Sunday, March 9, 2014

Predictors When Hiring - Another Lesson from the Sharks in Silicon Valley

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on………………."

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on February 22, 2014 recounted an interview by Adam Bryant with Lazlo Bock (the guy in charge of doing the hiring at Google) noting "that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.

Friedman goes on to quote Bock saying:

"For every job, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive. 
The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.” 
What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time. 
The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills. Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that."

Should we, in the arts, question what criteria we are using in our new hires?  Should we move away from "experience" and "education" as determining qualifications, and instead focus more on team problem solving skills?  And aren't those very skills the ones we constantly tout as one of the benefits of arts education? What is important to consider in people who work in our organizations to our success in today's constantly changing and challenging environment?

In the Adam Bryant interview, Bock talks about what tools Google uses in making the determination of who, among qualified applicants, to hire:

"What works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up. 
Behavioral interviewing also works — where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable “meta” information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult."

Bock goes on to question the value of a college education as applied to real world situations:

"After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently. 
Another reason is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment. One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer."

I wonder if that observation is applicable to the nonprofit arts? Are our college preparatory programs yielding job candidates with a set of skills that are arguably - if not useless, then - marginally useful, many of which perhaps need to be unlearned on the job? How do we sift through the sands of all the arts administration graduates to identify the ones who can "think on the fly"; to determine the ones who will  become effective leaders as well as good managers?  In a constantly changing business environment, where increasingly the emphasis is on adaptability, innovation and being nimble and flexible, should we not emphasize those skills in our potential new staff hires so that we might flourish in the competitive marketplace?  In short, are we clinging to an antiquated approach ill suited to the present reality?

As Bock notes:  "On the leadership side, we’ve found that leadership is a more ambiguous and amorphous set of characteristics than the work we did on the attributes of good management, which are more of a checklist and actionable."  And adds that:   "for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability."

The take-away from this is, I think, that when considering a new hire and the process of your identifying the very best candidate available to you, it is essential that you spend time considering precisely (and not generally) the qualities in that hire that will enable your organization to succeed, and that the traditional way to approach that may no longer be a smart move.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

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