Strategists in Human Capital!
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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Hiring Without These Critical “Soft Skills” is a Recipe for Disaster

Here is good old common sense from Lou!

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 underperform. 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.
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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.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR BOSS SAYS EVERYTHING IS A PRIORITY

Demanding or dare I say it, unreasonable, bosses are something I come across every
day through my work with middle and senior managers. When we dig down to the root cause of whatever issue it is I’ve been asked to help with, for example burnout or under performance, pretty much every time the answer comes up as too many priorities. And the person coming up with new priorities on top of the many plates someone is already spinning? Their boss.
Paul Jarvis, in his 2019 book Company of One, states,
“We now incorrectly assume that we must have numerous priorities and multitask to get ahead in business, even though working in this way can deeply affect (and hurt) our productivity”
If this issue resonates with you then fear not, my friend. Here are five steps that may help you as they’ve helped others.

1) Be prepared to say something

One of the first things I ask a coaching client is whether they’ve had a conversation with their boss about the incessant and unrelenting list of new priorities that pop up. More often than not, they haven’t raised the issue and so, the boss is most likely operating from a state of blissful ignorance.
In this instance, contrary to the popular 1960's song, silence is most definitely not golden.
Therefore, the first step is to be prepared to say something.
Planning for what you want to say, how you’re going to say it and the outcome you want to achieve are the three things that will help make it a more productive conversation. Brene Brown reminds us of this in her book Dare to Lead
Giving productive and respectful feedback is a skill set that most of us have never learned
Therefore, starting from a position of respect and giving the other person, in this instance your boss, the benefit of the doubt is key. Assuming they are like the evil and incompetent boss in the Dilbert comic strip is the way to make a bad situation even worse.

2) Get clear on the problem

As well as the emotional side of the problem, it’s helpful to provide data to help make your argument. One way to do this is to collate every single priority you have been given and how this relates to your time. In other words, because of all the other responsibilities you have such as people management, budget management etc. it might be that to respond to the many additional priorities you’re constantly given you’re having to work late into the evening and over weekends. As Chris Bailey says in The Productivity Project
“The more you get out of your head, the more clearly you’ll think”

3) Come up with some solutions

As someone who used to line manage team managers, I loved it when someone not only raised a problem but then also gave some ideas for how it could be solved. It immediately helped the conversation get into a more positive, less blame-y, finger-pointing space.
Is it that the problem is not so much the priorities but rather the lack of people to deliver them? Job-Demands Resource Theory suggests that work strain and burnout is a response to an imbalance between demands on an individual (i.e. you) and the resources they have available to deal with those demands (i.e. enough people, money etc). Therefore, a solution might be to make the business case for another person to join your team.
Is the problem less about priorities and more about the number of interruptions you’re experiencing every day? A famous study by Gloria Mark found that interruptions and the necessary recovery time now consume 28%of a person’s working day. The study found that each employee spent only 11 minutes on a project before being interrupted. It took the average employee around 25 minutes to return to the original task. Therefore, a solution might be to turn off your email notifications, only checking your email at designated times such as first thing, midday and end of the day. Many managers have told me this has helped them get some much-needed time back to do more important work. And if your boss tends to send their newest priority to you via email, then another solution might be to ask them to ask you face-to-face so you can talk through expectations and implications.
Is the problem that you’re getting pulled in a hundred different directions each day and essentially, constantly stopping and starting different things? Melina R Uncapher and Anthony D Wagner conducted a review of a decade’s worth of research on the relationship between media multitasking and various aspects of thinking, including working memory and attention. They found that people who frequently use several types of media at once, or “heavy media multitaskers,” performed much worse on simple memory tasks. In other words, constantly dipping in and out of tasks and projects doesn’t help you to perform at your best. Therefore, a solution might be to block out different chunks of time in your calendar. For example, a chunk of time for ‘deep work’ such as writing a report; and keeping some buffer time, in the event an unexpected thing gets thrown your way.

4) Be assertive but not too much

Now you’ve got everything out of your head and you’ve come up with some ideas which help resolve the issue of too many priorities, you now need to have the actual conversation with your boss.
To ensure it’s a constructive discussion, and a win/win for both of you, you need to think about your negotiation tactics. In their book, Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury talk about the concept of Principled Negotiation. This has four aspects to it:
  • PEOPLE: Separate the people from the problem
  • INTERESTS: Focus on interests, not positions
  • OPTIONS: Invent multiple options looking for mutual gains before deciding what to do
  • CRITERIA: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard

