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Insights

One weird trick to diversify your organization

By Cyrell Williams, PhD
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Focus only on what has been demonstrated to be necessary for good performance, not what you think or feel is necessary. That is all.

If you were hiring a photographer for an event, how would you know if they were any good at what they do? Would you look at what school they went to? Where they worked before? Their years of experience?

What do answers to any of these questions tell you about the person’s ability to do the work? Let us look at what each one tells us about the person:

  • What school they went to. What this tells you is what school they went to. That is all.
  • Where they worked. Now, what this tells you is where they worked. That is all.
  • Their years of experience. Not unlike the previous two factors, this tells you how many years of experience they have. That is all.

None of the above will tell us anything about the person’s ability to photograph. In fact, your biases can get in the way of choosing the best photographer.

So, if you cannot tell whether a person is a good photographer by finding out the information mentioned above, how can you tell? A better approach is to look at their work. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Specifically, past performance on tasks that are necessary to be successful as a photographer.

For a photographer, success would be great pictures. If you were selecting a photographer, you would not ask them to cite the Preamble to the Constitution, because it is not necessary to do the job. You would only judge them on what is required for good performance — taking great pictures. I am simplifying this a bit to make a point, but I think you get the picture (pun very much intended).

When seeking a photographer, it may be easier to determine what a “good” is, but what about for other jobs? This can be complicated by subjective interpretations of “good” performance. Organizations often do not do the work to determine what is required for good performance, so people are free to decide what they think is necessary and insert their own biases into the process.

Fortunately, there is a way for organizations to determine what is good: job analysis. Job analysis is a process that helps employers determine what tasks are necessary for a job and what knowledge, skills, and abilities are required to be successful. Additionally, validating a job analysis is the process of making sure that what you thought was correct. Unfortunately, many interviewers have neither heard of nor understand job analysis, so how can we address this problem?

When someone says they want someone from X industry or X type of company, I start by asking, “How do you know that this is important to be successful in this role?” I also do this if I hear that interviewers want to ask candidates questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Answers to this question tell the interviewer nothing about the person’s ability to exhibit the competencies necessary to do the job. However, asking a person to explain how they engaged in a certain set of behaviors necessary for good performance does. The key is to focus not on the behaviors you think or feel are necessary, but on the ones that have been demonstrated to be necessary.



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Focusing on the right criteria is about making better hires. Period. Reframing how you think about hiring by focusing on what has been demonstrated to be necessary for good performance, and not your biases, will do that for you. It just happens that if you reframe your thinking, you will make better hires and be less likely to screen out candidates who interviewers say are “not a culture fit” or “do not have executive presence,” for example.

With that in mind, the next time you hear an interviewer interject what sounds like a personal bias or preference into the process, consider asking the following questions:

  1. How do you know that is important to be successful in this role?
  2. What have you done to validate that?
  3. How do you know you are assessing the candidates adequately on that?

If you focus more on what is necessary for good performance and challenge your own biases, you are likely to improve the quality of your hires.

And about diversity: I wrote this out of frustration at how often I have had to challenge interviewers on how their biases may lead to negative outcomes for their business. Because to me, positive outcomes are a priority. Organizations should be hiring the best people, no matter how they identify or appear.

Unfortunately, we tend to favor people that are like us. People that look like us, that speak like us, that worked where we worked, and went to the same schools as us. However, if we can focus on what has been demonstrated to be necessary for good performance, and not on what we think or feel is necessary based on our biases, we will hire better and more diverse people.


This blog post was originally published here.




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