Most of us are familiar with fractals. These are geometric or mathematical patterns that repeat themselves regardless of scale. But most don’t realize that people exhibit similar fractals on the job. I refer to this concept as the Leadership Fractal – a set of skills and competencies that exhibit a repeating pattern growing in scope and scale.
To determine this during the interview I start by evaluating the candidate’s major accomplishments to determine the results achieved and the process used to achieve them. This always involves the successful interaction of planning, team, technical and organizational skills.
When done multiple times a pattern emerges revealing the consistency and quality of the work and the rate of change of growth. Collectively, this is what I call the Leadership Fractal. And when you find it, you’ll discover it’s a great predictor of future success.
Past Leadership is the Best Way to Predict Future Leadership
Some people say past behavior predicts future behavior. But this is only true when the jobs and the environment (e.g., pace, culture, manager, resources, etc.) are identical.
Past performance is a far better predictor of future performance when the jobs or environment are different. To do this properly you first need to define the job differently. I suggest preparing performance profiles that describe the work as a series of 6-8 performances objectives. Then use the Leadership Fractal to bridge the difference gap.
Use the 10-S Leadership Assessment Technique to Bridge Gaps in Skills and Experiences
Scope. Consider the impact of the work, its focus, the size of the budget, size of the teams involved, and the person’s role.
Scale. Consider the complexity of the work and the different groups the person has responsibility over.
Staff. Determine who the person manages, how they are managed and developed, the quality of the people the person has hired and if the person manages managers and executives.
Systems. Understand how the person uses systems and big data to manage, control and predict.
Sophistication. Consider how all types of decisions are made and the types of decisions the person has made.
Solutions. Ask candidates how they solved major problems and their focus on balancing the practical needs of getting things done quickly vs. eliminating long-term root cause problems.
Strategic. Determine if the person sees the big picture regardless of the size of the project. Being able to visualize and articulate a solution, even his/her approach to problem-solving, ensures strategy drives tactics and unintended consequences are avoided.
Systematic. A proactive and repeatable pattern of improvement ensures projects are successfully and consistently completed on-time and on-budget.
Skills. Understand how the person used his/her skills, behaviors and competencies to get the required results. It’s what people do with what they have that needs to be assessed, not just what they have.
Stretch. If the jobs are getting bigger find out why. The strongest people are often assigned to handle the toughest problems. Those who want to get ahead faster volunteer for them.
Rather than look for a perfect match on skills and experiences look for a perfect match on these 10 “S” factors. This will remove the lid on quality of hire by putting a solid floor under it.
Reverse Engineer the Leadership Fractal to Get a Better Job
There is no reason job seekers can’t reverse engineer this entire process during the interview to demonstrate how their track record of past accomplishments matches the open job. Pulling it off requires these critical steps:
Conduct Discovery. You’ll need to first ask the interviewer to describe some of the major challenges in the open job. Then ask lots of questions to understand the problems, the resources available, the business constraints and the people involved.
Prove Your “10S” Ability. You need to provide a number of examples of comparable accomplishments to convince the interviewer you’re a good match on all of the “S”s especially scope, scale, staff, skills and sophistication. As part of this provide lots and lots of specific details including names, dates, amounts and percentages.
Sell Your Leadership Fractal . After you provide a number of examples put them all together to demonstrate your trend of growth over time and the fact that what you’ve accomplished is a great match for what they need done.
Managers use a different process to hire strangers than people they’ve worked with in the past. With acquaintances it’s based on the person’s past performance doing comparable work. If it’s a promotion it involves focusing on the person’s rate of change of growth and ability to handle stretch components of the job. Job seekers need to be sure they’re evaluated the same way. To be successful they need to take matters into their own hands. Those who can demonstrate their Leadership Fractal won’t have a problem.
You’re probably familiar with fractals. These are physical objects like snowflakes or mountains or mathematical sets that repeat themselves regardless of scale, scope and complexity. What you probably didn’t realize is that people exhibit similar fractals on the job. And if you look close enough, you’ll discover people do the same things over and over again.
When hiring people, I suggest you hire those who do bigger and better things over and over again. What you’ll discover is that the quality and comparability of these bigger and better things predict fit and performance. The rate of growth of these bigger and better things predicts potential and success. I refer to this idea as the Leadership Fractalsm.
