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Assessing Assessments

Have you ever wondered why a once-promising new hire is performing far below your initial expectations?

From one perspective, what’s happening here is pretty simple: the person you hired is not the person you interviewed. The dynamic at work in an interview situation is similar to the dynamic at work on a first date. Lots of first dates lead to unfortunate surprises on the second and third dates. Some first dates lead to unfortunate surprises in the marriage!

Just about everybody looking to be hired can muster up an attractive resume, sound promising in a thirty-minute interview and get three references to fawn, feign and/or ambiguously attest to brilliant performance. Just as the dating process does, the traditional hiring process legitimately encourages candidates to put their best possible self in the spotlight and keep the negative realities (which we all have) hidden behind the curtain.

So what does all this mean? It means that if you really want to know how a person is going to behave after the honeymoon is over, it’s important to go a step further in the hiring process.

Good news. The proliferation of online assessment and evaluation tools makes it easy to learn what’s behind that curtain. Let’s take a quick look at one great way of assessing candidates and employees. This approach traces its roots back 2,500 years to a Greek philosopher, Empedocles. He recognized that people act in four distinct ways. Fast forward to today and we have the DISC behavioral assessment tool, based in Empedocles’ work and refined significantly since then. DISC identifies four quadrants of behavior that we act out in our everyday lives: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. These are four very different ways of interacting with the world. Yet DISC is not about what we can and can’t do. It’s about what energizes us.

Simply put, DISC takes advantage of the fact that people tend to gravitate towards and excel at activities and communication styles that energize them. If we’re in hiring mode, we will benefit from knowing what energizes a candidate, and how that profile matches up with the profile for which we are hiring. It’s not so much a question of whether a given candidate can do a certain job, but whether he or she will be energized by the act of doing it. DISC gives hiring managers a lot of insight on this front.

For example, I am math-savvy. I can spot a mistake on a form or checklist a mile away. I can do very detailed, analytical, process driven tasks … but all of this drains me of energy. On the other hand, making fast decisions, achieving tangible results, taking charge of a team, and winning freedom from rigid rules are all activities that fill me with energy. (These are all classic behavioral patterns of a Dominant.)

Thus, a Quality Assurance job in a cubicle, with little human interaction, checking spreadsheets and compliance with regulations, would not be a great match for me. Such a job is going to drain my energy tank quickly. When the tank dries up, so does my commitment to all those memorized platitudes I passed along in the pre-hire interview about being the ultimate QA guy.

A simple ten-minute Extended DISC assessment would have warned you loud and clear: “Red flag! Don’t put this guy in a role requiring minute accuracy and constant attention to detail.” All the training and coaching in the world won’t work in my case. Every hour I spend in the cubicle will drain my energy and my motivation. Why? Because you put me in a role requiring a high Compliance profile. DISC would have told you in a matter of minutes that I’m just not wired that way. As the saying goes, no matter how much mayonnaise you add, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken manure.

Years ago, Jim, a client of mine, had a star performer, Francine, who worked in the event planning field. What Jim lacked was a second person in sales, so he moved Francine over there.

She promptly failed. She expressed great anxiety to anyone who would listen about having to make prospecting calls. The calls simply terrified her. As an afterthought, Jim called me in to see whether anything could be done to turn the situation around. My first suggestion was that we do a DISC assessment of Francine.

The results indicated that just about every outwardly focused behavior needed in a sales role – assertiveness, negotiating, establishing influence, enjoying a competitive situation – were draining to Francine. On the other hand, many inwardly focused behaviors, important in event planning but not in selling – working alone, detail orientation, task completion, planning, rules and routines – filled her with energy. Easy solution: move Francine back to her old job. The sales role was just not right for her. Jim followed my advice and let her plan events again. She excelled and was energized again. I could have saved them a very stressful month and a half, and made the hiring process a lot more effective, if they’d let me do the assessment before Jim assigned Francine to the sales team!

Skeptical about assessments? Don’t be. Forewarned is forearmed. To get beyond the flowery interview and resume, what you see on the “first date,” consider conducting a pre-hire assessment. This way you’ll have a much better sense of who you’re really hiring before you say “I DO.”

Check out this podcast to learn more about DISC assessments and onboarding and hiring techniques.