A Blueprint for Success

 -  5/14/13

Use personality assessments to identify the traits that set top performers apart.

In a world where unemployment is high, yet good talent is hard to find, companies must be more structured in their hiring and employee development approach. To stay competitive, companies have to find and develop individuals who share the qualities of their top performers. The first step is to determine what those qualities are, and the next is to seek out those qualities in applicants and within the organization. Using a validated personality assessment is one way to identify the traits that set top performers apart.

In working with our company, Caliper, during the past two decades, rental car company Avis Budget Group has developed a top-performer benchmark to clearly understand what potential exists in its sales force. This process has become an ongoing, integral part of the company’s hiring and development process.

“We had in-depth personality profiles conducted for everyone in our sales organization,” said Tom Gartland, North American president of Avis Budget Group. “That gave us a baseline view of each individual’s potential, strengths and limitations. When we match to their current performance, we are able to view them from where they are now, how we can help them meet their goals and where we see them moving next, with an eye even further down the road.”

Paul Orleman, director of global management development for business software company SAP, took a similar approach in 2008 with assessments for the company’s top performers and high-potential employees. He then had growth plans developed for each of those people, saying growth plans “start with understanding the individual goals of each of these highly talented people and letting them know that the leadership of the company is committed to their futures.”

In addition to looking at top performers, by studying marginal and bottom performers, leaders can compare results and see how they differ. The result of this comparison is usually quite telling, highlighting the key qualities that sharply distinguish one group from another.

This exercise allows management to do two things. First, if psychological testing or a similar assessment technique is used, management can compare a job applicant’s assessment with top performers’ profiles to determine how closely the applicant’s profile matches the ideal. This will provide a clear picture of whether an applicant who interviews well truly matches the job.

The second benefit is that it allows management to see where the deficiencies are in the marginal performers and to start to bridge those gaps with targeted training and coaching.

At smaller companies, there may not be a sample size large enough to study. It is only slightly useful for a company with six salespeople to attempt a benchmark using its top two people. In that situation, it is useful to assess the team both as a means of upgrading individual productivity and as a way to get a sense of overall strengths and limitations. When it comes to hiring — as opposed to development — for smaller companies, it is most appropriate for them to use industry norms as the benchmark to judge promising applicants.

In either case, the ideal profile can serve as a roadmap for future hiring. It will allow companies to make informed decisions about which tradeoffs in a particular candidate might be acceptable, and what kind of training or coaching would be appropriate to address any weakness from the beginning.

Thus, while some compromises inevitably will have to be made, the overall result of the personality assessment approach is often a substantial increase in a company’s hiring success. Further, with this new information in mind, leaders can look deeper within their organizations to identify employees who have the ability to move into other roles. And when outside hiring is the option, this approach allows companies to select only individuals who have the potential to flourish in the culture.

Herbert Greenberg is founder and CEO and Patrick Sweeney is president of Caliper Corp., a global human capital management assessment and development firm. They are co-authors of How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer: Second Edition and can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.

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