Using the Leadership Fractal to predict hiring performance
Using the Leadership Fractal to predict performance involves looking for a pattern of increasingly significant accomplishments focusing on how the candidate first visualized a solution then how he/she achieved a successful outcome.
I ask two questions to figure this out. The first is the most significant accomplishment question to determine the comparability of the person’s past achievements to the performance requirements of the job. The focus of this is on how the project was planned and how it was implemented. If there’s a reasonable fit I then ask the candidate how he/she would plan and implement the most challenging performance objective required for job success. The purpose of this approach is to evaluate the process the candidate would use to develop a logical and practical solution, not the solution itself.
Here’s an example of one search I led a number of years ago that best explains this concept.
For a general manager’s position, I asked a VP of Operations how he would turn around a multi-plant manufacturing company using somewhat related technology but in a totally different industry. We talked for 30 minutes about the process he would use to develop the plan and strategy required. This demonstrated his breadth of business understanding and depth of insight into the specific problems this company was facing. However, this wasn’t enough given the experience gap between his background and the open job.
To address this I asked what he had already accomplished that was comparable in scope, span of control and complexity to the open job requirements. Over the course of the next hour, he went on to describe how he took one plant in Asia with 100 people and expanded it to a 3,000 person international manufacturing and distribution system spanning the globe.
Based on this assessment, I thought he was the best candidate. My client, however, didn’t agree. Regardless, he was ultimately and reluctantly hired when their first choice – someone they knew in the industry – rejected the offer. I was not at all surprised when he called me two years later to tell me he had just become the CEO of the parent company, leapfrogging the person who hired him.
You don’t have to look far for some more recent examples of people getting hired using the Leadership Fractal concept. Whether you like President Trump or not, you have to admit that Mattis for Secretary of Defense, McMaster as Trump’s National Security Advisor and Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security are brilliant choices based on using the Leadership Fractal concept to guide the assessment. I also believe that Rex Tillerson is an excellent choice for Secretary of State using this same approach.
Less impactful for most, but not for me, is the Lakers hiring Magic Johnson as their new President of Basketball Operations. In addition, it looks like they’ll be hiring super-agent Rob Pelinka as general manager. Neither have the requisite experience to do their jobs, yet based on the Leadership Fractal technique they both should be excellent.
After meeting dozens of candidates for leadership positions in business and tracking their careers for 10-15 years (and more) there’s no question in my mind that the Leadership Fractal is a strong predictor of fit, performance and potential. I suspect it will work just as well for hiring leaders of any type whether in basketball or government. But as you’ll discover, it’s usually changing circumstances that mess up the prediction. If this is likely, you’ll need to look for leaders who have successfully dealt with rapidly changing circumstances. Then hold your hat and tighten your seatbelts and go along for a wild ride.
The ability to visual and plan a project combined with successful execution is the Leadership Fractal. The rate of growth of these projects predicts potential.
You're probably familiar with fractals. According to Wikipedia a fractal is a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern displayed at every scale.
What you probably didn't realize is that people exhibit similar fractals on the job. If you look close enough you'll discover people do the same things over and over again. When hiring people I suggest you hire those who do bigger and better things over and over again. What you'll discover is that the quality and comparability of these bigger and better things predict fit and performance. The rate of growth of these bigger and better things predicts potential. I refer to this idea as the Leadership Fractal.
Some examples will help explain the concept.
Many years ago I was representing a senior manager from a Big 4 CPA accounting firm for a Director of Accounting role with one of the major entertainment companies in Southern California. The hiring manager - the VP Controller - knew she was top-notch but was concerned she didn't have any hands-on corporate experience. The candidate persisted though and put together a 12-month detailed plan of how the entire accounting department needed to be reorganized. This included staff and system requirements and how the reporting systems had to be massively upgraded. She was hired based on this plan and her track record of doing similar project work while at the CPA firm. It was not a surprise that she successfully implemented the program and received a significant promotion as a result.
For a general manager's position I asked a VP Operations how he would turn around a multi-plant manufacturing company using somewhat related technology but in a totally different industry. We talked for 30 minutes about the process he would use to develop the plan and strategy required. This demonstrated his breadth of business understanding and depth of insight into the specific problems this company was facing. However, this wasn't enough given the experience gap. I asked what he had already accomplished that was comparable in scope, span of control and complexity to the open job requirements. He went on to describe how he took one plant in Asia with 100 people and expanded it to a 3,000 person international manufacturing and distribution system spanning the globe.
