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Monday, July 21, 2008

The 'tipping point' in choosing employees

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Wink, has a new book in the works where he debunks many of the assumptions of hiring and recruiting key employees. The speech cited here provides some useful insights and clues that may change your thoughts about your employee selection process.

Guru Malcolm Gladwell, in a rather fascinating speech, outlines an observation that the practices used for selecting key employees in most organizations are badly flawed. His best example, the NHL Hockey "Combine" -- the workout session just before the entry draft, where potential NHL players are put through a series of tests and evaluations, to allow scouts some 'objectivity' in determining who plays where. Trouble is, says Gladwell, that success in the tests at this pre-draft event have no correlation to success as a player.

Worse, he says, a similar process used for the National Football League in the U.S. includes an intelligence test. You might think, he said, that you would need to be at least moderately intelligent to play well at the NFL level -- after all, the game at this level requires strategizing, complex player move analysis, and the like. Guess what, he says, the people who scored "dumbest" on the intelligence test actually are the true stars on the field. (This leaves me with some intriguing thoughts about whether certain stereotypes about football players are indeed true.)

Ok, does this translate to the professions and the like? Well, he says, conventional 'metrics' used to assess teachers' performance seem to lack correlation with real ability; ditto for lawyers and police officers. The problem is that the testing criteria try to ascertain certainty to something that isn't so easy to measure -- the best meaningful measure is, indeed, performance on the job.

In other words, I would speculate, if you want to find great teachers, set up situations where anyone can 'teach' and then evaluate their performance at the work, and if they are good, give them some teacher training.

This gives me reassurance that our model for employee selection is indeed on track. We ask prospective employees to do stuff -- initially, answer a questionnaire, then, if they make it through the screen, to actually work with us on a brief trial, before hiring them. Resumes, interviews, and tests have places in the hiring system, of course, but they are not the key issues. "Can you really do the job?" we ask, and seek to learn before hiring anyone.

The video is quite lengthy but worthy viewing.

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