The Iceberg Effect

October 7, 2011 Simon Leadership Development

In my latest book, Brilliant Leader 2nd Edition, I explain the iceberg effect in relation to the jobs that people do. Essentially, there are those parts of a job that we can see – the tasks that people do and the skills that they employ. And then there are the contributing factors that we don’t see (these are below the surface) such as people’s traits and values.

The key differentiator between average performance and outstanding performance is likely to lie in a person’s values and traits. That is, for most jobs skills and tasks can be learned fairly quickly whereas values and traits can only be developed over the long-term and in some cases, they cannot be changed at all. And yet, many organizations build their recruitment practices around hiring for skills and tasks.

Of course, the opposite should be the case. Organizations should build their primary hiring processes around traits and values while being prepared to train people on tasks and skills. This is all well and good but how can you hire for traits and values?

One method is to use behavioral based interviewing on the basis that past behavior is likely to be a predictive indicator for future behavior. This involves first identifying key behavioral indicators such as action orientation, customer focus, attention to detail and so on. Then, for each behavioral indicator you can build a series of behavioral interview questions (e.g. “Give me an example of…”) that enable job candidates to demonstrate how they have exhibited these behaviors in the past.

Another method is to use psychometric tests in conjunction with a subsequent interview. For example, if the test indicates that someone has a high drive, this can be tested by putting obstacles in the person’s way during the interview to see how hard they try to overcome these obstacles. A further option is to present the candidate with hypothetical scenarios and explore how they would act to see if the psychometric results are confirmed.

A alternative solution is to use assessment centers where candidates’ behavior can be observed via a series of activities such as team exercises, influencing challenges and the pressure of making an impromptu presentation. A well designed assessment center will also include at least one behavioral based interview and possibly a psychometric testing component.

Regardless of the specific methodology leaders and organizations use to hire their staff, the mere act of thinking about a person’s traits and values rather than solely focusing on the tasks they have performed and the skills they have developed will bring you closer to identifying the best talent. And by the best talent I mean people to thrive and grow in their jobs to become outstanding performers.

Now that is a goal worth focusing on if you are serious about your own development as a leader.

See you at the top :)

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