Based on this assessment I thought he was the best candidate but he was still initially rejected due to lack of direct industry experience and identical process background. He was ultimately and reluctantly hired when their first choice rejected the offer. I was not at all surprised when he called me two years later to tell me he had just become the CEO of the parent company leapfrogging the person who hired him.
These are two examples of the Leadership Fractal - the ability to visualize and implement the solution to a problem and do it over and over again. The quality of the solutions, the consistency of achieving them and the growing size of the accomplishments are all part of the assessment. To figure this out I ask two questions. The first is the most significant accomplishment question to determine the comparability of the person's past achievements to the open job requirements. If there's a reasonable fit I then ask the candidate how he/she would go about solving a realistic job-related problem. The purpose of this approach is to evaluate the process the candidate would use to develop a logical and practical solution, not the solution itself.
Caution is urged as you implement this two part question. Describing how to do something is not the same as doing it. You need both parts. On the flip side, some candidates have a track record of doing comparable work but aren't very good at visualizing different or more complex situations. I've found that these people are too structured in their thinking and too inflexible in their approach to adapt to changing situations.
However, more frequently than you can imagine you'll often find people like the CPA and the VP Operations described above who can bridge the gap between what needs to be done and how to get it done. These are people who can clearly visualize a future state in great detail even though they have never experienced it directly. Plus, and it's an essential plus, they have a track record of comparable results on a similar scale, scope and decision-making standpoint.
After meeting dozens of candidates like these and tracking their careers for 10-15 years (and more) it's clear the Leadership Fractal is a strong predictor of fit, performance and potential. At its core is the ability to clearly visualize a problem and deliver the results as planned. Doing similar things multiple times establishes quality and consistency. If these projects are increasing in complexity you can assess potential by looking at the growth rate of the trend line.
When applied to the assessment process a fractal can be defined as a set of skills and competencies that exhibit a repeating pattern despite the scope and scale of the task.
In a recent post I made the contention that soft skills are too important to be called soft. Whatever you call them, most rational people would consider the following not-so-soft soft skills the catalysts for fully enabling a person’s technical abilities.
Non-technical, Business and Leadership Skills Essential for Job Success
Assertiveness in pushing the status quo.
Courage in challenging bad ideas, bad decisions and bad processes.
Influencing others who are not direct reports - especially peers and executives - to make difficult decisions.
Making commitments and taking responsibility for doing what you said you would without making excuses.
Collaborating, negotiating and reaching agreement with cross-functional teams on challenging and competing objectives.
Problem-solving, creative and strategic thinking skills that not only uncover the root cause of any problem but also figure out the optimum solutions.
Organizational and project management skills to ensure complex team tasks are completed successfully.
Taking the initiative and doing more than required to meet expectations.
Communications skills to present ideas clearly and distinctly to the required audiences.
Adaptive customer service skills regardless of who the customer is.
Cultural fit with the hiring manager’s style, the pace of the organization and the values of the company.
Leadership skills to not only figure out the best course of action but also to marshal the resources to deliver the solution.
While these skills are obviously important for on-the-job success, most hiring managers aren’t too good at properly evaluating them. The following is our recommended approach, but candidates need to take control if they’re not being assessed properly.
How to Use Performance-based Hiring to Assess Soft Skills
Before the interview prepare one or two personal examples for each of the non-technical skills listed above that best demonstrates the ability. You’ll be describing these throughout the interview.
Prepare a short write-up (a few paragraphs) for each example that includes lots of specific details (i.e., names, dates, facts, results, numbers and percentages). Writing them down is a great way to remember them.
Reverse engineer the job during the interview by asking the hiring manager (very) early in the interview to describe some of the challenges and problems the person in the job is likely to face in the first 3-6 months. This is a great way to demonstrate assertiveness and confidence, too.
Provide an example of something comparable you’ve accomplished that best demonstrates your ability to successfully handle the problem, task or challenge.
Include in your example not only some specific facts and details but also how you used some of the non-technical skills to get the results.
Start asking questions about some of the most significant problems to demonstrate your ability to get to the root cause of a problem. This is a great way to demonstrate your technical and process problem-solving and thinking skills.
