Category Archives: Career Assessment

Career Assessment

Comparative Rankings May Reduce Gender Bias in Career Advancement

Iris Bohnet

Iris Bohnet

An “evaluation nudge” is a decision framing aid that may reduce biased judgments in hiring, promotion, and job assignments, according to Harvard’s Iris Bohnet, Alexandra van Geen, and Max H. Bazerman.

Alexandra van Geen

Alexandra van Geen

They recommended that organizations evaluate multiple employees simultaneously rather than each person independently.
This approach differs from “Stack Ranking” (“Rank and Yank”), advocated by GE’s Jack Welch and critiqued by many.

Multiple simultaneous evaluations are frequently used for hiring decisions, but less frequently when considering employee candidates for developmental job assignments and promotions.

Max Bazerman

Max Bazerman

Bazerman and Sally B. White, then of Northwestern with George F. Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon demonstrated preference reversals between joint and separate evaluation.

George F. Loewenstein

George F. Loewenstein

Lack of comparison information in separate evaluation typically leads people to rely on internal referents as decision norms. These internal criteria may be biased preferences, according to Princeton’s Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Dale T. Miller of Stanford.

Dale T. Miller

Dale T. Miller

Lack of comparative referents also can lead evaluators to rely on easily calibrated attributes, found University of Chicago’s Christopher K. Hsee.
Both of these mental shortcuts can systematically exclude members of under-represented groups.

Christopher K. Hsee

Christopher K. Hsee

Another problem is the “want/should” battle of emotions and preferences, outlined by Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame, with Duke’s Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni in their provocatively titled article, “Negotiating with Yourself and Losing.”

Ann E. Tenbrunsel

Ann E. Tenbrunsel

They argue that the want self” tends to dominate when deciding on a single option because there’s less information and less need to justify the decision.
In contrast, the more analytic “should self” is activated by the need to explain decision rationales.

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Bohnet’s team asked more than 175 volunteer “employees” to perform a math task or a verbal task, then 554 “employer” evaluators (44% male, 56% female) received information on “employees’” past performance, gender, and the average past performance for all “employees.”

“Employers” were paid based on their “employees’’” performance in future tasks, similar to managerial incentives in many organizations.
Consequently, “employers” were rewarded for selecting people they considered effective performers.
Based on information about “employee” performance, evaluators decided to:

  • “Hire” the “employees,” or
  • Recommend the “employees” to perform the task in future, or
  • Return “employees” to the pool for random assignment to an employer.
Keith E. Stanovich

Keith E. Stanovich

The Harvard team found that “employers” who evaluated “employees” in relation to each other’s performance were more likely to select employees based on past performance, rather than relying on irrelevant criteria like gender.

Richard F. West

Richard F. West

In contrast, more than 50% of “employers” evaluated each candidate separately without reference to other “employees,” selected under-performing people for advancement.
Only 8% of employers selected under-performers when comparing “employees” to each other, and multiple raters for multiple candidates also tended to select the higher performing “employees.”

Team Bohnet suggested that people have two distinct and situation-specific modes of thinking, “System 1” and “System 2,” illustrated by University of Toronto’s Keith E. Stanovich and Richard F. West of James Mason University.

Keith Stanovich-Richard West System 1- System 2 ThinkingThese cognitive patterns can lead evaluators to select incorrect decision norms, leading to biased outcomes.

Decision tools like the “evaluative nudge” decision-framing can reduce bias in hiring and promotion decisions, leading to a more equitable workplace opportunity across demographic groups.

-*What other evaluation procedures can reduce unconscious bias in performance appraisal and career advancement selection processes?

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Do Unintended Consequences of Forced-Ranking of Employee Performance Outweigh their Short-Term Benefits?

Forced ranking (“stack ranking” or “rank and yank”) of employee performance was one contribution to MSFT’s loss of momentum, according to Kurt Eichenwald’s article on How Microsoft lost its Mojo. 

His extensive interviews with current and past Microsoft employees point to forced rankings leading to:

  •     Competitive sabotage and undermining of peers
  •     Focus on short-term results that coincide with twice-yearly rankings
  •     Undermined intrinsic motivation in face of  “impossible”-seeming odds
  •     Reduced innovation
  •     Lack of collaboration
  •     Focus on “visibility” to managers’ peers instead of improving performance
  •     Misguided decisions
  •     Mistrust of management and colleagues
  •     Unwanted attrition
  •     Stress for all.Forced ranking systems, used by a substantial number of Fortune 500 companies, is the eighth most-frequently used appraisal technique in the U.S.

