workplace relationships

Are You Interviewing for This Critical Attribute?

If you are a leader who has hiring responsibility or are interviewing for a new role yourself, here is something to keep at the top of your mind.

I saw an interesting article in the New York Times the other day claiming that for every career there is an opposite career, requiring completely opposite skills. For instance, if you are a kindergarten teacher, your opposite career is a physicist. Teaching kindergarten is all about developing young minds. Physics is about using logic, math, and reasoning to solve problems. Different skills are needed for these different kinds of work outcomes. Here you can see the top set of skills needed for these two careers side by side. 

The opposite job of a kindergarten teacher is a physicist.

Skills Kindergarten Teachers Use Most            Skills Physicist Use Most

  1. Coaching & developing others                      Physics
  2. Learning strategies                                         Mathematics
  3. Developing & building teams                        Number facility
  4. Training & teaching others                            Information ordering
  5. Philosophy & theology                                    Logical Reasoning
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I thought this was really interesting on a couple of fronts. First, it fascinates me that, thanks to the tax money you provide the US government, the Department of Labor actually keeps data on this kind of information. While I never want to be critical about things I don’t know much about, I do have to scratch my head and ask if my tax dollars could have gone into the free market rather than pay for what seems on the surface to be a useless analysis of data collected.

Once I got past my inner critic it was kind of fun to think about the differences between being a writer and a mobile home installer: creative communication skill versus spatial thinking and manual dexterity. 

While it is a bit of a “blinding glimpse of the obvious” that the work of a physicist (thanks, Big Bang Theory for cluing me into this one) is very different from that of a kindergarten teacher. What becomes interesting are the assumptions we make about what it takes to be successful in different organizational roles.

3 Components of workplace success

Raw Intellect. There is a well-established link, with little to no debate, between the importance of overall intelligence and success in the workplace. It goes without saying that for any job that exists in an organization a certain amount of intellect is required to be able to accomplish the tasks that the organization is paying for. If you teach kindergarten you may not need to be able to do advanced calculus or understand how statistics applies to quantum theory but you need to be able to master education philosophies and advanced learning strategies. 

For most of the roles in our organizations, we don’t measure the minimum level of intellect is needed for job success on any kind of scale. We have some idea through education processes that if someone graduated from a school that has a  qualified welding program, most likely the person has the intellect to do the job. This is one reason that education matters so much, even if young people have no idea what they want to do after graduation, stay in school and get your degree you will just have more opportunities to choose from.

Skills and Talents. The second component for workplace success that gets the most scrutiny in interview processes are the behavior abilities the person displays. Back in my sales management days in the pharmaceutical industry, I spent many a day interviewing potential candidates trying to decipher if they had the skills needed to be successful on my team. We looked for people who could verbally articulate in a concise manner and who could solve problems on the spot. Paramount to sales success was the person's desire to learn complex ideas and then explain them simply. 

Behavior-based interviewing has become so popular over the years, focusing on a candidate's job experience gives some clue as to their ability to be able to perform similar task types in different roles. If a specialist in supply chain management knows how to use a pivot table then the use of this skill could be applied to any other role where pivot tables are important for job success.

And yet I can remember going through interviews with candidates from very good schools (had enough intellect) who had what seemed to have good transferable skills (in my case: sales experience) and think, “this person is not a good fit for my team." 

How is is that the person can be smart enough, and have the skills, but not be a good fit?

Emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that people engage to know themselves better, have better relationships, and make better decisions.  Data from the World Economic Forum suggests that over one-third of the job skills that exist today will NOT be needed in the next ten years. And a new set of competencies that don't make the list today will end up on the list instead. 

In their book The EQ Edge, Steve Stein and Howard Book provide some examples of the emotional and social skills needed for different types of roles, including jobs like account executives and teachers and customer service professionals. For example, if you need to fill a customer facing role that includes sales and customer support components, you might know the type of education, skills, and talents you are looking for in a candidate, but do you know what emotional and social skills the person needs in order to increase their level of success?

Case study

Here is how I have been helping my clients think through these types of situations. Let’s use the above scenario as a case study. 

You have been hired as a consultant to help a client understand the types of candidates they need to hire for a new customer support role they are creating, which includes sales and customer service components.

Here are some steps you can use to think through the kind of people you might need to fill these roles:

Step 1. Define the Role-most of my clients have a good job description so this one is easy.

Step 2. Define what success looks like. How will your new hire know they are doing the job well?

Step 3. What kind of education level does the person need to have to be successful? Do they need an MBA from a top 10 school or a bachelors degree from any accredited institution?

Step 4. What are the skills and talents that the person has to have to meet the minimum level of success we are expecting?