Describe at a pretty high level the plan of action you’d take to implement the best solution if you were to get the job. This is a great way to demonstrate your strategic thinking, organizational and planning skills.
Get into a give-and-take dialogue to not only better understand the circumstances and issues involved and to demonstrate your listening and communication skills.
Express an interest in the job if you are, and then ask about next steps. If vague, ask if the interviewer believes there’s something missing in your background and, if so, use the above techniques to disprove it. This is a great way to demonstrate persistence and your negotiating and influencing skills.
Just by forcing the interviewer to ask you the right questions you’re demonstrating you possess most of the required soft skills. You’ll prove you have the rest with your detailed examples and the follow-up questioning approach suggested above. As you can readily see, these are not soft skills, since without them nothing will get done. However, with them, you’ll not only get any job you deserve but also excel at it.
In a recent post I suggested that job seekers need to ask the interviewer about the actual performance requirements of the open job if it appears the interviewer is asking shallow or narrow questions. Once the job is understood as a series of performance objectives, the candidate then needs to provide detail-rich examples of past accomplishments that best compare to the actual job requirements. This is a great technique to ensure the job seekers are being interviewed properly. This Performance-based Hiring approach is now available as an online Lynda.com training course.
Listen for Some Buying Signals
If the past accomplishments are truly comparable and well presented, the interviewer is likely to send some buying signals indicating that the candidate is a reasonable prospect for the job. Some of these signals include describing specific (versus vague) next steps in the process, inviting the person back for another round of interviews, becoming more animated, spending more time in the interview than originally planned or simply stating he/she is impressed and wants to know if the candidate is interested in the job.
A word of caution: Do not ask or answer anything about compensation until you get a number of these buying signals. When compensation is discussed too soon in the process it’s being used as a filter to eliminate those who are either too high or too low. Candidates who ask the question before they’re judged as worthy are judged as not worthy. However, when compensation discussions take place after a candidate’s performance is known, it’s a negotiating item. (DO NOT IGNORE THIS ADVICE.)
However, even if the buying signals are sent and the compensation discussion goes well, it only means the candidate is a contender. To get to the offer stage much more needs to be done. And the best thing that can be done is to prove you can successfully handle the open job. There is more to this than just describing past accomplishments.
As part of the performance-based interview process I advocate, I suggest that the interviewer do two things. First, dig deep into a candidate’s past accomplishments. Second, ask the person to describe how he/she would go about solving or handling a major problem he/she is likely to face on the job. I refer to this twosome as the anchor and visualize questioning pattern. Most interviewers don’t ask these types of questions which is why candidates need to take matters into their own hands and force the interviewer to ask these questions. The technique described above and in the previous post describe how to force the anchor question. Here’s how to force the visualization question.
Force the Visualization Question
Soon after getting a buying signal – even a tepid one – it’s okay for the candidate to ask for permission to describe the process he/she would use to solve one of the big problems likely to be faced in the job. Here’s a rough script and format that can be used for this:
Ask for permission. Would you mind if I gave you an idea on how I’d go about handling the (project or issue) you just mentioned?
Get clarification of the problem or task. Ask a bunch of problem-solving questions to figure out the scope of the problem, the status of the existing plan and the resources available. The quality, depth and insight of these questions will be used to assess your competence so ask as many as you can.
Describe your preliminary plan. Provide enough details about how you’d proceed including the obvious roadblocks you’ll likely encounter and some tradeoffs you’ll need to make.
Ask for feedback. You’ll know you’re answering the question successfully if the interviewer starts asking “what…if?” type questions and/or asks for clarification on some points. By engaging in a two-way conversation about a realistic problem, the interviewer will gain the confidence that the candidate has the thinking, planning and problem-solving skills needed to successfully handle the job without needing a lot of direction.
Before proving a job seeker can do the work, the job needs to be defined as a series of performance objectives rather than the traditional laundry list of skills and experiences. Half of the subsequent proof involves digging deep into the candidate’s past accomplishments to determine if the person has a track record of comparable performance. The other half involves engaging in an open discussion about a realistic job-related problem. This anchor and visualization approach is not only a recipe for hiring success, it’s also the definition of leadership. That’s why I urge job candidates to take a leadership role in ensuring they’re being assessed on factors that best predict their own success. Then they need to demonstrate it.