13th Jan 2012
There are greater numbers of candidates and more people with high potential on the market than ever before.
As a result, it is vital that HR professionals think differently about recruitment and approach interviews in a new way in order to ensure that the right candidates are chosen for the right roles.
Although the competency-based method of assessment is still being used unchallenged in many HR departments, the method has fundamental flaws.
While the focus is on assessing what people claim they can do or to have them provide examples of what they have done, the problem is that most recruitment and careers advice services run classes to help candidates practice their interview technique on this basis.
As a result, the challenge for many potential employers is that job applicants have become too polished in their responses, providing ‘evidence’ that is well-rehearsed rather than a real reflection of their stills and personality. A second limitation of a competency-based approach is that it typically assesses what people can do rather than what they do well and enjoy.
In contrast, using a strengths-based method helps employers to recruit people based on their natural talents by enabling them to identify and assess the things that candidates not only do well but also love doing. The approach is more reliable because it matches an individual’s strengths to a given role, ensuring that job applicants are not just capable, but will actually be engaged and motivated enough to live up to expectations.
Strengths-based recruitment likewise enables people to be more authentic and to show themselves for who they genuinely are. Practitioners are trained to look for energy and authenticity as well as evidence of high performance in relation to the strengths under consideration – a combination that should guarantee the appointment of a genuine high flier.
The practice works by identifying what key strengths would enable success within a given role, both now and into the future. Such strengths include an individual’s personal attributes, their alignment with organisational values and their ability to be flexible and agile enough to adapt to the evolving needs of the business.
Another difference with a competency-based approach, which typically focuses attention on a small number of generic aptitudes, is that strengths-based interviewing explores in more detail what abilities are actually likely to lead to success in a given role.
In its infancy
It is important to balance such specific role requirements with a need for organisational simplicity and skills transferability. But if you get it right, you will be more likely to hire better quality talent and higher performing workers. The idea behind the concept is to be better attuned to what people do best in order to harness their abilities more effectively.
Although the approach is still in its infancy, some companies are already seeing the benefits. Aviva is one of the latest companies to have gone down this route as part of its ongoing commitment to recognising individual achievements in order to help improve the internal and external customer experience.
To this end, the insurance firm made a new employee promise: ‘who you are and what you contribute matters to us’. To support this change of tack, it looked at ways of improving its recruitment and talent management processes. A critical first step was to hire people that had the natural talents to deliver results in a customer service role.
As a result, the company evaluated 60 different competencies of high- and low-performing agents, which included time management, team-work and empathy. These criteria were then integrated into the firm’s interview techniques and assessment tools. It also developed a series of bespoke recruitment campaigns.
Rachel Russell, an HR business consultant at Aviva, said of the move: “We’re delighted with our success in using strengths to help identify if someone is right for a role. Strengths interviewing allows us to focus on individuals, what they enjoy doing and what they’ll be good at.”
The approach shifted the emphasis from assessing people’s past performance to evaluating their future potential. Therefore, it helped the firm to find the right people “who’ll be motivated and energized in their work”, she added.
Since going down this path, Aviva has seen staff productivity levels increase by 21%, call average delays fall by 54%, quality rise by 14.5% and customer satisfaction jump by 12%. The induction process has also been shortened by a week, employment churn halved in the first 12 months and morale has noticeably improved.
Top tips for adopting strengths-based recruitment are:
- Use multiple sources of data to establish your criteria - understand the desired outcomes for any given role, embed company values and understand your organisational strategy
- Map strengths to the data gathered in order to design job descriptions, roles and person specifications
- Ask for feedback – discuss the strengths that have been mapped to a given role with key stakeholders
- Trial exercises to assess high and low performers in order to ensure that they evaluate what they are supposed to evaluate – write down ‘look fors’ and ‘listen fors’ for each exercise to ensure accurate scoring
- During the interview process, ask candidates to undertake authentic exercises that measure their strengths and also clarify what a typical day in the role would look like.
Nicky Garcea is the consulting director at strengths-based recruitment specialists, Capp.