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If you don’t own a circus why are you hiring clowns? | Feb 12, 2013

The following title of a book written by a Human Resource (HR) expert named Lola Kakes will make you laugh: “If you don’t own a circus, why are you hiring clowns?”. This is a reference book I highly recommend as a user friendly, compact, and straightforward guide to perplexing HR questions.

Everyone who hears the title of this book laughs out loud! And why shouldn’t they? So many organizations hire clowns even for top level positions. By “clowns” I mean bad hires who are terminated early. The problem is that the vast majority of candidates for positions around the globe are not wearing clown suits. In fact, they interview really well. And their resumes might even glimmer. Their references may even check out. And yet, all of these superficial screening methods barely scratch the surface, giving you maybe – at best – 30% of what you really need to know. What these methods do not tell you is how well a person handles stress? What are their workplace derailers (i.e., personality thorns)? Where are their skill gaps? What is their level of emotional intelligence (know as “EI”)?

Meanwhile, what mounds of organizational studies tell us is that it is not technical skill that makes a great leader, but attitude. Well-developed interpersonal skills are now being acknowledged as critical for executives and management to be effective. Many next generation companies see the writing on the wall and are investing wisely in using tools to select people who have strong interpersonal skills knowing technical skills can be trained. Attitude…not so much.

Nonetheless, many organizations still try to skate by with poor screening and hiring processes. They are the dinosaurs. They most often end up sinking their own ship. They save a penny by not investing in advanced screening tools utilizing behavioral science but end up losing a dollar (well, actually 10’s of 1000’s of dollars or more) when the bad hires they take on begin sinking the organization’s status internally (low morale) and externally (client attrition). These dinosaurs forget that across industries, it is a well-accepted fact that the cost of a bad hire is roughly 3X’s the annual salary of that hire. A bad hire who earns $80,000 a year will cost an organizations about $240,000 before all is said and done. Bad hires sink morale, erode client loyalty, slow productivity, and bring enormous re-training costs.

So, how do you avoid hiring clowns, and more to the point, how do you select the truly exceptional candidate?

Next generation organizations (what I call The Visionaries) of all sizes are penetrating the surface persona of potential hires by gaining the deep intelligence about their candidates personalities, preferences, and skill gaps. Integrity, conscientiousness, intelligence, and ability to motivate others are examples of key skills that can be assessed in a way that facilitates what are otherwise dizzying decisions about hiring, talent development, and succession planning. Superior behavioral science tools offer precise guidance, deeper awareness, predictive power, and sustainable results.

But tools are only as good as those that use them, and these days anyone can call themselves a business consultant after taking a one-day seminar in coaching for a few thousand dollars. In other words, make sure you do not hire a consultant clown!! Our firm utilizes a heavily scientific background since our founder is a PhD trained scientist. The PhD is the highest level of scientific training available for consultants as they must understand how to compare competing data and make fine grained decisions about what tools to use in complex situations.

Great questions to ask consultants are the following:

-What research do you refer to when making decisions about what tools you will use with our organization? (Great consultants have scientific awareness of key published studies and or “best practices”)

-To what degree do you work in a precise way versus trying to sell us a program? (Great consultants minimize their footprint in your company)

-How do you determine if a assessment tool is credible or not? (Great consultants can explain the merits and weaknesses of various tools in a refined way versus consultants who say they use things because “they read about it” or “went to a seminar about it”. Seminars and word of mouth are only the beginning for what I call Great People Science (GPS) consultants. GPS consultants do not fall in love with any one way of doing things, rather, they are always looking for a better way as they never stop focusing on precision and increasing quality in their daily work.

Remember: Don’t use shallow methods to assess personnel you are making deep investments in!!!!


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If you or your organization are faced with a workplace growth challenge, email Tom and he will consider writing a blog about it.

Meet the Expert: Dr. Tom Brunner is a capable executive level consultant who has worked with local and nationally known organizations including Carondelet Healthcare, Tucson Electric Power, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Discovery Channel. Tom is a published behavioral science expert and is the Founder and Principal of Performance Edge Solutions. He is a licensed psychologist and a member of the Society of Consulting Psychologists. He has been an invited speaker at national conferences and local organizations such as University Medical Center, Tucson, AZ. Tom is humbled by the fact that in 2010 he was awarded the Arizona Psychological Foundations Early Career Psychologist Award. He is the senior author of a personality tool that has been adapted into seven languages. To see a 60-second video introducing his consulting firm click here, to read his bio click here, and to review his recent blogs, click here.