gladwell

When you think you know what you’re looking for.

In this undated video (probably 2008), Best Selling Author Malcolm Gladwell explains how we have a fundamental mismatch problem in how we assess which people will be successful in a given field. He starts with the differences between NBA scouting combine results and how players actually wind up fairing in the league and then goes on to point out all sorts of other gaps as only Gladwell can

The whole talk is fantastic as Gladwell may be the greatest storyteller of our time. I could listen to the man read a Swahili phone book and I would swear it was Les Miserables.

Gladwell’s point here is that we absolutely suck when it comes to using criteria that will give us a meaningful incite to the how well a person will perform in a given role. For Teachers, we require all manner of certificates only to find these have virtually no impact on the actual performance of the teacher. Job interviews are generally only good for finding out if you’re attracted to someone, it turns out. Or perhaps they’re only useful for discovering if someone is very good in social interaction, but for all sorts of other jobs, how well one does in an interview translates poorly to the ultimate role they’ll have should they be hired.

Around ten years ago we had a major issue in a tough market where our newest Community Managers were getting their clocks cleaned. Their teams couldn’t sell to save their lives, and these new Managers were grossly incapable of teaching them how to sell as they’d never done it before themselves. How did this happen?

It turns out that we’d been promoting “Rental Managers” aka “Assistant Community Managers” who were responsible for collecting rent, running reports, and that’s about it. They avoided sales related work like it had two types of the plague. So, of course, when they got promoted to their own ship they had no idea how to hire for sales ability or how to teach it.

Why would we do this? Because the people in charge of minting the new Community Managers were people who lived in glass offices and who dealt a lot with reports. Guess who typically had great reports? Rental Managers. They were two peas in a pod. Of course, the Brass new that sales mattered, but they overlooked this factor when hiring because they liked the cut of the RM’s jib. They could see a bit of themselves in these up-and-comers, and did you see how clean their reports were? Plus they tended to LOOK like Community Managers.

The most vital component in a Community Manager at the time (in the toughest student rental market in the country) was the ability to rent units, the ability to hire people who could do likewise, and the ability to train the uninitiated on their team. And here we were hiring without any real regard for that fact. The people we should have been promoting to these roles were our best salespeople who lacked any of the care or ability for the paperwork reporting. That’s a relatively easy problem to solve – at least far easier than a whole team at a community that can’t sell ice water at noon in Phoenix.

Maybe the answer would have been to split the job into equal halves; give two nearby communities to a pair of Managers. One would be in charge of the sales and training for each while the other handled the books and reporting. The two would compliment one another and with any luck, some of their skills would rub off on each other. Maybe an Area Manager would have been the way to go, with a couple of executive salespeople put in place to cover the selling and training. There’s any number of solutions, but we were wildly wrong on our criteria for assessing a simple promotion and it cost us big.

I’m sure this mismatch is all too common for you as well. How many times have you experienced one in your life, where you or your organization made decisions on things by assessing criteria that mattered not a bit in determining the outcome or the best course of action? What blinded you? How did you eventually see past it, or have you?

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