an article written for People Management International Inc. titled A Game Plan for the Interview, Arthur F. Miller provides some great insights into the interviewing process.  “After name, rank, and serial number,” writes Miller, “where do you go in an interview?  What questions should be asked?  What areas explored?  Within the time available, what data should you seek that will reveal how this person will perform once on the job?”

Miller’s first rule: “Develop critical requirements of the job(s) to be filled.”

Sounds obvious, I know, but it is surprising how many organizations have not taken the time to talk about the critical elements of the position they are trying to fill.  Once you have the critical elements, then break each one down into its major parts.  Do you need a strategist on your team?  What do you need that strategic person to do?  What would it look like if they did it well?  How would you know if it were done well?  Always break the work down until it can be comfortably measured and then stop.  We can err in either direction.  We can define the work in too broad of terms and not really know what it means, or we can break it down too far and never get around to recruiting anyone—or micromanaging the ones we do recruit.  You must understand what it is you are asking this person to do.  You don’t need to be able to do it, but you must know what needs to be done and why it is important.

Now that you have a clear understanding of what the person will do, put it aside.  That is right, put it aside.  If you focus too soon on the specifics of the position description, you may—and most likely will—miss the most important part of the interview and that is their story.  Not their education, not their experience, not even their temperament, but their story.  Their story is made up of the behaviors and conditions in their life where they were able to thrive and grow both professionally and personally.

You read it right.  Knowing what education a person has is not the most important thing in an interview.  “Education does not create abilities,” writes Miller.  “It exercises them and provides a vocabulary and tools to express them.  A student’s ability to analyze critically, to organize and express thoughts, to evaluate worth, to determine strategies, or to influence others is manifested over many years, and through many occasions prior to college.  Of the hundreds of people I have interviewed over a 23-year period, I cannot remember a single case where a student ‘grew’ an ability as a result of academic courses or extra-curricular activities.  The ability was manifestly present prior to college.”  So, for now, forget about their education.

Not only is education not the most import focus of the interview, experience alone is not that important either.  It’s been said that the best predictor of future performance is past performance.  And I believe it to be true.  However, past performance or experience alone will not tell you how any one person will behave in this place, at this time, with this team.  Miller put it this way, “The line of inquiry that seeks information about relevant work experience also lacks a rationale.  No correlation exists between length of relevant work experience and job performance—so why ask about it?  Yes, hirers ask for it and obviously must be responded to.  But the fact or amount of work experience doesn’t always imply a capability and motivation to do the work.”  What you need to look for is not just past experience, but what was it about the work that motivated this person to do it, and what were the resulting behaviors?

While I appreciate and have used personality assessment tools for many years, I also know that personality type does not create ability, it is not a measure of ability, and it is not the place to focus the interview.  When used well, personality assessments can be predictors of preference but never predictors of strength or weakness.  You can have a high preference for “Thinking” in the MBTI®, and still not be a great thinker.  You may have a high score on “Judging” and judge poorly.  Personality assessments can tell us many things, but they cannot tell us how well a certain person will perform on the job.

Miller’s second rule:  “Do not directly explore possession of the critical job requirements.”

He explains, “To find out if candidates will, for example, build relations on the job, do not ask questions that signal, loudly or softly, that you want to know how good they are at building relations.  If you do, the responses will indicate data that indicate future job behavior and that do not indicate future job performance, and you won’t be able to tell which is which.”  One of the best ways to determine the skills or knowledge a candidate possesses is to let the candidate control the discussion.  Ask questions, certainly, but don’t lead them to “your” response.  “To the extent that you restrict in interviews (or other assessments) the ability of people to express their unique motivated work behavior, you introduce inaccuracy and distortion in the prediction of how they will perform once on the job,” writes Miller.  Know what you are looking for, and let them tell their story in their own way, these are two great keys to effective interviewing.

Rule number three:  “Go after data that reveal motivated work behavior.”

As I said earlier, past performance is the best predictor of future performance.  What Millers adds to this is a need to focus on a person’s motivated behaviors, or “Why was what they did important to them?”  Motivated behaviors are “motivational patterns that control how they perceive and attempt to perform any job.”  If all you learn about an individual is what they have done or studied, and not how they perceived the work or their performance of the work, you are missing the point.  Knowing what people have done in the past is important, but so is an understanding of why they did it consistently over time.  It is only after you have a clear understanding of a person’s motivated work behaviors that you can decide whether or not that behavior includes those key elements critical to the work for which the candidate is being considered.

What a person is capable of doing is not even a relevant inquiry if employers know that what employees are able to do is not what they deliver once on the job, unless the ability is part of their motivated work behavior.  (Arthur Miller

Miller’s fourth rule:  “The most fruitful source of motivated work behavior is a candidate’s self-reported enjoyable achievement experiences.”

Miller quotes a People Management Inc. study which revealed that “every time individuals do something they enjoy and believe they did well, some or all of the same ingredients of motivated work behavior are present.  By the time you interview them, students have a personal retrievable track record of more than 15 years in which they have experienced a number of things that they enjoyed and believe they did well.  Go after them!”  We often spend too much time asking the candidate to fill in every moment of their work experience, rather than going deeply with the ones they feel were most rewarding.  “Recruiters who do get into achievements often fail to probe adequately,” writes Miller. “You are better off spending available time on a few achievements and really exhausting the candidate’s recollection of them.  Remember that each achievement reveals some or all of the same motivational elements, so whether you cover three or six achievements is not crucial.”

Finally, Miller’s fifth rule:  “Don’t interpret the data—add it up.”

