Executive-level hiring is a decidedly aspirational endeavor. Organizations idealize their workplace cultures, select for attributes that will fit into those romanticized environments, and then immerse unsuspecting hires into their ice-cold reality of their works-in-progress.
Online dating services deal with the same issues. Lovebirds-to-be begin their online dalliances by completing questionnaires detailing their personal stats, interests and dating preferences. This data is then crunched to find well aligned potential partners. Studies show that much like their organizational brethren, individuals are a tad prone to idealize. They overstate IQs, understate waist sizes and ever-so-slightly fudge all manner of other personal details and wish-lists. So how do dating services cope with such systemic distortion?
Match.com is one of the largest and fastest growing players in the sector. A recent article examined the firm’s ‘brilliant’ team of 13 in-house mathematicians, a group charged with the firm’s crown jewels, its proprietary matchmaking algorithms. These quants not only try to decipher the indecipherable black magic between two people but do so using the circus mirror data by which people describe themselves and their preferences.
A little while ago, Match.com’s math department began examining actual on-line behavior and found a divergence with how people should behave given their stated interests and preferences. Men who indicated a desire for never-married blonde academics often reached out to divorced brunette sales professionals. Women who indicated a strong preference for thirty-something stamp collectors actually made contact with fifty year old Harley enthusiasts. Befuddled by the inconsistencies, Match.com’s mathematicians surmised that perhaps actual behaviors are a better window into people than their romanticized wish lists. They began to modify their matching algorithms to give increasing weight to how people actually behave online. Successful matches increased as people were introduced to more people similar to those that seemed to attract their on-line attention, despite what their profiles suggested.
Human resources professionals and recruiters might take note. Recognizing the tendency to idealize they might also give greater weight to how their firms behave rather than how they wished they behaved. They might look more closely at the people who have actually thrived in their organizations comparing their qualities to those idealized on paper. They might be more realistic in looking at the likelihood that their firms’ leaders will themselves be able to adapt and thrive in their romanticized organizations. Rather than hire residents of that far away Shangri-la recruiters might stick with locals or even better guides experienced on navigating the treacherous journey to where they want to go.
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.