If You Want Competence, Ignite Passion

I recently read Lou Adler’s interesting article on why not to hire competent people.

He has some good points, but he also misses a few key points as well.

He talks about finding out if the candidate has been excited in the past by work similar to what you’re hiring them for. While that’s one thing to look at, it’s really fairly limited. Gauging similarities between jobs is actually surprisingly difficult: apparent similarity, like beauty, is often skin deep, while apparently different jobs often turn out to be surprisingly similar.

It’s a far better approach to identify someone’s passions. What gets them excited? Don’t stop there, however! Now you need to find out why that gets them excited. Does your job offer similar opportunities?

For example, someone passionate about chess might be passionate because they love logical thought, challenge, strategic thinking, and the opportunity to outwit an opponent. Does your company provide some or all of those opportunities? If so, you’re already on the right track to engaging their passions.

Another way to gauge someone’s excitement is through your own excitement: are you excited by the work your company is doing and are you willing to show that excitement? How do they respond? Is there a spark?

If you are doing your best imitation of the PC from those old Mac vs. PC commercials, don’t be too terribly surprised if the person across the table from you responds accordingly. Far too often, we ignore highly competent people who are great potential hires because we are doing the equivalent of calling sushi “cold, dead fish” and then wondering why they aren’t excited.

Leaving motivation aside for a moment, how are we even judging competence? How do you know that works? Have you really identified what skills are needed on the job? Technical skills are all well and good, but if you don’t focus on the much larger constellation of “soft” skills, you’re going to have problems: is this person skilled at communicating? How about team work? Are you asking them to describe how they’ve helped their teams work together in the past?

We like to focus on technical skills because we think they’re easier to assess than the softer skills. Unfortunately, even that depends on how you go about doing the assessment. Most assessments seem to be as much about making the interviewer feel good as actually measuring competence or end up defining competence much too narrowly.

A real challenge here is that most interviewers are convinced that they can tell a great deal about a candidate from a very short interview. Why is this a challenge? Because most interviewers are wrong. That’s not what they’ve trained to do; indeed, the candidate probably has far more experience being interviewed than the average interviewer has in conducting the interview.

Perhaps the real answer here is to focus on getting reasonably competent people in the door and building an environment that makes them more competent and ignites their passions, instead of believing we can predict it all at the start.

Organizational Psychology for Managers is phenomenal. Just as his talks at conferences are captivating to his audience, Steve’s book will captivate his readers. In my opinion, this book should be required reading in MBA programs, military leadership courses, and needs to be on the bookshelf of every Fortune 1000 VP of Human Resources. Steve Balzac is the 21st century’s Tom Peters.

Stephen R Guendert, PhD

CMG Director of Publications

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