Your job as an interviewer is to determine whether the candidate’s motivated behavior does or does not include the critical requirements for the job.  Again from Miller, “Look at the interview for recurring themes or threads.  Critical requirements are either present or not.  Give words and phrases their reasonable meaning and identify those that recur.  Don’t interpret with constructions, implications, assumptions, or especially opinions; stay with what is obvious.”  Does what you have heard accurately describe the kinds of behaviors you need from a person in the position you are seeking to fill?  Does it all add up?  Even though people may not feel they always had a choice, people doing the same work will self-select the different roles they play, the way they spend their time, the elements of the work that get left undone, and the elements they perform well.  Listen close, and the candidate will tell you themselves if this is a good match.

dreamstime_xs_15706029 (2)One of the biggest obstacles to Lean is the “organization chart,” that antiquated system of departmental walls that enforces a total separation of functions, placing a barrier—real or imagined—between groups of people at work.  Lean begins when we remove those walls of separation and create a cooperative environment where employees are not only willing to help but also to learn from each other all of the time.

We all know from Dr. Edwards Deming that most mistakes and errors are not the fault of the people who make them, but the system in place.  In Deming’s words, “The worker is not the problem.  The system is the problem.  If you want to improve performance you must work on the system.”  By putting our focus and energy on creating lean systems, we prevent mistakes, reduce operation cost, and improve our systems.

Employee ownership of processes and outputs is the secret of all world-class organizations.  With ownership comes accountability and with accountability comes success.  Lean makes everyone an “owner,” and it is leadership’s job to make it possible for each employee to readily establish ownership over their processes and work area.  The people side of Lean implementation is complex, but it is worth the effort.

What can a nonprofit do to encourage innovation?  Peter Drucker in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, identified four rules that "constitute the specific policies and practices the public-service institution requires if it is to make itself entrepreneurial and capable of innovation."

First, the public-service institution needs a clear definition of its mission.  What is it trying to do?  Why does it exist?  It needs to focus on objectives rather then on programs and projects.  Programs and projects are means to an end.  They should always be considered as temporary and, in fact, short-lived.

Second, the public-service institution needs a realistic statement of goals....It needs something that is genuinely attainable and therefore a commitment to a realistic goal, so that it can say eventually, "Our job is finished."

Third, failure to achieve objectives should be considered an indication that the objective is wrong, or at least defined wrongly...Thus, failure to attain objectives is a prima facie reason to question the validity of the objective--the exact opposite of what most public-service institutions believe.

Finally, public-service institutions need to build into their policies and practices the constant search for innovative opportunity.  They need to view change as an opportunity rather than a threat.

How can you take the changing trends in your area of concern and turn them into opportunities for your organization to start making  a difference again?  (You were making a difference, weren't you?)  And, when will you start?

Negativity is a killer.  That is not just a metaphor, but a reality.  In the 1950’s the North Koreans used four primary tactics on their prisoners of war; (a) informing, (b) self-criticism, (c) breaking loyalty to leadership and country, and (d) with-holding all positive emotional support.  These tactics resulted in a 38 percent POW death rate—the highest in military history.  So, the next time you hear someone say “sticks and stone may break my bone, but words will never hurt me.”  Don’t believe it.  Negativity kills.

Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, authors of "How Full Is Your Bucket," suggest several ways we can counter the effects of negativity.  Here are a few:

“Shine a light on what is right.”

Learn to look for and focus on the positive in yourself and in others.  None of us are perfect. We know that.  But, let others be victims if they wish.  We are better than that, so let’s act like it.

“Make best friends.”

The idea here is to have high-quality social relationships and then do all you can to encourage and build those people up.  In your tough times they become the resource that sees you through.  In their tough times you become the gift they need to survive.  The really good news is that the more you do this the more people will want to be around you.

“Give unexpectedly.”

We all know how important it is to give gifts to others.  But too often, we give too little, to too few, and too late.  We think gifts need to be big, but the best gifts are the little things done on the spur of the moment.  The real secret to giving is to do it on a daily basis, make it personal, and remember “the best gifts are those that are a surprise.”

“Reverse the Golden Rule.”

Rath and Clifton suggest we reverse the Golden Rule and “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”  Praise and recognition only makes sense if it makes sense to the person getting it.  Learn what makes sense to your family and friends and then, make it happen.  In all of this, it is the little things that make all the difference.

iStock_000014691385XSmallYou have three choices when it comes to hiring people, (1) hire anyone who applies, (2) hire potential winners, or (3) hire proven winners.  Hiring anyone who applies takes very little time, not a lot of work, and it will likely destroy your organization.  Hiring potential winners takes work and usually takes a lot of time and who knows, you may just find a winner.  Hiring proven winners requires a lot of work and a lot of time.  You must decide.  Is what you are doing within your organization and on your teams important enough to take the time and effort needed to hire the best? ...continue reading

The Nine Box Grid provides a map for navigating an organization’s strategic intent.  It is normally presented in terms of manpower or leadership potential against measurable performance.  As a leadership selection and development tool it helps decision makers (1) think ahead in terms of talent development and management succession, and (2) prepare for change by having the required resources at the ready. ...continue reading

We use models to picture things we cannot otherwise see.  We model homes before we build them.  We model communities before we develop them.  We model processes before we invest in them.  We even look for model families, model schools, model everything.  So it is not unusual for us to look for models of leadership as well.  And we have many to choose from: servant leadership, situational leadership, tribal leadership, creative leadership, progressive leadership, self leadership, total leadership, participative leadership, transactional leadership, transformational leadership, appreciative leadership, even Disney leadership. ...continue reading is a terrible way to start a discussion about fixing problems.  We have been taught that we need to understand a problem before we can fix it.  But, as Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  What we need to understand is not what the problem looks like, but what the ideal or preferred future looks like.  Instead of looking for what isn’t working and trying to fix it, why not look at what does work and build on those things instead. ...continue reading