You don’t have to live with mediocrity.

Do you spend more time trying to make average people good or making good people great? Which would you rather do?  Too many organizations bog down in the time drain of the former and, to make matters worse, their top notice.  Over time, one of two things (maybe both) will occur: those on the upper end will dial back their effort since excellence is apparently not expected, or more likely, they will leave.

Like most other things, mediocrity does not occur in a vacuum, nor is it a fatal condition. It can arise from several factors: 1) clashes with a supervisor, 2) a lack of adequate training, 3) a person being in the wrong job, or 4) an individual who should never have been hired. The good news is that each of these can be fixed; you just have to know how.

Let’s take the last case first, the person who is chronically underperforming. With that individual, one of the following statements is true:  the problem is the person or the problem is you. You cannot fix the unmotivated but you can improve your hiring procedures to weed out the possibility of people like this ever being hired. I’ll explain how shortly.

People in the wrong job are a different matter, partly because recognizing that requires patience and perception. Say you hired someone for a sales position; the person’s track record showed solid performance, references and other feedback (to the extent that can be gathered) were positive, and the interviews were great. But so far, it hasn’t worked. Why?

Maybe your sales model is unfamiliar, perhaps it’s channel- or distributor-driven rather than direct, or vice-versa. Maybe the department has a team system and this individual previously worked an individual territory. Or maybe it’s adjusting from inside sales to outside sales. The point is, something about this person gave you the impression of a good fit and maybe the fit is there, just not in this job.

The second item on our list above, a training issue, is self-explanatory. It is difficult to hold a person accountable for a sub-standard on-boarding process. Very few people walk in the door and immediately contribute. And finally, there is the management question.

Numbers 1, 3, and 4 can be addressed through assessments. Hiring the right people requires an understanding of what makes them right, knowing the cognitive skills that will be required, the behavioral traits that allow for a cultural fit, and understanding individual interests to determine if prospects will be motivated to actually do the work. No resume or interview or references can tell you that; only reliable and valid assessments can. And assessments can also map how a new hire should be managed, so that conflicts with a supervisor can be avoided.

The upside is, all of the information needed to properly assess a potential newcomer is already in-house. It’s in the collective skills and traits of your top performers. Have you ever assessed them to see what makes them tick? In doing so, you will have developed a model for subsequent hires; the assessment will allow to confidently predict which prospects are likely to succeed and which probably won’t. Assessments are not magic; they should never be the only consideration used in hiring, but they should be a part of it. Unless you enjoy paying the costs of frequent turnover, lost productivity, and wasted time.

Alex Lekas

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