Hiring Without These Critical “Soft Skills” is a Recipe for Disaster
Having personally been involved in more than 2,000 different hiring situations over the past forty years and tracking the subsequent performance of many of those who were hired, it’s clear most hiring mistakes are attributed to the following non-technical factors:
- A mismatch between the hiring manager’s style and the new hire’s need for management and coaching.
- Lack of intrinsic motivation or full commitment to do the actual work required. Ability to do the work is far different than motivation to do it.
- Lack of fit with the pace of the organization. The pressure to perform is a primary factor defining a company’s culture and a person’s likelihood of success.
- Lack of fit with how decisions are made and how work is accomplished. This is another aspect of what company culture looks like on-the-job.
- Lack of fit with the team. Much of this relates to the new hire’s inability to collaborate cross-functionally coupled with the lack of appreciation for the needs of others.
- An inability for the new hire to properly manage and organize his/her work properly. This is true whether the person is an individual contributor or a manager.
- For management roles, in addition to the above, it’s an inability to build, manage and develop the team assigned.
Labeling these factors collectively as “soft skills” minimizes their importance since without them people will under-perform. Despite this, too many interviewers focus too much on the person’s technical ability – the so-called “hard skills” – and not enough on the factors that actually determine on-the-job performance.
Despite the challenge, it is possible to assess all of these non-technical factors by using The Hiring Formula for Success relationship shown in the graphic. Simply stated, “The ability to do the work in relation to fit drives motivation and ultimately performance.”
The performance-based interview described in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired has been built on this concept. The process starts by rethinking the job description as a series of key performance objectives (KPOs) embedding the required hard and “soft skills” into a series of outcomes. For example, rather than saying a person must have a specific degree, specific experience and be results-oriented, it’s better to say something like, “Complete the XZY project within 120 days under tight budget and schedule constraints.”
The performance-based interview is used to prove the person can achieve the outcomes under the circumstances required and, if so, she/he will obviously have all of the technical and non-technical skills necessary. Here’s the basic process:
First, conduct a comprehensive work history review. Going step-by-step through the person’s background determines general fit for the role on a scope and scale basis and if the person possesses the Achiever Pattern. This indicates if the person is in the top tier of his/her peer group.
Second, ask the Most Significant Accomplishment question for each performance objective. By digging into the person’s major accomplishments most related to the KPOs of the open role it’s possible to assess all of the factors shown in the graphic. The trend of growth over time is an important indicator of potential.
Third, ask a realistic problem-solving question. This is not a hypothetical question. It must address a real problem the person is likely to face on the job taking the form of, “What would you need to do to address this challenge (describe) we’re currently facing?” The purpose of this question is to understand the process the person uses to figure out a solution, not the actual solution. Using a give-and-take format this process reveals the candidate’s planning, problem-solving, creative and strategic thinking skills.
As part of our Performance-based Hiring learning programs we suggest that each interviewer be assigned a narrow role focusing on just one or two of the non-technical factors. While each interviewer will ask a similar major accomplishment question, it will be prefaced with something like, “I’ve been assigned to assess your project management skills. Can you give me an example of a major recent accomplishment you believe best demonstrates your ability in this critical area?” It takes about 15 minutes of fact-finding and peeling the onion (i.e., asking all of the who, when, what, where, why and how questions) to fully understand the accomplishment and make the comparison to the actual performance objectives of the job. To increase overall assessment accuracy, it’s best if the interviewers share their evidence using a summary form similar to this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard.
The Hiring Formula for Success offers a means to fully understand how the non-technical and fit factors impact a person’s ability and motivation to achieve results. It’s important to recognize that ability without fit is the primary cause of underperformance, dissatisfaction and excessive turnover. As important is the recognition that it’s what people have accomplished with their skills that’s important, not the amount or list of skills themselves.
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