Why selecting leaders is so difficult in practice…Reason # 9 – Simplicity Sells while Complexity Languishes

March 14, 2017 at 11:33 AM

Many years ago, I shared office space with an international industrial psychology firm whose offerings included a suite of formal job analysis tools. Attracted by anything that might help me become a better search practitioner, I took training to administer the tools, and subsequently worked with many of the firm’s clients to help them deconstruct key jobs and determine the requirements to be successful in them. The industrial psychology firm’s psychometric tools were then used to help assess candidates for those roles.

While the tools themselves were very interesting, it was the process that intrigued me most. Multiple stakeholders would gather, and from their individual organizational perches, they would each describe a given job, its key tasks, challenges, priorities and the skills needed to perform it well. The variety of perspectives was occasionally startling and the ensuing process of gaining consensus often animated. The final job descriptions however were rich in perspective and unquestionably more robust than anything I’d seen before. It was capturing the description of a mountain not just from the top but from the bottom and all around.

Returning to my search practice, I enthusiastically introduced these same tools to our clients. I sold the rigour of the process as well as its power to significantly enhance our collective decision-making. Given the high costs of hiring the wrong VP or CEO for small and mid-sized firms, the effort seemed exceptionally worthwhile and I assumed most organizations would buy-in…. I was wrong.

What I learned was that while companies want to increase certainty in hiring they don’t want to incur additional costs to get it. By costs I am not referring simply to the financial variety but also time, effort and complexity. Clients deem the cost of formal process to be too high for the marginal improvement it promises over their intuitive abilities. Since we have all been sizing up people in one way or another since we were kids, we have an inflated faith in our ability to ballpark the right answer. It is the default setting in hiring.

In the end, we abandoned the industrial psychology firm’s tools, and worked with a local university to develop a quicker, ‘lighter’ toolset of our own. We reasoned that while we would sacrifice validity we would still force certain discussions and give everyone a common language by which to subsequently evaluate candidates. This had to be better than the quest for the mythical ‘star’ along with the perfunctory ‘I’ll know him (her) when I see him (her)”.

If you are interested, here is a longer piece on why simplicity and intuition rules in hiring, featuring Daniel Kahneman’s brilliant book Thinking, Fast and Slow, go to... https://www.stonewoodgroup.com/perspective/article.go?article_id=148


About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Contact Robert by email at rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or call (1) 416-365-9494 Ext. 777