Benchmarking Talent is not Dolly the Sheep

25 10 2010

I talk (tweet/blog/rant/bore) a fair amount about the value of benchmarking star performance in specific roles and then using the resulting profile in recruitment. I don’t recommend this for all recruitment, only where there is a significant number of people who all perform identical roles. Often this means customer facing roles such as customer service, account manager, etc, but it can also apply to backroom admin or technical jobs. If you have a statistically significant sample for us to work from, we should be able to tell if there are characteristics which discriminate consistently between your star performers and the merely averagely good; if there are, you can use those in recruitment.

It occurred to me the other day that this might sound as though I believe in human cloning, or at least that my ideal call centre would comprise entirely of balding thirty-year old men called Clarence and who all wear black-rimmed glasses and keep their pencil behind their right ear. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My experience of workgroups with unusually high numbers of high-performing people is that they look to the casual observer – and even to the workgroup members themselves – as very diverse. Ask them and they will say, “oh yes, Sue is our extrovert and Fred is the quiet one and Bill goes wave-boarding and Nancy is studying astrophysics in her spare time.” Even if we ask them, what do you think you all have in common, they may be unable to answer – simply because whatever the “magic ingredient” is, it is so much part of their whole world view that they have no idea it isn’t shared by everybody on the planet. Could be obsessive attention to detail, could be absolute determination to leave every customer feeling that their most pressing problem has been solved – whatever.  So in my experience, a truly star workgroup has usually been a very diverse group of people with just one or two very specific characteristics in common – not a flock of Dolly the Sheeps. For example, take the accounting firm where two thirds of the accounting partners and staff were most highly motivated not by a love of working with numbers but by a love of making a difference for other people. How proactive do you think they were in coming up with ideas to improve their clients’ businesses? (Answer: very). Or the local council call centre with very high scores on empathy for others and practical action. Do you think they were happy to send people off down a bureacratic rabbit hole? (Answer: no).

And all this is why we use the Birkman Method, rather than any other tool. Firstly, it allows direct comparison between individuals (which, you may be surprised to know, most profiling tools are not designed or calibrated for); and secondly it provides the most finegrained data we know of, with a wealth of individual and independent scales. This isn’t “are you one of these or one of those”; rather it allows us to ask intelligently of individuals, what makes you unique; and of clusters of individuals (e.g. star performers) what do you diverse people have in common that your colleagues don’t have?

So benchmarking, done right is powerful stuff. And no hint of “Hello Dolly!”

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