Assessing skill vs. will
Why evaluating people on their attitude is as important as their ability
The most consistent challenge I hear firms discussing today is finding talent
When evaluating people, most prioritize “skill” (ability) over “will” (attitude)
Skills can be acquired through training, but attitudes are much harder to shape
Finding the right culture fit is important for acquiring and retaining employees
Look to promote the social good of your organization to drive high engagement
Finding the next superstar
I distinctly remember the first time I interviewed a candidate for an open position I had on my team. I was a new leader and was looking for someone who could meet the requirements of the role. Fortunately, we had a team interview concept at the time which meant that each interview was conducted by two leaders who brought their own perspective and could discuss each candidate after the interview had concluded. During my first interview, I was very focused on asking the questions and capturing as many notes from the responses I received.
Afterwards, my counterpart John, a veteran leader whom I knew and trusted, turned to me and asked what I thought of the candidate. I responded, “Well, I think they could do the job.” John was incredulous. He proceeded to go on a mini-rant: “Do the job? Do the job? We can lots of people who can do the job! We are looking for someone who can do the job that’s three levels above this role at a minimum. The person we select is someone we should imagine being in an influential position in the future. We aren’t looking for someone who can simply do the job: we are looking for the next superstar!”
The job journey and skill vs. will
I previously wrote about the importance of the job journey and the need for leaders to flex their style at each stage to ensure their people receive the right amount of support relative to their level of competence and confidence. An important ingredient in deciding what the right level of support to provide is to look at the areas that they are struggling. A trusted executive, Gary, was a mentor of mine in the past and helped crystallize a key question for me in evaluating talent: skill vs. will. If someone is short of mastery in their current position, is the reason that they lack the right skills? Skills in this context could be technical abilities or connections to the right people or unfamiliarity with systems and/or processes. It could also simply be from a lack of repetition or particular knowledge gap(s).
Alternatively, is the reason that the person has not achieved mastery yet because they lack the will to do so? This is a much harder problem to solve. When skills are lacking, there is an ability to close the gap through additional training, mentoring, improved tools and systems, or other investment of resources. When there is a lack of motivation, this is harder to diagnose and correct. There can be institutional challenges such as misaligned metrics, a perceived lack of input, or simply a toxic corporate culture that results in dysfunction and finger pointing. These problems tend to be more widespread within an organization and the issues are manifest across the firm. In addition, quiet quitting has become a hot trend on TikTok that’s now all over mainstream media. Quiet quitting is less an indictment of a particular organization’s culture but more of a broader trend to combat the burnout that many people felt during the pandemic, which led many to reprioritize what they wanted to accomplish in life. Finally, there are individual reasons that motivation levels may be lower as well; these range from temporary setbacks that people may be facing in their personal life to poor work habits that necessitate constant prodding from leaders in order to meet minimum expectations. Often times, the 80/20 rule applies in this final circumstances: leaders eat up 80% of their time with the team on the 20% of employees who are underperforming. It is stressful and frustrating, and rarely do low performing employees who perpetually have challenges with will improve over time.
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The time to reassess corporate culture is now
With the wave of early retirements (that may not have been so early), the current labor market is smaller and the competition for talent is strong. Freelancing in 2022 has become an increasingly popular alternative with more platforms, more funding, and more opportunities. It’s not just driving for ride sharing or selling on eBay any more; there are a wider variety of opportunities such as Rover.com, where I was thrilled to find someone to provide quality in-home care for our dog Zoey this summer while on family vacation. I have spoken with firms looking to fill positions that require long training commitments of up to 2 years: these roles presume employees will stay for the long-term and be willing to work up a pre-defined career ladder. While generous benefits such as 401(k) plans and tuition reimbursement might have been attractive add-ons in the past, many people today are looking for short-term opportunities to help them acquire new skills and position them for a next move on their career journey.
I have advised several firms recently looking to bring on younger talent that a focus in my assessment criteria would be evaluating candidates based on their attitude and interpersonal abilities and less on their technical skills. Why? Making sure someone is a good fit for your corporate culture and has a strong willingness to be there on a daily basis is more critical than ever. Skills can be acquired, especially when people are highly motivated to learn and grow at your organization. Younger people in particular are motivated working for organizations that are committed to equity and learning; making money is important but emphasizing how customers or citizens benefit from the products and services your organization provides is also important. Putting your why front and center and building a mission-centric culture that values diversity and inclusion goes a long way towards winning the war for talent.
How does your organization maintain the commitment level of your employees? Are people motivated by emphasizing hitting metrics and making money or by a broader sense of mission and purpose? Do your people have access to volunteer opportunities to help in their community alongside fellow employees? Do people believe in the direction your leadership has set and the importance of the goals that have been establish? When was the last time your organization revisited the hiring and training processes? Are the expectations of new employees so high that they feel too lofty and lock them into a long-term commitment?