-life balance” discussion going nowhere.

What is your craft? What is the thing you do in your spare time? And if the answer is “what is spare time?”, therein lies the rub.

We might need to revisit our view of “time is money”, keep and eye on the family-to-work spillover effect, and wonder what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?.

 

  1. Eric Gill, An Essay on Typography, 2nd paragraph, via laudator temporis acti, accessed 200915 []

How should I react when an employee is not performing well or makes a mistake?

Frustration is of course the natural response — and one we all can identify with. Especially if the mistake hurts an important project or reflects badly upon us.

The traditional approach is to reprimand the employee in some way. The hope is that some form of punishment will be beneficial: it will teach the employee a lesson. However, some managers choose a different response when confronted by an underperforming employee: compassion and curiosity. Not that a part of them isn’t frustrated or exasperated but they are able to suspend judgment and may even be able to use the moment to do a bit of coaching.

What does research say is best? The more compassionate response will get you more powerful results. The more employees look up to their leaders and are moved by their compassion or kindness, the more loyal they become to them. Conversely, responding with anger or frustration erodes loyalty. (Harvard Business Review)

There is probably something in your personal experience that confirms this. I know there were plenty of instances in mine.

 


From the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicholas Winton – the power of good

Sir Nicholas George Winton is a British humanitarian who organised the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War. Winton found homes for them and arranged for their safe passage to Britain.

Winton kept his humanitarian exploits under wraps for many years until his wife Grete found a detailed scrapbook in the attic in 1988. The scrapbook contained lists of the children, including their parents’ names, and the names and addresses of the families that took them in.

After sending letters to these addresses, 80 of “Winton’s children” were found in Britain. The world found out about Winton’s work in 1988 during an episode of the BBC television programme That’s Life! when Winton was invited to be an audience member.

You can read the whole story here.

 

 

Creativity: it’s about exploration v. exploitation

Meta-analysis of the research on creativity by Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review. The whole three-article series is good. Here’s a sample: Five ways in which managers can bolster creativity:

  1.  Hire for curiosity;
  2. Model inquisitiveness;
  3. Emphasize learning goals;
  4. Let employees explore and broaden their interests; and
  5. Have “Why?” “What if…?” and “How might we…?” days.

Not convinced?

She identifies two tendencies that restrain managers from encouraging curiosity:

  1. They have the wrong mindset about exploration, often thinking that letting employees follow their curiosity will lead to a costly mess; and
  2. They seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration.

It’s the old exploitation-exploration dilemma. James March’s paper is a classic on this. Knut Haanaes provides great examples in this TEDtalk.

 


From the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

A lesson from jazz legend Miles Davis

Loose improvisation is integral to jazz, but we all know Miles Davis as a very exacting character. He could be mean, demanding, abrasive, cranky, hypercritical, and we might conclude, given these personal qualities, and the consistent excellence of his playing, that he was a perfectionist who couldn’t tolerate screw ups. [Herbie] Hancock gives us a very different impression, telling the tale of a “hot night” in Stuttgart, when the music was “tight, it was powerful, it was innovative, and fun.”

Making what anyone would reasonably call a mistake in the middle of one of Davis’ solos—hitting a noticeably wrong chord—Hancock reacted as most of us would, with dismay. “Miles paused for a second,” he says, “and then he played some notes that made my chord right… Miles was able to turn something that was wrong into something that was right.” Still, Hancock was so upset, he couldn’t play for about a minute, paralyzed by his own ideas about “right” and “wrong” notes.

[Says Hancock:] What I realize now is that Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He heard it as something that happened. As an event. And so that was part of the reality of what was happening at that moment. And he dealt with it…. Since he didn’t hear it as a mistake, he thought it was his responsibility to find something that fit.

Hancock drew a musical lesson from the moment, yes, and he also drew a larger life lesson about growth, which requires, he says, “a mind that’s open enough… to be able to experience situations as they are and turn them into medicine… take whatever situation you have and make something constructive happen with it.”

