Back in a previous life, BadConsultant sat in a room with a group of managers and individual contributors, scoping work to assess which competencies consistently drive performance – the intent being to develop a foundation for sourcing, selecting, placing and developing those competencies.
If you haven’t done such work, the method is straightforward – line up your whole population
[metaphorically, of course]
from lowest performing to highest performing then look at the consistent differences in competency at each end of the spectrum – what do the best do consistently well that the worst don’t and vice versa. Find a way to assess for those differential competencies and you’re all set.
One of the managers suddenly stated the myth: “But we only hire gold standard.”
And, in that mythology, gold standard employees couldn’t be deficient in any competency. In short, for this manager, despite his experience and the reality that faced him everyday, in terms of this exercise, everyone was an outstanding performer. The room began to nod and within minutes the gathering consensus to progress the work was lost as the seemingly impossible conundrum was elucidated and crystallized: how can we differentiate between perfection?
BS, of course – BadConsultant knew it then and told them so – not least of which because he’d hired the manager in question and knew that he was far from gold standard, having only just scraped through the hiring process. If we only hired gold standard, then he was a pyrite.
[in fact, the people who were most vociferously FOR doing the work were our true gold standard]
Years pass and we see the same symptoms play out today. Poor performers not dealt with, high performers not celebrated, annual performance reviews that serve compensation ‘calibration’
[because position in norm-curve pecking order has been proven so conclusively to be a great motivator… Oh, wait… no it hasn’t!]
rather than development, managers blaming the system, employees blaming the system… and the resulting culture of averageness that does ‘just enough’ to keep a shareholder revolt at bay
[and keep the executive bonuses flowing]
In the interim, of course, we’ve tried imbalanced scorecards, we’ve tried unnatural selection, we’ve tried engagement… And none of it has made much of a difference because the delusional myths continue, including our subject today: “we only hire gold standard”
Frankly, no you don’t.
[and you know it… we’d be happy to submit a statement of work to show you the manifest ways you are deluding yourself]
You, like the rest of us, put out a spec that’s just enough to filter out the no-hopers, but with standards that aren’t set to filter-in only the elite. The longer your position is open, the more likely you are to compromise on who you hire, telling yourself all the time that the deficit can be made up through development. If you interview a group of awful candidates, the least awful will be your hire simply because you don’t want to admit you just wasted all that time, energy and resource for no payback
[bizarrely, you’ll find members of your team arguing vociferously for unqualified candidates – shouldn’t be too much of a surprise… do we need to point out that hiring crap employees is one way of ensuring you aren’t last in the culture of averageness?]
All of which brings us back around to that scoping meeting all those years ago. Were we wrong in our intent? No. Were we wrong in our proposed method? No. So why didn’t it work, and why isn’t it working for you right now?
We asked the wrong people. Or, more accurately, we asked the wrong question of the wrong people.
Because the question we were really asking, the one that hooked out the myth, was: if we found an objective way to assess your competence to make a difference in business outcomes, how would you stack up?
And, with denial being so clearly rooted in knowledge, the folk around the table knew the answer – which is why our gold standard were for the work and our pyrites were loudly and declaratively against the work.
Now you see some of BadConsultant’s method: spot the symptom, identify the myth, rename it to reality, and then look for the breakthrough.
Stop for a minute and see if you can think of the breakthrough in this situation…
[or, if you’re an executive who hasn’t got time to do their own thinking, read on immediately – we wouldn’t want you learning, after all…]
Measured business outcomes at the individual and team level. Or in other words:
Through objective measurement of business outcomes, we see how everyone stacks up – now what’s making the difference?
See how simple that was?
[of course it wasn’t, we’re just highly competent at what we do]
And by turning it that way:
- The true gold standard get to see their names at the top of the list, gaining recognition and comfort that their talent is hitting the mark
- The pyrites aren’t able to hide behind their own bluster – and have a vested interest to improve, knowing that they are being monitored
- It is clear, by measurement of outcome, what you care about and what matters to the business – a huge symbology for all involved, which will ripple beyond the room within hours.
And that’s before you even start sourcing, selecting, placing and developing for competencies that make the difference.
Now, if you were only measuring outcomes at the individual and team level
but that’s another post completely.
Until we three meet again; in thunder, lightning or in rain,