HIRING FOR THE WHOLE PERSON: IT S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, BUT IT MATTERS TO YOUR ORGANIZATION

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1 POINT OF VIEW ARTICLE BY MAC TEFFT SENIOR CONSULTANT, DDI SELECTION SOLUTIONS POINT OF VIEW HIRING FOR THE WHOLE PERSON HIRING FOR THE WHOLE PERSON: IT S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, BUT IT MATTERS TO YOUR ORGANIZATION In 1959, the year after NASA was established by President Dwight Eisenhower in response to the Soviet Union s launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, the agency began recruiting its first astronauts. Emphasizing flight experience, NASA asked the military services to identify members who met specific qualifications, including a height requirement they could be no more than 5 feet 11 inches tall, as the space capsules they would travel in would be tiny. The seven men selected from a pool of 500 candidates had been subjected to numerous intense physical and psychological screenings (a grueling process captured in the book and film The Right Stuff about the original seven astronauts). Now, more than four decades after Neil Armstrong first stepped on the surface of the moon and on the heels of the end of the space shuttle program, NASA is charged with recruiting and selecting astronauts for the future a future that is no longer about going to the moon but about furthering scientific study, helping staff a permanent international space station, and eventually embarking on a manned mission to Mars. Your organization probably isn t plotting a mission to Mars and you may not need to hire astronauts, but it s all relative. Like NASA, you must recruit, select, and develop the talent you need to achieve your missioncritical goals. To ensure that you do, you need to take a whole-person approach to defining positions, looking beyond the one or two overriding criteria that may appear to be most important for success (e.g., technical experience, familiarity with the organization, the ability to get along with others) to create and assess against a complete picture of what an individual needs in order to succeed in a given role and help the organization achieve its business objectives. In examining how NASA recruits and selects for its most demanding and coveted job, we see some valuable and instructive lessons for any organization looking to acquire the right talent. LOOK FOR MORE THAN AVIATION EXPERIENCE As mentioned above, when NASA initially sought astronauts, it wanted accomplished pilots. But now, as its web site makes clear, the agency seeks individuals with an exceptional combination of qualifications: Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. And a probing mind. That s what it takes to join NASA. In other words, NASA considers the total package the whole person. In evaluating astronaut candidates, in addition to looking for those who have the right mix of knowl- 1

2 edge and experience, the agency also must assess for both skills, which are developable, and personality traits (e.g., the sense of daring and probing mind), which are not. Success Profiles which define the ideal candidate in terms of skills, knowledge, behavior, experience, and personal attributes provide the perfect framework for taking a whole-person approach to defining what s needed for success in a job. And while you probably don t need to evaluate candidates as thoroughly as NASA vets potential astronauts, you need to have in place systems, processes, and tools that provide the data needed, relative to the Success Profile, to make accurate and informed talent decisions. HAVE THE RIGHT FLIGHT PLAN In an article on the NASA career web site, Lt. Col. Cady Coleman describes a 16-day space shuttle mission in which she personally interacted with 30 experiments. It is a challenge to work quickly but well. It is like having 30 customers in 16 days. There isn t time for mistakes. You need to go up there and do your best. Imagine trying to write an accurate job description for such a role one that not only captures the tasks but also the stressful environment in which they need to be completed. Even then, the job description, lacking the requirements that an individual needs in order to become an astronaut, wouldn t capture all of the facets that would define the right candidate. Yet, when it comes to defining a target job, one of the most common mistakes is to confuse the job description with the Success Profile. A job description often spells out the tasks and responsibilities that must be performed in the job, perhaps some minimal qualifications but little else. And while still valuable as a realistic job preview to help potential applicants determine whether or not the job will be right for them, the job description has little value as a tool for determining what the ideal candidate will look like. That is the function of the Success Profile. When organizations rely solely on a job description to guide their recruitment and selection activities, they hamstring their efforts because they have defined only what the new hire will do in the job, not what will make the candidate the right fit or how he or she will be successful meeting the objectives. This is a critically important distinction as there will be many individuals who will be able to fulfill the job duties and responsibilities, but that ability does not always equate to the motivation to do the job, an ability to adapt to the organizational culture, or the likelihood to be engaged in the work or remain in the job for the long haul all factors that are addressed by the creation of a Success Profile. Simply put, job descriptions tend to focus on the what s, and ignore the how s. AS THE FUTURE BECKONS, YOUR HIRING CRITERIA NEED TO CHANGE Re-evaluating what s required to be a successful astronaut isn t new to NASA. By 1964, just five years after the first seven astronauts were chosen, NASA had already acknowledged that future astronauts needed to do more than simply control a spacecraft. Hotshot pilots with the right stuff gave way to accomplished aviators who also possessed superior academic qualifications. Applicants were required to have an advanced degree or an equivalent level of experience in a field such as engineering, natural sciences, or medicine. Alan Shepard, 2