It requires management teams to evaluate employees’ performance against other employees, rather against pre-determined standards.
The goal is to create a meritocracy in which superior performance is recognized and under-performance is “managed.”

Steve Scullen

Steve Scullen evaluated “forced distribution rating system” (FDRS) in a simulation study of 100 companies of 100 employees each over a three year period.
He reported in Personnel Journal that forced ranking and hypothetically firing of the bottom 5% or 10%, resulted in a 16% productivity improvement.
Productivity gains increase when more low performers were removed.

He acknowledged the negative consequences of forced rankings for employee morale, teamwork, collaboration, recruitment, shareholder perception, and brand image.
Nevertheless, Scullen found that the potential problems were counterbalanced by benefits.

Scullen determined that most benefit from forced ranking comes in the first few years of implementation: “…each time a company improves its workforce by replacing an employee with a new hire, it becomes more difficult to do so again… the better the workforce is, the more difficult it must be to hire applicants who are superior to the current employees who would be fired.

Dick Grote’s Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work, argues that most companies achieve benefits of forced ranking systems in “a few years” and are advised to replace
forced ranking with other talent management initiatives after the organization has implemented a refined selection process to ensure hiring top talent.

Peter Capelli

Peter Cappelli of The Wharton School and author of Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty, quantified the benefit of removing low performers:  This group contributes about five times less to organizations than high performers, according to his research.

In contrast, Alys Woodward of IDC challenged these arguments in her article on misunderstanding and misuse of statistics in stack ranking.

Alys Woodward

She concluded that “stack ranking assumes the statistics dictate reality, rather than reflect reality.”

Likewise, W. Edwards Deming opposed ranking because he thought that it destroys pride in workmanship, and opined that “the only way to improve a product or service is for management to improve the system that creates that product or service. Rewarding or punishing individuals trapped in the system is pointless and counterproductive.”

W. Edwards Deming

Robert Mathis and John Jackson pointed out potential legal challenges to stack-ranking.
They note that the practice may be difficult to defend in a court test because it does not comply with the following legal criteria:

  •     Criteria based on job analysis
  •     Absence of disparate impact and evidence of validity
  •     Formal evaluation criteria that limit managerial discretion
  •     Rating linked to job duties and responsibilities
  •     Documentation of appraisal activities
  •     Prevents action from controlling employee’s career
  •     Counseling to help poor performers improve

Though most employees do not seek out employers who use stack ranking, organizations may realize a short-term benefit in streamlining the workforce.
However, the practice may have unintended “soft” consequences, legal challenges, and time-limited value.

-*What positive and negative impacts have you observed related to forced-ranking appraisal systems?

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Developing “Big 8” Job Competencies

George Hallenbeck

George Hallenbeck

Better job performance is associated with eight capabilities known as “The Big 8”, according to Korn-Ferry International’s George Hallenbeck, in the Leadership Architect® Library of Competencies:

• Dealing with Ambiguity,
• Creativity,
• Innovation Management,
• Strategic Agility,
• Planning,
• Motivating Others,
• Building Effective Teams,
• Managing Vision & Purpose.

He analyzed more than 1500 ratings on this 360 degree assessment, and found that just 12% of executives possessed four or more of “The Big 8.”
None of these organizational leaders demonstrated more than six of these competencies, though they consistently showed more than individual contributors.
This suggests that although executives demonstrate more of critical leadership capabilities than non-leaders, the vast majority have significant room for professional development.

Daniel GolemanExecutives and individual contributors who had more of “The Big 8” competencies also had more of “Career Staller and Stopper” behaviors.
Bold individuals who demonstrate persistance may effectively execute, but may run afoul of key stakeholders and influencers.

Self-Awareness and Self-Management, identified in Daniel Goleman’s framework for Emotional Intelligence, may be a key to balancing between the Big 8’s performance enhancing impacts while mitigating their potential drawbacks in stalling careers.

-*What have you found the most important job competences among organizational leaders and those preparing for future leadership roles?

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Developing Executive Self Awareness to Enhance Leadership Impact

Vicki Swisher

Lack of self-awareness among organizational leaders is pervasive and costly, according to Korn Ferry’s Vicky Swisher and Evelyn Orr.
They studied executives using the FYI: For Your Insight assessment tool, based on research from FYI for Insight: 21 Leadership Characteristics for Success and 5 That Will Get You Fired.