For this role you might be looking for skills and talents like:

  1. Ability to collaborate and partner
  2. Self-motivation
  3. Creative problem-solving
  4. Result oriented
  5. Inspiring and influencing

Step 5. What are the emotional and social functioning abilities a person is going to need to align with the skills and talents they possess? We think about this as being the “how” they go about doing the skill.

                          Skill                                          Emotional Intelligence Ability

    1. Ability to collaborate and partner        Interpersonal relationships
    2. Self-motivation                                       Self-actualization
    3. Creative problem-solving                      Reality testing
    4. Result oriented                                       Optimism
    5. Inspiring and influencing                      Empathy

    Final Thought

    If you are a hiring manager or a candidate looking for your next role, you have probably spent a lot of time on considering education, skills, and talents, but have you spent enough time thinking through the impact that emotional intelligence plays in success?

    Quiz Yourself: Are You Using this Important Coaching Skill?

    I am blessed in my coaching practice to be able to work with a lot of coaches. Everything from students who are learning the craft to executive leaders who use coaching as a leadership tool. 

    I Have an Observation

    The skill of observation is underdeveloped.  Here is what I mean.

    This morning I am sitting having some quiet time of meditation and prayer.  As I was sitting in contemplation I noticed the breeze that was whisking through the trees in the conservation area behind my house at varying rates of force.  At times the leaves in the trees were hardly moving, and then, with no warning, the speed would increase to a gust force. After a minute or so the air would return to a more moderate flow.

    This is the skill of observation. Blocking out all other inputs and paying attention to this one thing, and then not making any judgment about it. Don’t turn it into a metaphor, or think about how to explain it. Just observe it and practice describing it.  

    This skill is harder to do than it is to read about, I can assure you. As leaders, we are constantly making cause and effect assumptions.  We become skilled at what is rewarded, making decisions or explaining things so that others can understand them.  All very important skills. I am not trying to say that your decision-making is not important, it for sure is. In fact, I often tell young leaders what they get paid to do is make judgments.  However, if we believe that quality inputs are critical to good judgment then perhaps observation trumps outcome.

    Give It A Try

    The next meeting you go to, or one-on-one interaction you have with a colleague, write down 10 things you observe from the interaction. Just make the observation and pay attention. Dial out all the distractions that might come your way and observe behavior. Notice things like tone of voice and inflection. Notice body language. Become aware of the “presence” the person exudes. 

    The better we become at the skill of observation, the better coaches we will be.  We will notice things such as hurt or pain in people. We will notice when they are not on their “A” game. We might notice the exuberant joy that is written all over their face. The better we are at observing, the more skilled we will be at connecting with others emotionally.

    Take a Quiz

    One of the reasons I like to use assessments in my practice is that they help me, as a coach, make observations.  Sure, the person gets great feedback around important competencies. For example, in the EQi 2.0 assessment that I use, leaders get feedback on stress management. According to Dr. Henry Thompson, author of The Stress Effect, emotional intelligence is critical in determining the likelihood of the success of a leader. 

    While the EQi 2.0 can give leaders feedback on competencies like stress management, often times it is the observation of the leader in the moment that can give the information that will allow the leader to make necessary judgments. If leaders don’t observe what their followers are feeling in the moment then they are more liable to react poorly. For example, an associate comes into your office and explains they have just made a mistake that could be costly in terms of dollars and customer satisfaction.  Are you able to manage your own emotion in the moment and observe what is going on with the person?  Are they anxious? Is there body language closed and distant?  Are they sweating? 

    So let's play this out. What happens if:

    A. You don't observe any of the associates “presence” in the moment

    B. You do observe the stress the associate is under

    Answer A: It is possible you will go right into fact-finding mode. Try to find out what happened, and then your natural next step is to go into problem-solving mode and to start giving orders you want the associate to execute with precision, clarity, and focus.

    What is the problem with Answer A?  It isn’t physically possible when stress has hi-jacked the associate for them to focus on anything. In fact, there is a really good chance that they will walk out of your office and not remember a thing you said.

    Answer B: You see the associate is stressed out, so you have them sit down. You go get them a bottle of water. You have them take a few deep breaths and perhaps you tell them a story that has a bit of self-deprecating humor. The goal here is to get the associate to relax so that you can trouble shoot and problem solve together.

    What is the real skill in Answer B? You took the time to observe the situation. You notice the wind in the trees. You know the end result you need to get to but you also know you need your associate to have a clear mind when you need information.

    Take Another Quiz

    For this quiz, you are going to need to think about a recent interaction that you have had with an associate where there was some stress or tension in the situation. Keep this interaction in mind as you take this quiz. Use the quiz and your memory to reconstruct the events. 

    This quiz is not meant at all to be diagnostic.  We are not trying to make you clinical psychologists. The purpose of this quiz is to help you dial in your skills of observation so that you notice more how your associates are showing up in your interactions.

    I hope you enjoy the quiz. If you know others who might like to work on the skill of observation, why not forward this to them.