5) Agree the new ‘contract’ between you

Now you’ve had the discussion and agreed a way forward, the next thing is to put in place a new way of working so neither of you fall into the same habits and traps of before. Why not use the Trust Triangle as the basis for agreeing how you’ll handle new, additional and unexpected priorities coming through? The Trust Triangle was developed by John Carter at the Gestalt Institute in the US and is undoubtedly one of the tools that has resonated profoundly with many of my clients.
Essentially, the model suggests to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect, you need to each be demonstrating the three foundation stones of:
  1. Straight talk i.e. honest conversation
  2. Listening to understand the other person
  3. Making commitments to each other

Monday, April 29, 2019

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We are delighted to share that our views on Strategic Management Presentation has now been viewed over 1,850 times. You can catch the presentation here through this LINK

Exploring issues about regulation: regulatory capture and bias

In my first article in this series (Regulation - the staff of life) I referred to regulation being a necessary and pervasive part of life. I highlighted some of the challenging dimensions of being a regulator. I said I would provide some practical insights into common regulatory issues.
This article talks about something that can undermine a regulators’ focus on delivering public value – regulatory capture and bias. In this context, I am using the term public value to refer to what the actual purpose of a regulator’s activity is – that is usually to protect those who might other wise suffer harm, loss or damage as a result of the actions of a regulated party.
The classic definition of regulatory capture comes from a theory associated with George Stigler, a Nobel Laureate economist. Basically, regulatory capture occurs when regulators act in ways that benefit the people they are regulating, not the people who are supposed to benefit from regulation. 
Big picture examples of this are easy to find (like everything else, on the internet[1]!). For example, it is suggested that in the early 2000s the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) acted in the interests of Wall Street banks and hedge funds, instead of in the interests of the Bank’s and hedge fund’s customers. This allegedly included deciding not to investigate Bernie Madoff who ran a massive ponzi scheme[2] - because of the strong links between the people that ran the SEC and the industry they were tasked with regulating. Essentially, the SEC was said to be ‘captured’ by the industry it was supposed to be regulating so it wasn’t doing its job properly.  
Regulatory capture is a form of bias exhibited by a regulator. The kinds of examples referred to above involve a significant level of bias that may be thought of as being hard wired into the regulatory organisation. There are a range of other things that can also drive bias and underpin regulatory behaviour that favours those being regulated over the delivery of public value - if these issues are not understood and addressed clearly by the regulator. Here are a few of the things that can drive bias, or at least perceptions of bias:
  • viewing the parties being regulated as customers. Extreme examples of this manifest themselves in regulators losing sight of who the real beneficiary of regulation is, and can significantly soften and make ineffective the ways that a regulator responds to breaches of the law and standards by regulated parties. A way for a regulator to address this is to consider specifically the kind of relationship required by the regulator with a regulated party, describe it clearly and inculcate an appropriate approach in the culture of the regulator. In Maritime NZ we have essentially ‘banned’ the use of the word customer to describe those we regulate. The act of doing this has driven a lot of conversation about what relationship we should have – which is one that is driven by our values of integrity, commitment and respect - always remembering that we are here to serve wider purposes around safe, secure and clean seas and waterways. You can read more about this issue in an article from Policy Quarterly: Are regulated parties customers?
  • working closely with regulated parties. It is very clear that good regulatory outcomes can be achieved through working constructively with regulated parties. Many regulators do this through advisory groups, joint projects and workshops where regulatory problems are addressed and solutions identified. Such arrangements can also be fertile ground for bias, so its very important to give careful consideration to the scope and extent of relationships with regulated parties. The regulator must always maintain its independence. Tripartite relationships are always likely to be more effective - involving regulators, industry and worker or consumer groups – mitigating the possibility of regulatory capture by any one party.
  • receiving gifts from regulated parties. This is a basic conflict of interest issue. It needs little explanation as to why it can be a problem. A key way of addressing this is to have a policy of not accepting gifts – although this can cause problems where its culturally offensive to refuse or would be embarrassing for the gift giver, expecially with gifts of little value. More usual is to have policies around disclosure and seeking approval for the way the gift is used in the agency, to ensure any potential conflicts are managed effectively. The latest word on this is covered in the State Service Commission's conflicts of interest guidance. Jeroen van der Heijden, chair of regulatory practice at the school of government at Victoria University, commented on an example of risks associated with receiving gifts in this media article “Exclusive sports events risky for regulators: expert
  • employing staff from the regulated industry. Without doubt, industry regulators need to employ people with experience in the industry they are regulating. The challenge this poses is that those people might identify more strongly with the industry and its culture than with the regulator and its culture and purpose. There is no silver bullet for dealing with this – it is a combination of careful recruitment, sound induction and good training around the regulators’ purpose, methods and ways of working. One core element of training that Maritime NZ has embraced is the Government Regulatory Practice initiative’s Core Regulatory Knowledge qualification. This is part of G-Reg'soffering as it works to develop regulatory practice as a professional activity.

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