(…)

What matters, Davis is quoted as saying, is how we respond to what’s happening around us: “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.” Or, as he put it more simply and non-dualistically, “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”

Source: Open Culture

 

 

Management lessons from the covid-19 death spiral

An excellent article from Ed Yong1  begins like this:

Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. enters the sixth month of the pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 189,000 confirmed deaths. The toll has been enormous because the country presented the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities to exploit. But the toll continues to be enormous—every day, the case count rises by around 40,000 and the death toll by around 800—because the country has consistently thought about the pandemic in the same unproductive ways.

The author then identifies nine errors that hamper our ability to respond to the pandemic. And one stands out to me because we discuss it often in my strategy workshops.

The most accurate model to date predicts that the U.S. will head into November with 220,000 confirmed deaths. More than 1,000 health-care workers have died. One in every 1,125 Black Americans has died, along with similarly disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. And yet, a recent poll found that 57 percent of Republican voters and 33 percent of independents think the number of deaths is acceptable. “In order for us to mobilize around a social problem, we all have to agree that it’s a problem,” Lori Peek says. “It’s shocking that we haven’t, because you really would have thought that with a pandemic it would be easy.” This is the final and perhaps most costly intuitive error …

The first lesson is, of course, a refresher: Situations that require the coordination of all parties involved can only be solved by the participation of all parties involved. And that participation is best obtained when parties see and agree on the nature of the problem, rather than by means of executive fiat.

And the second lesson is the costly intuitive error: To think that because the situation is obvious to you it will be obvious to others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/, accessed 200911 []

We can overcome our empathy deficit

Given our current circumstances after six months of the pandemic, and not being anywhere near a new normal, you would think that we would be sensitive to the realities of the people around us. Well, according to Scientific American, it turns out we’re not.1

Empathy is a powerful force and human beings need it. Here are three things that might help to remedy our collective empathy deficit:

  1. Take the time to ask those you encounter how they are feeling, and really listen. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Remember that we all tend to underestimate other people’s emotional distress, and we’re most likely to do so when those people are different from us.
  2. Remind yourself that almost everyone is at the end of their rope these days. Many people barely have enough energy to handle their own problems, so they don’t have their normal ability to think about yours.
  3. Finally, be aware that what is empathy for one person may not be empathy for another person. It’s not a concept that speaks for itself. Asking your friends, family, and coworkers what empathy is for them might open a new door to understanding and helping those around us.

 

  1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-us-has-an-empathy-deficit accessed 200918 []

Two crashes, 346 dead, no one taking responsibility: Will anyone pay?

A case study of real lives lost.

Technical design flaws, faulty assumptions about pilot responses, and management failures by both The Boeing Company (Boeing) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) played instrumental and causative roles in the chain of errors that led to the crashes of Lion Air flight 610 in October 2018,1 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in March 2019,2 that resulted in the tragic and preventable deaths of 346 people. Both crashes involved Boeing 737 MAX airplanes. (p. 5)

The report reveals several unmistakable facts. The MAX crashes were not the result of a singular failure, technical mistake, or mismanaged event. They were the horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA—the pernicious result of regulatory capture on the part of the FAA with respect to its responsibilities to perform robust oversight of Boeing and to ensure the safety of the flying public. The facts laid out in this report document a disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgments made by Boeing. It also illuminates numerous oversight lapses and accountability gaps by the FAA that played a significant role in the 737 MAX crashes.  (p. 6)

Boeing does not appear to have fully accepted the lessons from the MAX accidents or taken responsibility for design errors. Without that recognition it is hard to believe that Boeing will make the changes necessary to improve its safety culture. (p. 230)

Source: Final Committee Report on the Design, Development, and Certification of the Boeing 737 MAX, September 2020,  accessed 200918.

For committee activities, see https://transportation.house.gov/committee-activity/boeing-737-max-investigation, accessed 200918.