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The Navigator
Charting a Path to Leadership Excellence
Volume: # 13January/February/March 2012

President's Message


We'd like to welcome you to 2012, a year which promises a brighter economy and abundant political discourse!

After more than four decades in the world of work I must confess to having become slightly jaded regarding what new generations have to learn all over again through experience (they just can't be told!). An obsession with leading edge ideas often ends up putting a lot of (rediscovered and relabeled) old wine into new shiny bottles. With this edition of The Navigator we'll begin examining some possible timeliness truths in industrial and organizational psychology. We invite your additions and comments. Thanks and Happy New Year.

 Bruce Griffiths  


Bruce's signature


   Bruce Griffiths

Timeless Truths about Management: What Does Organization Science Tell Us?

Bruce Griffiths and Bob Power

This is the first of a series of articles that will examine the fundamental truths about management theory and practice that have persisted over time. Future installments will deal with talent management, motivating employees to peak performance and creating a positive culture.

Our culture is fascinated with novelty--we eagerly wait for the next version of our smart phone, the cool tennis shoes just released, or the latest flavor of coffee. This same obsession with anything new also produces constant pressure on organizational theorists and writers to present new ways of thinking about fundamental managerial challenges such as leadership development, motivation and employee engagement (and it provides an irresistible invitation to every new generation of managers to succumb to the latest fad). The last few decades have seen any number of these seemingly fresh ideas come and go, including "One Minute Managers," the Total Quality Movement (TQM), Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Management by Objectives (MBOs) and Business Process Reengineering (BPR). They all surfaced as the solution, many only to fade over time as even newer approaches eclipsed them.

Still, there are steadfast theories and ideas, proven over time that you can always count on to provide insight and guidance, bucking the notion that "new is better." After a lifetime in leadership development, working with hundreds of public and private sector organizations, we have identified a few basic principles that have emerged from organizational science to consistently inform our decisions, techniques and knowledge.

Hiring the Best
We'll start the discussion with the challenge of finding excellent employees. While scores of hiring tests and dozens of tips on interviewing have been invented to guide managers as they screen job candidates, a persistent truth across time is this: The best predictor of future job performance is recent past job performance in a similar context. We've all heard of this fundamental principle, yet it can get neglected in the excitement of a new selection test or interview technique. While internal applicants can (but not always) leave a clear performance trail, it's proven that the most effective practice in interviewing external candidates employs the technique of having each applicant prove competence through "behavioral examples of historical performance." That is, ask questions that force the candidate to identify past actions that tell you about performance in the form of a story, such as "tell me about a time you've been effective (or ineffective) in the workplace?" Fairly general questions like this can be revealing about the candidates choices and when combined with more specific questions related to the job at hand are much more likely to be effective. For external hires, it's also important to carry out reference checks and to pay close attention to the quality and tone of the endorsement. References represent the performance history of an external applicant and careful questioning can disclose whether or not the candidate has been on the right trajectory for your role.

Defining Ideal Job Performance
Another truth: Ensuring an organization has the best talent is the absolute need to provide robust behavioral definitions of ideal job performance. This is the so-called "criteria problem" in defining a model of job performance that can be used to compare and contrast candidates for job readiness. While there have been many attempts to identify this ideal state through complicated definitions of knowledge, skill, ability, personality, beliefs, values and attitude, the one most reliable description remains behavioral-that is not what someone says they believe, but a description of how they act.

This truth was discovered in the 1940s and '50s in the classic managerial assessment centers of that era that successfully identified front-line leaders. If you want your talent evaluators to be reliable judges of future performance you need to define that ideal performance in behavioral terms. Experts clustered performance indicators into behavioral criteria and called them "dimensions" or "variables." These criteria included descriptions like "forcefulness," "organizing and planning," "problem solving and decision making," "sensitivity/relationship building," and "drive/energy" and were strictly defined in behavioral terms. These dimensions were then effectively used to evaluate candidate readiness using realistic job simulations like leaderless group discussions and in-basket exercises. The current incarnation of these "dimensions" is found in the term "competency" which, in its best form, still employs a behavioral definition as a primary characterization of the ideal state. (By the way, the classic dimensions listed above have also stood the test of time as still defining exceptional performance in front-line managers).

Being "People Smart"
Much has also been written recently about the need to be "people smart," or emotionally intelligent, to be effective in leadership roles. But once again, any good set of behavioral dimensions (aka competencies) has always contained a subset of criteria that recognize this need. Indeed, any first-rate competency model based on exemplar leader performance typically contains all of the essential criteria of sensitivity/compassion, self-objectivity, confidence, relationship building, conflict management, and integrity that define an emotionally intelligent leader. They've been there all along-the EQ label is just another way to present it.

Finally, a universal truth in the talent-training realm is revealed in the current infatuation with computer-based or video training. After an over-reliance on computer simulations and exercises for learning, the notion that a skill must be learned in the context in which it is performed has resurfaced as essential. Simply put, it's efficient to teach a knowledge-based competency like financial acumen using a computer or video-based teaching approach, but more complex skills-based competencies like influence require actual performance-based learning and skill practice. Learning leadership is like learning golf, there is only so much to be gained from videos and computer-based instruction. Ultimately you must practice the skills required either as an apprentice or in a behavioral simulation.

In summary, the timeless truths surrounding talent all involve the importance of a behavioral approach to testing for, and training for, a needed competence. If someone has historically performed a needed skill at the proficiency and in the context required, they are more likely to perform at that same level in your organization. And if you need to train a performance-based skill you're much more likely to see behavior change if you teach the skill using a behavioral approach.

Our next newsletter will address the most durable theories in what is currently called employee engagement. There has been much made of the need to cater to the different motivational needs of different generations but we'll propose that the best companies have created motivating environments that provide engaged employees from any generation.
Polaris Certification Workshop
On Friday, March 23rd, OSI will be holding the quarterly Polaris Certification Workshop. This one day workshop will be for certified coaches and/or HR professionals interested in the OSI Polaris Competency Model and its supporting applications, especially the 360 degree developmental assessment. If you are interested in further information or to register, please contact Crystal Matsuura at OSI at cmatsuura@orgsysint.com or 858.455.0923.


Welcome to Our Newest Polaris Licensees!
OSI would like to welcome the newest members to the Polaris License Community: API Healthcare; Harris & Associates; and Kele, Inc.
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President's Message
Timeless Truths about Management
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American Greetings 
Blizzard Entertainment
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Dow Corning Corp.
GE Capital
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Schneider Trucking Company
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