From the Ask Tom mailbag –
I just finished reading Hiring Talent – thank you for writing such an outstanding book! As an executive recruiter having recently discovered Requisite Organization, your application of Jaques’ work has been by far the most helpful I have found. Nevertheless, I noted with interest no mention in your book of his Mental Processing (declarative, cumulative, serial and parallel) in determining level of work, so reaching out to find out your view on this in assessing leadership potential.
You have indeed paid attention. Elliott was keenly aware of tools (training, experience, insight) that he would use vs those tools he would train others to use. Near the end of his life, he was quite sensitive to the training of industrial psychologists and HR professionals in the use of language analysis to determine potential capability according to the four levels of mental processing. His reservations were related to the potential for abuse, misdiagnosis and personal damage that could be the result of such efforts. Understand, that this perspective (RO) is very powerful and, misused, can be devastating to an individual.
This does not minimize the value of our understanding of mental processing, but will have an impact on the tools we might use.
In my presentations and workshops, I make a distinction between two diagnostic approaches –
- The head
- The work
Elliott was a psychotherapist and perfectly comfortable in the head. But he was also aware of the pitfalls in that approach, specifically for managers and supervisors.
I stay out of the head. In my conversations with Elliott’s widow, Kathryn Cason, I came to the conclusion that we serve ourselves well if we would only focus on the work. Elliott himself, admitted that the field of psychology, with its IQ tests and personality profiles, has no clear definition for the behavior called work. That is why most psychometric assessments (Meyers-Briggs, Profiles XT, Predictive Index, DISC) are inconsistent as a selection tool. They are statistically valid and repeatable instruments, but success related to work can be elusive.
The second approach, focus on the work, turns out to be a natural application of RO for hiring managers and managers-once-removed. Calibrating mental processing in the work yields more practical results than attempting to divine an individual’s potential capability. I coach my students not to play amateur psychologist, but play to their strengths as managers. They are experts in the work.
Hiring Talent provides the prescription, using the behavioral interview, to parse through the work. The four levels of mental processing are there, but embedded in descriptions of work. My definition of work is solving problems and making decisions. Most managers can describe, in detail, the level of problem-solving and level of decision-making required in a role. And that is the focus of Hiring Talent. If we have accurately described the problem-solving and decision-making in a role, then the evaluation becomes simple. Does the candidate have experience and is the candidate competent solving those problems and making those decisions?
This approach is powerful because of its underlying science combined with the power of the behavioral interview. It is accessible to any hiring manager without exposure to RO. Even more powerful for managers familiar with RO.
I have always maintained that an executive recruiter who uses the methodology outlined in Hiring Talent will be head and shoulders above its competition in qualifying candidates for its client base.