True Talent Management Grit

Image courtesy of Fickr/Alan Levine

Angela Duckworth is one of the smartest people you will ever meet. Magna cum laude at Harvard, Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, Ivy League psychology professor. MacArthur (“genius award”) Award winner in 2013. Tom Brady of the academic world, so to speak.

She is also an energetic and charismatic teacher (I have taken a class from her) and a brilliant empirical researcher who focuses on “grit.” What is grit, at least in psychological terms? It is as simple as it sounds: the ability to maintain sustained performance toward a goal over time. Think of the Mattie Ross character in the book and movie(s), “True Grit,” who was relentless in her pursuit of the man who killed her father. Or a bill collector. In personality psychology, we define it as a character strength and virtue related to persistence and perseverance and self-discipline. Others might define it as good, old-fashioned “stick to it-ness.”

Do your employees have a healthy dose of grit? Do you? And is it important in the workplace? You betcha. Angela, along with other research psychologists, has been measuring grit in high-performance institutions for the last several years and has made some interesting findings.

  • At West Point, grit was a stronger predictor than SAT scores or physical attributes as to who made it through Beast Barracks, the grueling boot camp indoctrination for freshmen.
  • In the sales force of a major company, grit was the strongest predictor of commissions and retention.
  • In the National Spelling Bee, grit predicted the winners more than IQ or learning skills.
  • At Wharton business school, grit was a stronger predictor of academic performance than college extracurricular activities or entrance exams. The researchers found that people who completed a major assignment or task with one employer (evidence of grit) had a better chance of success at Wharton than people who hopped from job to job before applying.

Most companies don't even think about measuring grit as part of their hiring or assessment processes. However, you can and you should. It is simple. Try it out on yourself first and see.

Angela has developed a grit scale that you can use online. Go to this website, which is maintained by the University of Pennsylvania, register and find the grit scale (there are lot of other interesting psychological measurements on the page as well). It asks you to answer such questions about yourself as “I have difficulty on maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete,” or “I finish whatever I begin,” and has been shown in follow-up studies to be a valid and reliable measurement of your ability to sustain effort over time.

And what can be better than a “gritty” workplace team that can “sustain its effort over time” in pursuit of a goal?

Too often in HR, we make things overly complicated. It is easier to learn to fly a 767 than master some of the modern performance management systems out there. Follow the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) principle like I do when designing your performance management processes. Focus on simple, easy to understand things that make a big difference. Like “True Grit.”