Why is Selection So Hard?
When we think selection we focus on the best person for the job. Correct? What does that mean? Best person for the job!
Does it mean the person who has the most technical knowledge? What about their social processing skills? Or are we looking for the person with the best mental processing skills? Wait ....... maybe the person who applies themselves best.
Hang on a minute, this got way too complicated way too quickly. And it should. If we are serious about selection and picking the best person for the job, then it will be complicated because we need to take into account a lot more than simply selecting "the best".
When we look at selection, whether it is for a sporting team, a business unit, a new position or filling a vacated position, we need to first understand what it is we actually want from the role. What do we want this person to do, achieve, change, influence? If this isn't clear then I'm not sure how we are going to know what to look for in a candidate.
What will make it harder will be if they have a direct impact on other people in the team, and in most cases they will be a member of some sort of team. The dynamic of the group then comes into play and potentially what the succession plan looks like.
Oh no, it just got more complicated.
Take a deep breath, it's not as hard as it may now seem. It simply comes down to following a process that will allow us to understand where we need to start and where we need to end up, and how we fill in the gaps in between.
The first step is to establish an understanding of the role, and if we put it in the context of technical knowledge, mental processing, social processing, and application then we will get a much clearer indication of the type of person we need to fill the role successfully.
Lets make these terms clearer.
Technical knowledge .... the detail involved in the product. If we were looking for a physiotherapist for an elite sporting team we would like them to know about muscles and how they interact with the skeletal system. How much they know about the muscles and skeleton determines whether they continue through the selection process. In isolation their knowledge may not be worth much, because if they don't have the mental processing skills to take that knowledge and apply it to the real world situation of an injured athlete, then they will quickly drop out of the selection process. I'm sure there are many highly intelligent people who know a great deal about a certain subject but don't have the processing skills to practically apply the knowledge. Take for instance our physiotherapist. One physio might have a huge amount of knowledge about the body and will be presented with an injured athlete. They will easily establish what muscle is injured and will be able to provide a suitable rehab program to rectify the problem. Another physio might be presented with the same injury on the same athlete and recognise the cause of the injury and understand the underlying biomehcanical issues leading to the injury occurring. They may incorporate in the rehab program a prehab program to strengthen another part of the body which will support the injured muscle and minimise the risk of the injury occurring again. And yet, another physio may actually take it another step and identify all of the above as well as the training environment or regime that the athlete is involved in. They may recognise that the problem lies in the activities that the athlete is doing and as such influence the cause and not just treat the effects.
So, we can safely say we need a physio with good knowledge, but great mental processing skills. Ah, it's getting a bit easier.
Now, for the social processing skills. Some of you may be questioning the need to assess social processing skills. Some may even be questioning what I mean by social processing skills. These are the skills we need to function in a social world, meaning we need to interact with other people and we need to be able to understand the dynamic of a relationship. Our physio provides a great example, as they can fill the role of counsellor more often than not. One physio may be good at asking questions to diagnose the issue at hand; an injured muscle. If they lack social awareness they may simply stay in this space and deal with the muscle in isolation. Another physio may ask questions about the injury and in doing so start to establish that the athlete has more going on than an injured muscle. They may establish that the athlete may be a perfectionist and has been doing extra work to ensure they are successful. They may be overloading themselves, and it might be coming from their mindset. The physio with the better social process skills will be able to create a relationship with the athlete where they feel comfortable confiding in them and reveal character traits that need to be addressed. Our social processing skills are essential in dealing with others and play a large part in selection.
Application, simply put, is someone's ability to commit to and consistently execute work. It's our work ethic and for me it is an essential trait of a very successful team member. There are many stories of gifted, naturally talented athletes who realise early in life that they have the aptitude to excel at something, and in this realisation comes apathy and potentially a fixed mindset. They realise they don't have to work hard to be as good or better than others and so working hard to improve is not something they think is important. If we look at our physio again. One may be happy to do what they need to do to get through their list of patient's. Another might challenge their thinking or knowledge on a particular injury and research more because they want or need to know more, understand how it relates to their athlete, and how they can communicate with their athlete about it. This is the type of person that in a team environment helps create excellence and will go along way to achieving success. That's the person I want to employ.
So, we now better understand our terms, and we have a clearer picture of the requirements of the roles. We will certainly have a list of candidates so we can get down to the actual process of determining who is "the best" fit for the role.
This cis reflected in our questioning and what I call "proof of life". It is so important to ask questions that delve deeper than surface questions; questions that can be answered by reading someones profile or CV. We need to take that surface information and challenge it to establish true proof of experience, understanding and capability. That's where "proof of life" comes in. We need to know that "the best" person can live and breath what they say they can do. This is where pre-organised questioning falls short. They are great starters but certainly not good finishers. There is no scope to ask more questions at a deeper level and to gather more information. This is where we, as selectors, can use our mental processing skills and our social processing skills. We can actually think about what information is being provided and challenge that information to see how it best fits into the team dynamic and how it can relate to the execution of the role. We can also use our social processing skills to understand how the candidates function in the world and how their personality will impact the dynamic of the team.
Any team coach or HR Manager will understand the difficulties of selection, but it doesn't need to be a daunting task. It just needs to be a rigorous process with a clear starting point in understanding the role, and a confident finish with "the best" person for the role.