3 one of the original seven astronauts and, in 1961, the first American to travel into space, possessed only a bachelor s degree. Neil Armstrong, meanwhile, the commander of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and the first man to set foot on the moon, had a master s degree in aerospace engineering. While the job astronaut still was called the same thing, the requirements for the job had evolved. Multiple factors are making it imperative that organizations take a fresh look at the criteria they are using to hire and promote people. Many of these factors are probably already on your radar screen: increased complexity within roles, greater demands on employees, the impact an improving economy and employee retirements are likely to have on turnover, the challenges associated with a multigenerational workforce, etc. Others may not be so obvious, like the sometimes subtle ways the nature of jobs change over time. For instance, a decade ago a leader may have been charged with directing the activities of a homogeneous group of professionals or team members. Now, that same job may require the leader to navigate a complex, matrixed organizational structure while leading a team of diverse professionals with dotted line reporting relationships in which some members work virtually and may even be located in other parts of the world. If the success profile for that role hasn t been updated, it is very likely outdated and at least partially inaccurate. And if the picture isn t accurate, how can your talent decisions (hiring, promotions, etc.) have the impact your business leaders demand? This need for continually refreshing a Success Profile is driven home by a recent analysis we did of data we have amassed in our work with clients going back more than three decades. We identified the most common competencies that our clients were looking for when hiring for frontline leader positions. While, not surprisingly, Decision Making has remained the undisputed most common competency (after all, leadership success is driven by the ability to make good decisions) and Communication has also remained near the top of the list, the popularity of others has surged or ebbed. Coaching, for instance, didn t crack the top 10 in the 1980s or the top 5 in the 1990s, but it has been a top-three competency ever since. So, what happened in the 90 s that precipitated this rise in the importance of coaching skills? For many, it was the realization that modern, high-involvement, teambased organizations would require supervisors to play more the role of a mentor and facilitator than simply that of a high-level technical expert or advisor to the day-to-day aspects of their direct reports jobs. There s no overstating the point: Roles are constantly evolving, and at least every few years you need to take a fresh look at your critical positions, and ask those leading the organization to articulate how expectations and demands are changing. Furthermore, there is great value in asking individuals in those roles, How has your job changed? And what skills and motivations are going to be required to meet these changing expectations? ENSURING MISSION SUCCESS The biggest challenge about being involved in the space program is the need to be able to be good at and know a lot about a lot of things, says astronaut Coleman. But avoiding many of the common mistakes we see when it comes to taking a whole-person approach to talent shouldn t be nearly so challenging. Here are some pointers: 3

4 Stay ahead of the business. Success Profiles need to be current in order to reflect changes in the business and in individual job requirements. But strategic talent acquisition is all about being forward-looking, taking into account where the organization is heading, not just where it is now. As you conduct job analyses, consider what the job is likely to become in the future and construct the Success Profile accordingly. Sometimes you can do this by learning from previous shifts in jobs or roles and seeking benchmark data accordingly. Other times it may involve the realization that the organization needs people to do their jobs differently than they have done them in the past. Either way, you must remain open to the possibility that jobs are likely to require a shifting set of skills and priorities for success in the future. Don t overemphasize competencies. One of the most common mistakes we see is that organizations will limit their job profiles to just the competencies required for the job. While competencies are certainly important, the problem with this approach is that it underestimates the importance of personal attributes (or stable, undevelopable traits), which are often the most important determinant in whether or not an individual succeeds or fails in a job. We all know of people who are highly skilled but have a difficult time adjusting to change or learning new tasks. Similarly, a detail-oriented person may excel as a team member but be ineffective as a leader because he has trouble letting go of the responsibilities better suited to the rest of the team. What s more, these personal attributes, including those that drive job motivation, will inevitably impact whether he or she is likely to remain in the job long term the ideal, given the replacement costs incurred with turnover. Look at the family not the job. Given the breadth of roles that exist in most organizations, creating Success Profiles for each and every position is unrealistic. Instead, create profiles at the job family level, taking advantage of the like competencies, skill requirements, and other factors that figure into the definitions of multiple jobs that can be grouped based on similarities in job scope and responsibility... not necessarily function. For example, consider a manufacturing facility where people with specialized roles (welders, assembly technicians, quality control) are needed on the production floor, but all must have strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills and a proclivity for teamwork in order to be effective. A singular core Success Profile could cover the majority of requirements for all of these positions. Identify core competencies and personal traits or motivations for the family as a whole and reserve the detailed analysis at the function or job level for where technical knowledge and experiences may differ drastically. This saves time not only during the development of the Success Profiles, but also during the maintenance phases when your focus is on ensuring continued alignment for future needs. Understand how the elements within Success Profiles interact. In building and applying a Success Profile, it s important to keep in mind that relationships exist between the individual components that can potentially cloud your talent decisions. For example, when looking to fill those positions vacated by retirees, there may be generational differences that might skew the organization s best efforts to accurately evaluate a candidate s true fit with a position. We found in looking at some selection-tool validation studies we have conducted across 4

5 CONTACT INFORMATION WORLD HEADQUARTERS a broad range of manufacturing leadership jobs that both younger and older workers were viewed similarly in terms of overall job performance, and the groups scored similarly in areas such as quality of work, and punctuality. However, there were some generational differences in the competency ratings uncovered for Safety Orientation (older workers score higher on average) and Adaptability (younger workers score higher on average). Therefore, if positions are expected to become open due to retirements, it s important to fully identify the skills that are required, not just the experience, before beginning your staffing process. When attempting to identify your Success Profiles, be sure to gather input from a cross-section of your experts to avoid a skewed view of what success may look like. In our example of the selection tool validation research, focusing solely on experience instead of requirements related to Safety Orientation and Adaptability, which are also critical to success in many types of jobs, could lead to unanticipated skill gaps in your workforce. BLAST OFF! While the space program and the type of individuals NASA needs to become astronauts has changed over the last 50-plus years, the agency s focus on the future when seeking astronauts has remained constant. How future-focused are your efforts to identify the talent your organization needs not just for today, but for tomorrow? We can help you identify the talent you need for the future, even if you aren t looking to shoot for the moon (or Mars). To learn more about Success Profiles and DDI s full range of solutions for identifying and hiring those who are the right fit with your jobs, visit ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mac Tefft is a senior consultant with DDI with particular expertise in Success Profiling SM and assessment solutions. He has over 15 years of experience in the field of human resource consulting and has developed and implemented selection, assessment, and development systems for organizations around the world. Contact him at POINT OF VIEW HIRING FOR THE WHOLE PERSON 5 MKTSEAR MA

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