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.
Over the past 40 years I’ve interviewed thousands of candidates for staff level jobs to senior executives and tracked the performance of hundreds of them.
After a few years it quickly became apparent that a 30-45 minute work history review revealed four great predictors of on-the-job success. As long as the following four conditions were present I was comfortable recommending the candidate for further interviewing. Of course, further evaluation was essential but it turned out as long as the four factors were present the likelihood of the candidate being a finalist was extremely high.
Determine Job Fit Based on Comparable Accomplishments
Obviously going through the person’s resume reveals a lot about whether the person is a basic fit for the job. But of critical importance is the person’s most significant accomplishments. During the work history review I dig into the one that best compares to what the person will be doing in the new position.
The focus of this is on the scope of the project, span of control, size of the budget, reporting relationships, complexity of the work and the results achieved. For example, for a Director of Accounting at a major corporation I recommended a manager at a Big 4 accounting firm since she had implemented robust reporting systems at Fortune 200 companies leading teams of 10-20 people. This was the primary objective of the job, so the fit was perfect.
Potential is Revealed through the Achiever Pattern
The Achiever Pattern indicates the candidate is in the top 25% of their peer group. The idea is that people in the top 25% at different companies and at different jobs are likely to continue to be in the top 25% in the new job. Since these are the people who continue to take on more challenging projects and get promoted more quickly, the Achiever Pattern is a good indicator of potential.
Each position has different criteria to meet the top 25% standard but they all have some. For example, for sales positions look for people who have a track record of always making quota. The best staff level people in all functions are assigned more challenging projects soon after starting a new job. The best managers seek out and are given more challenging management assignments. The best team players are assigned to more important multi-functional teams.
While this is only a short list, the idea is to use the work history review to find out where the candidate has been recognized for doing superior work, whether it’s an award, a promotion, special bonus or an important assignment.
Career Motivation Can be Determined Based on How Job Changes were Decided
Why people change jobs is an important clue to how motivated the person is career wise. Always ask candidates why they moved from one company to another and if the move accomplished its purpose. For the best people these moves are typically part of a bigger career plan and are not made superficially. While they don’t often work out as planned, most times they do. Look for people who are concerned about making an impact, developing their skills and finding more satisfying work.
For example, I challenged one candidate who made a decision to accept a job that was closer to home, had a slightly better title, and offered a bit more money, but was in a decaying industry. When I pointed this out to him he rejected this job and accepted the other better long-term offer. He called a year later thanking me for the advice after he got a huge promotion.
The Size of the Opportunity Gap Predicts Engagement and Performance
A good career move requires a 30% non-monetary increase. This is the opportunity gap. It’s the sum of the increases in job stretch (bigger job), job growth (faster rate of increase) and job satisfaction (doing more satisfying work). If the stretch part of the gap is too great, the chance of failure increases, but if the gap is non-existent, dissatisfaction and underperformance is likely. The opportunity gap is determined by what the person has accomplished compared to what the new position offers.
Most recruiters and hiring managers can’t even figure out the size of the opportunity gap since the job is ill-defined. In this case money becomes the primary criteria to accept an offer or not. This is a great predictor that the person will underperform.
Take the Time to Find These Four Predictors
When the person is a good fit for the job, possesses the Achiever Pattern, has a track record of making good career decisions and the job offers a true career move, it’s likely the person will be a serious candidate for your job. What’s surprising is that much of this can be figured out in a 30-45 minute work history review. What’s more surprising is that most interviewers won’t take the time to do it.
I needed to put the following video together for a Performance-based Hiringmanager interview program we’ve just launched. Whether you’re a recruiter, hiring manager, a member of the interviewing team or a job-seeker, I thought you’d find it useful as a means to more accurately identify high performers. It’s based on the following assumptions:
These performance objectives need to be as SMARTe as possible: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results defined, Time bound, and the environment (pace, culture, manager’s style) defined.
Using the “Process of Success” as a benchmark, the major performance objectives can be broken into critical subtasks. This typically begins by figuring out the challenges, putting a plan together and then successfully implementing the solution.
By asking SMARTe questions and probing for SMARTe answers the interviewer will be able to determine how well the candidate’s past performance maps to future performance expectations.
If job expectations aren’t clarified up front, it’s problematic if the person hired will be both competent and motivated to do the work required. Creating SMARTe objectives, asking SMARTe questions and looking for the process of success changes a random event into a highly predictable outcome.
As described in my previous post, there are 12 skills recruiters need to master in order to identify, attract, assess and recruit people who aren’t looking to change jobs. And the most challenging set of skills to develop are around identifying talent and potential.
Having done this for about 35 years and written about it for the past 20, I believe that there is a set of traits common to the most outstanding candidates. Most of these can be figured out as part of the fact-finding involved when asking a person to describe his or her major accomplishments as part of the Performance-based Interview I recommend.
Here they are:
1. They make things happen.
Being results-driven or motivated is not enough. Achieving the expected results is what’s important. To figure this one out, ask about the biggest project the person handled and how he/she achieved the objectives.
2. They volunteer for projects over their head.
During the interview, ask about the person’s three biggest accomplishments in the recent past. Then ask why he/she was assigned the roles. Look for people who stretch themselves or are assigned to stretch jobs.
3. They get recognized for superior work.
People get awards, bonuses, promotions and formal recognition for a job well done. Raise the caution flag if you don’t find much regardless of the person’s presentation skills.
4. They find jobs through their network.
Ask the person how they found his/her last job, and the few before that. The best people are frequently sought out by their former bosses and co-workers. If so, find out why.
5. They hire great people, many through their network.
If the person’s a manager, ask the person to rank the quality of each team member and ask how each new hire was found and hired. The best managers seek out the best people and give them opportunities to become better.
6. They have an upward sloping trend of performance.
Examine the size, scope, scale and complexity of the person’s major accomplishments over the past 5 to 10 years. The best people increase their impact and influence over time. If the person has plateaued, look for high quality work and exceptional passion for what they do.
7. They know how to solve job-related problems.
Forget the brainteasers. Get into a discussion about some realistic problem the person is likely to face on the job. The best people can put some type of logical plan together to find a solution, including how they’d figure out the answer to things they don’t know.
8. They overcome obstacles rather than make excuses.
As you dig into the person’s major accomplishments, ask how he/she overcame major problems. Look for a pattern of making things happen, taking personal responsibility and consistently achieving planned results. Avoid those who make excuses.
9. They posses multi-functional team skills.
Collaborating on major projects with influential people in other functions is a core attribute of those who get promoted. To figure this dimension out, ask about the biggest and most important teams the person has been assigned to, why the assigned to the project and his or her role. Then look for how the person influenced the team results and their ability to understand the challenge from the perspective of people in other functions.
10. They can zoom.
This is a catch-all trait I invented. It’s the ability to get granular to understand a problem, the ability to zoom out to see the strategic and multi-functional consequences and then zoom in to figure out the best tactical solution. The depth and breadth of the person’s zooming ability is a great indictor of the person’s current ability and upside potential. You’ll need to conduct the full Performance-based Interview to figure out how well the person zooms.
I left out leadership from the list but I’ve discovered that if a person has most of the above attributes it’s because the person is a strong leader. Recruiters need to recognize true talent rather than just box check skills and experiences. The best people rarely have everything listed. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is actually what makes them the best people. And it’s why recognizing talent is one of the core traits of all top recruiters.