“It’s About Selection Stupid”

Hello, I’m Rowan Jackson, Chairman of Dryden Human Capital. I started my working life as an Officer in the Royal Marines, a high performance organisation among high performance organisations.

Today, this small organisation is only 4% of the UK Armed forces, but provides 49% of UK Special forces and was awarded 25% of the gallantry awards in Afghanistan.

What is it that makes this exceptional 350 year old organisation a high performer today?

One of the answers is selection. They put enormous effort into selecting the right people, as the first step in building a high performance organisation.

The selection process to become a marine, not an officer, is three days long and includes physical tests. The result? A 6-month waiting list of 700 young men waiting to start training.

The secret is in the rigour of the selection methods.

45% of the recruit intakes are academically qualified to be an officer and 11% are graduates. Turnover is lowest of all equivalents in the UK Armed forces.

A little test for you

Here are three high performance organisations that put rigour into selection; see if you can guess who they are, (answers are at the end).

  1. Founded in London in 1986 by two young entrepreneurs, this company has over 3000 unsolicited applications to join EVERY MONTH! The selection process is simple: If you reach the filtered stage, you work for us in one of our shops for 1 day. If you like us and we like you then we will ask you to work for us in a shop for 1 week. If you like us and we like you then we will hire you. Today it has nearly 400 shops in UK, Hong Kong and USA.
  2. Founded over 25 years ago this retail bank was at one stage growing at the rate of 30,000 new accounts per month by referrals from delighted customers alone. One of its selection criteria at foundation, and still today, is: “we do not take people who have worked in banking before”. Its people are its differentiator.
  3. In the 1980s this company built a new factory in the East Midlands of the UK. It needed 350 shop floor workers. An advert in the papers produced over 30,000 replies. It weeded the applicants to 1,200 candidates and then gave them two days of intensive rigorous assessment and selection, more than most CEOs get today. Where are many of those 350 today? Still there. This company is now No 1 in the world.

Talent Economics

Recently, Gyan Nagpal has published a book called “Talent Economics; the fine line between winning and losing in the global war for talent”.

Unsurprisingly, for an economist, it is full of statistics. Using them, it shows which countries will be the winners and losers in the next 5 years.

It talks about how different company strategies will play out in the next 50 years.

Those with “Cost Play” and “Product Play” strategies will lose out to those that have “Customer and Market Play” strategies. Nagpal quotes a University of Maryland study that says: “Less than 10% of the world’s 500 largest countries have even a close to robust strategy for either China or India, let alone both, the two largest and fastest growing nations on earth. By robust strategy, we mean a strategy that is fundamentally market driven.”

Are you selecting the right people for a market driven strategy NOW?

Here are a few thoughts for you on selection, see how many you are doing right.

  1. Interview Training. If you conduct selection interviews with candidates for your company, have you recently been formally trained as a selection interviewer? If the answer is no, then research has shown that your ability to select the right candidate is statistically random. As one psychologist put it: “You may as well chuck ping pong balls out of the window onto the street and see who they hit”. Don’t interview anyone until you have been formally trained to do so. Selection is a precision operation; you expect your doctor to be properly trained before making a diagnosis on you, so too do candidates expect interviewers to be properly trained to do the job.
  2. Role Guide. If you conduct interviews with candidates to what extent do you have a fully researched role guide that helps you to define exactly what you are looking for, in detail? If the answer is no, then you might as well not do any recruitment. To misquote Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, if you do not know what you are looking for, any candidate will do. Start with deep thought about what the ideal candidate looks like, write it down, revise it, test it on your colleagues and improve it constantly.
  3. Candidate CV. If you conduct interviews, do you use the candidates CV in the interview itself? If yes, more fool you! A CV is a sales document and most candidates will be delighted that you are using THEIR agenda for YOUR interview.

So what do high performance organisations do? Here are a few tips.

  1. Define Roles. They define in great detail what exactly they are looking for at the beginning. If they do not do this they know they end up with a “Garbage In, Garbage Out” problem.
  2. Train Interviewers. They train all their interviewers rigorously using video feedback so that their skills are of the highest level. They repeat this training to refresh and remind the team of people how important this skill is to their company.
  3. Plan. They plan the selection process with great care so that the best candidates are subjected to the most thorough examination. They don’t rely solely on interviews and use tests, simulations and other exercises.
  4. Application Forms not CV’s. They never use CVs; they send out applications forms that state the information that they want to find out, not what the candidates want to tell them.
  5. Employer Brand. They create an employer brand that has queues of people wanting to join them, without advertising, just like the Royal Marines.

I mentioned Royal Marines Officers earlier; how long is their selection process? 6 days, including the same physical tests that marines in the ranks have to pass. Except for officers the pass standard is higher. Naturally, if you are going to lead the finest you have to be better than they are.

So what selection process do you put your managers through?

Kind regards,
Rowan Jackson

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