Evelyn Orr

Evelyn Orr

Executives’ most significant blind spots were:

• Making tough people calls,
• Demonstrating personal flexibility, adapting approaches to new circumstances.

Similarly,  the top leadership problems were:
• Not inspiring employees, not building talent,
• “Too narrow”, relying on deep expertise without broadening perspective.

Leaders vastly underestimated their effectiveness in “managing up”, suggesting that they focused more on their next promotion, rather than on developing their employees.

Joe Luft

Joe Luft

Lack of self-awareness can be reduced by using a “Reality Check” including:

o Feedback from others to provide “early warning” of difficulty.
However, this requires that evaluators are willing to provide candid observations, despite widespread discomfort in providing corrective feedback.

o Self-reflection concerning effective and ineffective behaviors, documented in a personal journal for review.

Harry Ingham

Harry Ingham

Executives learned most to enhance leadership skills and self-reflection from on-the-job experiences, distantly followed by learning from other people.
Structured trainings are least effective and most costly approaches to enhance leadership cognitive, emotional, motivational, self-awareness, and learning agility capabilities.

These leadership development processes reduce individual blind spots, portrayed by San Francisco State University’s Joe Luft and Harry Ingham of National Training Labs in The JoHari Windowjohari-window

Korn Ferry’s Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger provided additional executive development recommendations based on research in FYI: For your Improvement, A Development and Coaching Guide(3rd Edition).

-*How do you increase your self-awareness at work and reduce your “blind spots” about yourself and others?

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Four Career Trajectories: Linear, Expert, Spiral, Transitory

Kenneth Brousseau

Kenneth Brousseau

Successful careers can follow forms other than “up or out,” according to Decision Dynamics’ Kenneth Brousseau, Michael Driver of USC, with Lund University’s Kristina Eneroth, and Rikard Larsson.

Their “pluralistic career concept framework” classified careers as:

Four Career Concepts

Four Career Concepts

LinearTraditional upward movement, with variable job role tenure, and motivated by power and achievement.

Behavioral competencies include leadership, competitiveness, cost-efficiency, logistics management, profit orientation.

This career concept is most seen in tall hierarchies with a narrow span of control.

Michael Driver

Michael Driver

Expert – Little movement and long role tenure due to deepening expertise in a narrow discipline.

Motives include mastery, expertise, and security.
Meaningful rewards are continued training, benefits, recognition.

Competencies are quality, commitment, reliability, technical competence, stability orientation.
This career concept is well-matched to flat functional organizations.

Career Motives, Competencies

Career Motives, Competencies

SpiralLateral movement to broaden functional exposure, with seven to ten year tenure in roles.

Motivated by personal growth, creativity, and suited to matrix organizations with cross-functional teams, this pattern is seen in loose, temporary team structures.

Rewards include cross-functional lateral assignments and training.
Key competencies include creativity, teamwork, skill diversity, lateral coordination, people development.

Transitory – Lateral moves with three to five year tenures are motivated by desire for variety, independence.
Most often found in temporary team structures, behavioral skills include speed, networking, adaptability, fast learning, project focus.
Meaningful rewards are job rotation, temporary assignments, immediate cash bonuses.

This team’s research was distilled into assessment tools focused on career “fit” with an organization’s structure and objectives.

Timothy Butler

Timothy Butler

A similar emphasis on cultural fit is found in CareerLeader Inventory, based on Timothy Butler and James Waldroop’s research at Harvard Business School.

James Waldroop

James Waldroop

-*Which of the four career trajectories seems most like yours?

-*Which career assessment tools have you found most useful to determine your skills, interests, and best-fit organizational context?

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Three Approaches to Identifying a Career Path

-*What’s the best way to find your professional path?

Mark Savickas

Mark Savickas

Career interventions have evolved over the past 70 years from individual differences assessment to occupational development to current emphasis on life planning.
Vocational guidance was supplanted by “career education,” focused on fulfilling developmental tasks and adapting to occupational requirements.
More recently, “career counseling” built on the preceding approaches by considering each individual as the designer and author of a career path.

Mark Savickas of Northeast Ohio Medical University traced this incremental change, and noted that “each time that society has changed the prevalent form of employment, psychology has changed its methods of career intervention to help people deal with new identity issues and lifestyle problems.”

