Last month, we were introduced to the first of three questions one should consider asking all prospective employees – but especially those who will hold more senior roles. To recap: this technique is not meant to replace any formal assessment/s, and is merely a “slice of the pie” when it comes to assessing a prospective candidate for a role. In fact “Holistan” was derived from the word holistic because it is our ambition to offer, as far as possible, a holistic ‘picture’ of your candidate – and this can only be done when a decision is based on the global perspective; that is, the candidate’s qualifications, experience, reference checks, their impression during the interview process, performance on skills based assessment, as well as psychometric assessments (and other criterions which maybe valuable to you – such as AA rating, criminal record checks, etc.).
Thus we are happy to empower you with this technique, but keep in mind the data gained from asking these questions is only a piece of the puzzle. You may remember that the theorem that these questions are based on is called Stratified Systems Theory (SST) by Elliot Jacques. According to Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst and organisational psychologist, managers in organisations are required to grow and acquire new skills as businesses evolve. Their ability to change and assimilate new skills and knowledge may be based on their potential capabilities and cognitive ability. Jaques proposes that work is structured in levels of increasing complexity in the organisation. Higher levels in the organisation therefore require greater cognitive skills than at the lower levels. At different levels in the organisation, tasks vary due to their complexity and become more unstructured and complex at the higher levels in the organisation. “Cognitive complexity” includes the ability to use environmental indicators to make distinctions, classify things, identify complex relationships and develop creative solutions to problems (Grobler, 2005).
Last month, we learned the first of three critical questions was:
1. What is the most complex problem you’ve solved at work?
Question two goes like this:
2. Tell me about a strategic relationship you fostered to enable an important aspect of your function?
Operational answers (range from SST 1-2) are usually characterised by the candidate focusing on a particular person (usually influential, senior and highly regarded in the organisation) and fostering a relationship with that chosen individual. Examples can be spending more time with that particular person or asking them to become their mentor, all in a bid for self-development, opportunity, and self-fulfilment. These are effective techniques from a professional to gain invaluable skills by strategically aligning themselves with core individuals (again, don’t get seduced by the use of “strategic language”).
More strategic thinkers (range from SST 3-5) don’t necessarily interpret “relationship” as an alliance between two people; they see “relationship” as a connection between teams, departments, business units, stakeholders, silos, other businesses, industries, communities, competitors and more. Their thinking is not focused on a single association, but multiple associations between numerous “others”. The purpose (usually) for fostering such relationships is to create a more effective system and at the end of the day, facilitate better business.
Don’t get me wrong – there may be a degree of self-gain too for strategic thinkers (depending on the candidate’s value paradigm… remember I mentioned encompassing a holistic view of each individual?!). From a problem solving perspective, however, the main difference is that more concrete thinking may encompass inherently one-on-one interactions, whilst more complex thinkers may prefer an integrative approach.
3. Tell me about a time where you had to gain buy-in from a group of apprehensive seniors regarding an innovation you came up with?
Candidates who are more comfortable in an operational sphere will focus on presenting credible data and ‘facts’ to sway people’s thinking. This may include quantifiable research, statistical correlations, and other forms of ‘proof’. The thinking, although potentially sophisticated, is seated in the short to medium term. Candidates who demonstrate more complexity in their thinking focus on a combination of the tangibles and intangibles. Their method may very well appreciate concrete, hard ‘facts’, but they may recognise that their audience is a culmination of those who don’t all prescribe to the “seeing is believing” premise. Thus, they may take time in working toward changing perceptions, beliefs or even values.
What is noteworthy, however, is to point out that complexity in thinking is NOT synonymous with intelligence, or being “better” than concrete thinkers. I have met the most talented, successful operational thinkers; their whole basis for success if the fact that they are so proficient in their area of expertise. As alluring as strategic thinkers like Richard Branson are (business magnate, inventor and philanthropist who experienced poor academic performance and plagued by dyslexia); it is equally attractive to recognise the talent and skill in specialist thinkers such as Heston Blumenthal, a pioneer of multisensory cooking, food-pairing and food encapsulation.
If you are interested in employing a more scientific approach to your recruitment process, get in touch with one of our consultants, where we will be able to advise you on the most appropriate psychometric assessments for your business.
Grobler, Schalk W (2005) “Research Report: Organisational Structure and Elliot Jaques’ Stratified Systems Theory”. UNISA: Johannesburg
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