Thursday 6 December 2012

The Cult of Experience

We are now more then half way through this compelling work by author Rob Symes. We hope that you are finding it interesting thus far and that you have benefited from the access to the full version of the ebook. We would also like to invite you to come back for more of the insightful chapters in weeks to come. Enjoy the lecture!

“See the whole board.”
President Bartlet, The West Wing

50% of participants believed that “Having done it before” was either unimportant or very unimportant in predicting successful job performance

 200-metre butterfly is pain: lung busting, mind numbing and just plain unnatural. If you ask an average man to perform a 200-metre butterfly it’s important to call an ambulance before you start laughing. Michael Phelps has dominated this pain for a decade. In fact, Phelps has dominated professional swimming.  He won six gold medals at Athens in 2004 and eight gold medals at Beijing in 2008 including seven world records. He would finish London 2012 as the most decorated Olympian of all time with nineteen medals. And right now, as he stands on the starting blocks, staring straight ahead, every pundit, every spectator and most of all Phelps expects only one winner.
 With three metres to go, the indomitable Phelps who had led the race throughout, faltered. His stroke grew ragged and a hitherto unheralded South African, Chad Le Clos snuck by to beat him by less than a tenth of a second. The most experienced, most decorated, most successful swimmer of all time had lost.

 Upsets are everywhere. Yet business failures are rarely so public or dramatic as Phelps’s. However, nearly 66% of companies on the Fortune 100 list in 1990 are not on the list some twenty-odd years later.

Success is rare, sustained success is rarer and success in perpetuity is nonexistent.

Yet, most executives will blindly choose past experience of achievement without assessing whether this success is repeatable. This is lazy thinking. Past experience, while important, is not a predicator for future success.

Traditionally, recruiters analyse three characteristics:  
Ø  Intelligence or IQ
Ø  Relevant experience
Ø  Personality or Emotional Intelligence (EI)

From my conversations with clients and colleagues one thing is clear: Most executives view relevant work experience as the defining characteristic when searching and assessing prospective candidates. Yet, when I asked participants of this study to determine how important directly relevant experience (Having done it before) was in successful candidates fifty per cent believed it to be unimportant.

Behavioural economists have long identified a cognitive bias in human behaviour called Loss aversion. In short, this is a tendency for people to have a strong preference for avoiding losses over acquiring gains. Companies often exhibit this in their hiring behaviour. It is easier to justify a hire and avoid a “loss” by hiring purely based on experience than to make a seemingly riskier decision of assessing a person’s potential. Often, a candidate will be assumed safer if they are less likely to fail rather than more likely to succeed.

  Yet, timidity has no place in hiring five-to-one candidates. Companies must place equal importance on ‘soft’ factors as on ‘hard’ facts. They must enter the murky world of personality as rigorously as they do when assessing past experience. Time and again participants told me of candidates with minimal experience that had become stars. Peter Dawe, the co-founder of Pipex, had a receptionist that became a director, Suranga Chandratillake, the CEO of Blinkx, hired a young woman with no relevant experience in technology who worked in the same building. She has become a top salesperson. Hamish Purdey’s CFO had not run a public company before joining Ffastfill and is now stewarding them through rapid growth.

  Undiscovered, undervalued, underused talent is everywhere. If companies continue to myopically assess only experience they will overlook game changing candidates.

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