Be Politically Incorrect and Trust Your Hunch

Let me say for a start that understanding effective selection practice is essential. But forgetting your ‘gut feeling’ is problematic. What’s worse is that many managers, especially at the senior level are being taught to ignore their inner sense of ‘Will I actually get on with this person?’

Effective selection practice is all the learned skills and knowledge around the processes of choosing the right person for the right job for the right organisation. Every manager involved in recruiting should know them. To ignore effective practice in relation to the criteria, the questions we ask (and don’t ask) and the assessments we make is endangering the welfare of both the company and the person being considered.

Perhaps the most important aspect of drawing upon your gut feel or inner sense centres around a candidate’s potential emotional attachment to your organisation or their role. The question being ‘Is this a job, a culture a brand or an organisation that can really be engaged with?’ A really good example is a candidate who applied for a senior marketing role at a not-for-profit on the basis of a strong connection to human rights. The selection process was independent, objective and followed all of the rudimentary elements of effective practice; matching experience to competency, behavioural questioning and clear articulation of the job accountabilities and KPIs. The candidate was strong. She provided examples of experiences that thoroughly matched the required competencies, voiced a deep passion for the area of community support offered by the organisation and a strong desire to move her career ahead by stepping up to her first executive role. But one thing worried the CEO. The twenty eight year old woman was at home with her parents and had done limited travel and never travelled for a job. This national role would require interstate or international travel every other week. The CEO made his concerns clear to the panel – very much based on his experience as a father and mentor to his 3 daughters’ friends. He spoke about two similar situations where young people from similar backgrounds had moved into executive roles, one had been successful, whilst another less independent individual only lasted a short time because of adjusting to the challenges of travel. This young woman reminded him of the latter and his ‘gut feel’ was to go with another equally qualified candidate, who had however demonstrated a little less passion for the ideals of the organisation.

Even he was surprised at the passionate, perhaps even aggressive reactions of the panel members. Allegations of age based discrimination, being a traitor to the organisation’s principles and a suggestion that he was ‘out of touch with the predicament of young people who cannot afford to move out of home – even on a current salary of $85,000 – given the cost of renting or buying a property.’ He faced an avalanche of harsh and personalised criticism that resulted in him sheepishly agreeing to select the young woman. Such was the barrage he felt paralysed to even look deeper into his concerns. Of course, the obvious result being the young woman was gone within 5 months citing the travel as her main issue.

One of my greatest concerns is that executives with life experience are feeling deeply reticent to draw on and utilise one of their greatest attributes. That is an inner sense of what will work or not work. If they communicate this openly ‘without deep research’ they are often shot down and labelled a maverick. ‘The hunch’ as it is sometimes known is an extraordinarily important element of leadership and entrepreneurialism. It allows organisations to defy the boundaries of logic and create new paradigms. It is as equally important that hunches are not ignored but explored during the selection process, just as it is vital to follow effective practices. However, for me, my inner sense about a candidate always ultimately defines my decision making. I wont hire until I have put my hunch to bed, one way or the other. Does that mean I have probably lost some good candidates along the way? Yes, without a doubt people have walked away from the opportunity of working with my organisations because I have taken my time on the basis of a hunch. But I have also learned that following my ‘inner sense’ has generally landed me the right people in the right space to succeed.

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