Simon Wilsher: Why recruiters need to spot best behaviour

Simon Wilsher
“A candidate’s CV may clearly demonstrate that they have the appropriate levels of education and the required job skills, but to understand their ability to effectively work in a team requires a different means of assessment.” Simon Wilsher

Seasoned recruiters will no doubt agree that when it comes to hiring new candidates they weigh up numerous factors – from the candidate’s skill sets and experience, to evaluating their mindset, thought processes and ability to fit into the corporate culture. Each recruiter will have their own method of assessing potential candidates.

Whether they are looking for a game changer, a disruptor or an innovator, recruiters are starting to find that focusing on typical ‘behaviours’ – the way individuals behave in response to challenges and their relationships with others – is significantly more meaningful than just profiling personality, something which we confirmed when researching the psychological makeup that allows sports individuals and teams to perform at world-class levels.

What emerged from our research was a recurring pattern that demonstrated how focusing on people’s preferred ways of achieving their goals provided a clearer, more holistic overview of their subconscious strengths and weaknesses – an insight that would enable team builders and recruiters to develop stronger, more dynamic and sustainable teams.

Traditionally, little attention was given to the cognitive aspects of sports performance. Coaches and athletes would devote the majority of their time concentrating on the physical components of performance. When an athlete failed, the usual comments that followed would be something like “In great form but simply couldn’t handle the competitive stress on the day”, or “Too tense and not focused enough”. That is changing.

Why business leaders need assessing like athletes

Business performance has many parallels with sport performance. Top athletes and highly successful business leaders today are able to handle difficult situations and perform effectively under pressure. They achieve this by harnessing their mental ability to stay incredibly focused, remain totally committed, work smarter (not just harder), be creative, adaptable and deliver winning performances using both body and mind.

For them, it is about utilising and deploying every possible resource to fulfill their potential. These people don’t just cope with pressure, they adapt and thrive under it. When faced with adverse and potentially stressful situations, they develop the willpower and determination to win through. Interestingly, what these people don’t have is overconfidence. Neither do they believe in luck. It’s simply about the ability to perform well when the stakes couldn’t be higher.

A good example of the parallels between sport and business can be seen with England’s 2003 World Cup winning rugby team. Head coach Sir Clive Woodward strongly believed that his team needed to learn from the professionalism, attention to detail and entrepreneurialism of business, so he set about to achieve that. He developed a team that could operate in an environment where stress levels would be extreme and one where there would be absolutely no excuses.

In Sydney’s Telstra Stadium on that rainy Saturday night, 22 November 2003, in front of a capacity crowd of 83,000, both England and Australia had played 80 minutes of hard-fought rugby, but the game was tied at 14-14. Twenty minutes of extra time ensued and into the final minute, the game was still tied at 17-17. England knew that it takes less than half a minute to score, and if they could retain the ball they had a better than 80 per cent chance of winning. They kept the ball through a series of ‘mauls’ then, with just 20 seconds remaining, the team positioned Jonny Wilkinson for a possible drop-kick in front of the posts. Wilkinson’s right boot did the rest, giving England their best sporting moment since the football World Cup of 1966.

Woodward’s tactics had paid off. Even though the stress levels on his team must have been extraordinary, they kept their composure, remained resolutely focused and perfectly executed the plan that they had worked on for so long. As Sir Clive said following England’s historic win, if you make the right selections and you give the team every chance to be successful, it’s up to them to grab it. And his team did just that winning the highest rugby prize of all.

How behavioural testing works with job candidates

So it is in business. Whilst behavioural testing of job candidates is done on an individual basis, its value emerges when creating and developing a team. Which brings us back to working closely with high performing sports individuals to define what behavioural traits are needed within a team to make it function at maximum efficiency.

For a start it requires an in-depth understanding of individual team member’s key preferred ways of interacting and achieving corporate objectives. By understanding how each person prefers to perform and what their common goals are enables the organisation to develop a high performance plan that rapidly reveals any issues that need to be addressed, as well as opportunities to be developed.

At the earliest stage of team development, often at the recruitment stage, cognitive tests may still be applied but it is the use of behaviour profiling tests that provide the team builder or recruiter with the ability to weave an added dimension into the selection process.

A candidate’s CV may clearly demonstrate that they have the appropriate levels of education and the required job skills, but to understand their ability to effectively work in a team requires a different means of assessment.

Until recently, behaviour profiling was not widely adopted since the entire focus would generally be centered around core skill sets and experience. What we are now seeing, however, is that the application of behavioural testing leads to more effective interviewing. For instance, profile statements that have a bearing on the job requirements can be discussed in an open and honest way, rather than trying to get a candidate to be honest about possible weaknesses when they truly want the job.

A good recruiter will be able to identify potential weaknesses without having to ask the candidate. For example, the candidate’s CV may show that they have had people management experience. But what it won’t show is that the candidate has a strong desire to avoid conflict and a difficulty in exerting authority. This is where behaviour profiling comes into it own.

Whilst the inability to effectively handle conflict and exert authority might be seen as a weakness, in essence it is not an insurmountable issue. What is important to the recruiter is that this behavioural trait is established during the interview stage. It allows the recruiter time to formulate appropriate people management training should the candidate be successful.

Equally, what might be seen as a strength on a CV and subsequently discussed in-depth during the interview could actually be a weakness. The candidate may be a very good leader capable of taking bold decisions and leading from the front, but if success is achieved by riding rough-shot over others, then the recruiter may be faced with a serious issue once the candidate is employed. Again, these are issues likely to be highlighted in behaviour profiling.

Behaviour profiling is something that HR departments may once have overlooked, yet there is no doubt that as corporate structures shift to include new leadership and management styles, evaluating individual behavioural skills will ensure significantly higher retention rates. Selecting candidates for traits that go beyond skills and expertise means they will be more likely to succeed in their new role as it more closely fits their requirements and those of the company.


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