Why fish can’t climb: the art of talent-fit

Crisis can muddy the waters of talent search. Most companies would agree that it is important to prioritise the career development of its employees. Often, this is done by promoting current employees from within, based on their performance. We at The Assessment Toolbox would strongly argue that this is a risky strategy. The problem is not with the fact that companies base their decision on performance – but rather that they base it on current performance that is different from the target role.

Consider the example of Harry, a Sales Consultant at Prestige Cars, who has, for the last three years consistently won the Salesperson of the Year award. Harry gets earmarked for the role of Sales Manager because of his excellent sales record and is appointed in the role after James, the existing Sales Manager, resigns. However, 6 months into the role, the Sales Department is in chaos – staff turnover is at its highest in 10 years, sales figures are down by 45 %, the Dealer Principal is frustrated by the lack of consistent management reporting from Harry and the administration team are unhappy because information isn’t
shared with them on a regular basis.

This is a perfect example of using existing performance as a predictor of future performance. This method is acceptable if the set of criteria is the same. However, in the case of Prestige Cars, the criteria of the target role were vastly different to the criteria underpinning performance in the role of Sales Consultant.

Not only are the criteria incompatible, but Prestige Cars also neglected to factor in detail about the personal characteristics required for success in the target role. By only relying on criteria for tasks, outputs and area of responsibility, it is easy to
mistakenly think that an individual can quickly transition from selling x units of vehicles per month to overseeing the sales process due to the apparent similarity in focus. It is only when we consider that Harry is good at selling vehicles because he relies on himself and not on others and is driven by an almost compulsive need to win, that we realise that there is more to performance than merely completing a list of tasks and outputs. And if we consider James’s natural team orientation, his eye for detail and ability to motivate others, we realise that these are critical qualities that enabled him to be successful in the role of Sales Manager. It now becomes obvious that by appointing a competitive, somewhat selfish individual in a role that is supposed to enable others to meet targets through support and encouragement might not be the best fit. The set of unique aspects that motivate and drive Harry is completely different to those driving James. In hindsight, we want to ask how we could ever have thought that someone with a personality like Harry could fill the shoes of someone like James.

How could Prestige Cars have prevented the ensuing chaos of appointing the wrong person in the Sales Manager position? Firstly, it is crucial to include personal characteristics, also called competencies, in the job description. Very simply, it means
describing what sort of person would be able to do this job well. Competencies should always identify the most critical elements of the role rather than being a compilation of mutually exclusive ‘wish-list’ elements – analysing job descriptions, we often see “team player” right along “need to operate independently”. Too many job descriptions and advertisements include aspects such as being a self-starter who can work independently and learn quickly as critical for the role. These qualities are often not essential, nor based on what is actually required in the role.

Secondly, Prestige Cars should have cast their net a bit more widely. If they had considered using psychometrics on their sales team to assess the personal characteristics that are critical in the role of Sales Manager, this would have enabled Prestige Cars to appoint the right individual who would lead the sales team to greater success. Interestingly enough, the ideal candidate may have been an existing, but overlooked member of the sales team. If one assumes that Sales Consultants have a vastly different
personality profile to successful Sales Managers, it would almost have made more sense to consider poorly performing Sales Consultants for the role of Sales Manager. If we do not base our decisions on the criteria that predict performance in a role, we are opening ourselves up to major risks and random decision-making.

Performance in a role is complex and based on a combination of multiple factors, but apart from ability, the most critical factors relate to motivation, drive and getting joy from what you are doing. Through carefully designing and applying this learning in both job profiles and selection processes, we are able to ensure that our clients appoint people who really
fit the target role.

This article shows how easy it is to overlook hidden stars if irrelevant criteria are applied to internal promotions and employee development. We at The Assessment Toolbox are passionate about designing job profiles, selection and performance criteria that capture all the critical elements in a role, from the obvious tasks, outputs and skills required, to identifying the hidden key characteristics, i.e. drivers of performance, such as motivation and inherent personality preferences. We use this data to conduct holistic assessments that predict an individual’s future performance, based on scientific data, relevant to the target role. We work with our clients to help them navigate the complexity of talent-fit, every time.




Wea Van Heerden is the co-founder of The Assessment Toolbox. The Assessment Toolbox are People and HR specialists and perfectly positioned to assist you in making the crucial human capital decisions in an objective, professional and cost-effective manner. We offer HR consulting services, psychometric assessments and bespoke design competency-based simulation tools. Our approach focuses on a clear understanding of the business context, structure and roles, to deliver the tools that will achieve the best fit for the organisation and its people. www.assessmenttoolbox.co.za