Past Behavior is Best Predictor, But…

Past Behavior is Best Predictor, But…

We all want to see perfectly the future performance of a stock. In our line of work, we focus on future performance of a candidate. Neither is a perfect science, but we can get a lot closer on the right future performance of a candidate. It relates closely to past behavior.

Psychology Today has an interesting article up on past behavior. They use lots of caveats and admit that past performance is absolutely the best model. It is a funny business for them as they certainly want to promise they can change your life through psychology, but they also have all the data saying people do not really change.  This brings us to two things we can speak to.

How Good a Measure is Past Behavior?

Our company goes to far greater lengths to know the actual experience of the candidate. We find it is a great measure of future behavior. In one of our few bad hires, we found a Plant manager who was unemployed. He told us he resigned from his last position as his boss would share important information with his subordinates and not with him. This plant manager told his boss that he could not live this way  A week later he found out about an important cut back at his work from a subordinate who had learned it from his boss. He quit and accepted unemployment.

We told this important candidate issue to the Western GM. This candidate was a great turn around manager, and they needed it. The Western GM hired him, and they got to work. Then the new Plant manager noticed that the Western GM was always sharing with the Maintenance manager and not with him.  The new Plant manager talked with the GM many times and finally resigned and went home again as could not bear this situation.

This guy had resigned and sat at home rather than not be the first choice of his boss.  Second time it happened his choice was the same. It was no surprise to us.

Past Behavior is a Very Good Measure

Guys who cannot admit they made a mistake when we give them lots of safety are almost certainly not going to be able to admit mistakes after they got the job by lying to get there. Past experience is a very good measure of future performance.  People who are great hunter salesmen in the present job will be great hunter salesmen in the next job.

People who say they were great hunter salesmen but actually were managing old customers will not be the hunter salesmen you want.  Further, they will lie about what they are doing when they work for you. Past experience is a very good measure of future performance. See also our predictive small data method.

Another Important Issue Related to Behavior and Performance

It is easier to predict future behavior than future performance. A guy who sold a lot of iPhones last year may not be able to sell a lot of Blackberries this year.    Environment may trump behavior on performance.   The candidates behavior is quite likely to be the same though his performance will be different.

We always work hard to find out more about the environment of the hire.  We like to know if the environment will be easy or hard, political or efficient.  If we give the candidate the right expectation, they also do much better.

Finally, many good companies work to coach old employees who lack the right behavior. It is not easy at all. People find it hard to change once they have established a pattern.   Getting the right people with the right expectation and giving them the right start is so important. When this is done well, not only can we predict behavior, but we also can predict a lot of performance.  See also Candidate Experience

Deeper Change is Really Hard to Get

On the deeper issues of people changing their character, we see few times where people change.

Divorce will change some people. Bankruptcy will change some others. You firing them will help some people, but anything less is unlikely to succeed. Even these big events often do not get people to change, but the odds at least get better than a near zero.

Conclusion on the Question of Past Behavior

I think we can see that past behavior is a very good measure. Let’s work harder to get the real data and believe it as opposed to our gut feel. It works for us and our clients over these 8 years.


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Posted in: China Recruitment - Getting Good People

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