John Holland

John Holland

Early attempts to help people find their occupational paths focused on matching six personality prototypes incorporating six related value types with six associated vocational categories, thanks to John Holland of Johns Hopkins, who developed the Self Directed Search assessment.

Holland's Six Career Themes

Holland’s Six Career Themes

Individual were seen as “actors” who needed to match individual differences with occupations that best fit these characteristics.

John Crites

John Crites

Next came an emphasis on careers as a developmental challenge that requires adaptation and training to develop new attitudes, beliefs, and competencies that foster their vocational adaptation.

Donald Super

Donald Super

People were seen as “agents” striving to develop into an occupational role, with insight from assessments including the Career Maturity Inventory by University of Maryland’s John Crites and Career Development, Assessment, and Counseling (C-DAC) conceived by Donald Super of University of Connecticut.

Careers are currently seen as a “narrative construction” or a “life design project” drawing on emotion valence, autobiographical career stories and life themes that suggest professional construction and reconstruction.

Individuals are seen as “authors” of their career narrative in context of a life story.
Savickas developed this constructivist perspective to serve “workers in societies that have de-standardized the life course and de-jobbed employment” after applying Holland’s individual differences approach and developmental views of Crites and Super.

Three Career Development Approaches

Three Career Development Approaches

Paul Hartung

Paul Hartung

To enable this career narrative, Savickas and Northeast Ohio Medical University colleague Paul Hartung developed a structured career interview.
This “Autobiographical Workbook” asks people to share stories about self, identity, and career, including inquiries about role models, favorite magazines, how they made important decisions, and what their parents wanted for their lives to uncover prevailing interests, values, concerns, and precipitants to action.Career Construction Interview

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein

This approach helps people “envision how to use work to actively master what they passively suffer” and “fit work into life rather than life into work” by collecting stories about “…how a person constructed a career, then deconstructs and reconstructs these stories into an identity narrative, and finally co-constructs intentions that lead to action in the real world.
Narrative Construction and Life Design perspectives echo Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observation that problems are solved not by giving information but by rearranging what we already know.

In this collection and rearrangement process, Savickas sees the individual as a career architect whereas a career consultant is like a carpenter who suggests recombinations in light of current needs and future goals while respecting interests, values, and strengths.

This process also enables new perspectives on more productive approaches to past challenges when encountered in future contexts, working around obstacles, and drawing on past examples of competence and self-efficacy.

  • Which perspective on career development most guided your selection of work paths?

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Hiring by Cultural Matching: Potential for Bias

Lauren Rivera

Lauren Rivera

Northwestern’s Lauren Rivera found that job interviewing at elite professional services firms – and perhaps in other industries – is a process of skill sorting as well as cultural matching.

She noted that hiring interviewers who did not employ systematic measures of job-specific requirements tended to use themselves as a benchmark of qualification.
As a result, interviewees rated as “most qualified” tended to resemble their interviewers in educational and geographic backgrounds, self-presentation, hobbies, and more.

Katherine Phillips

Katherine Phillips

This hiring practice leads to cultural homogeneity, which undermines innovation from diversity of thought and experience, demonstrated in research by Katherine Phillips, then of Northwestern, with Katie Liljenquist of Brigham Young University, and Margaret Neale at Stanford University.

Katie Liljenquist

Katie Liljenquist

Their laboratory study demonstrated the value of diverse groups in task performance and decision making:    Teams with out-group newcomers correctly completed a task more frequently than teams joined by an in-group newcomer.
However members of the heterogenous group expressed lower confidence in their performance.

Margaret Neale

Margaret Neale

Newcomers can improve group performance by shifting alliances and group interaction, and bringing fresh information to problems.

eHarmony, the online dating service, is developing a job search and candidate matching product intended to reduce the rate of “job-hopping,” according to Grant Langston, VP of customer experience.

Grant Langston

Grant Langston

This online offering is expected to match supervisors with potential employees based on 40 dimensions including personalities, work habits, hobbies, in addition to competency metrics, corresponding to Rivera’s observation that elite professional service firms “hired in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners than how sociologists portraying employers selecting new workers.”

Though eHarmony’s candidate matching product may offer a satisfying match between candidate and supervisor, it may exclude qualified candidates who may bring a fresh perspective to the organization and work group.

-*How do you ensure cultural match and diversity of thought and experience in candidate selection?

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