Measuring the “Unmeasurable”

Most managers thrive when it comes to evaluating an employee’s success related to the hard skills of a role. Achieving measurable quotas, meeting quantifiable objectives, or directly contributing to profit or cost savings are black-and-white and leave little room for subjectivity or interpretation. The challenge most face is in evaluating the soft skills of every role; regardless of the behavioral profiling tools, the interviewing forms, or the qualification summaries utilized, the key is to define what those desired soft skills mean to you.

Put a group of individuals in a room and ask them to come to a consensus as to what ‘good communication skills’ look like or what makes someone a ‘dedicated employee’ and they will stay in that room for quite some time. However, imagine hiring a new employee who understands the expectation that they be a ‘hard worker’. One hiring manager may define ‘hard working’ as working ten hour days and fifty hours per week, and another manager may define ‘hard working’ as twelve hour days and seventy hours per week. While the person in the former example may be receiving an award for their work ethic, the person in the latter example may be getting fired for the same behavior.
Defining specific soft skills and expectations thereof can fall quite low on a priority scale when managers are tasked with much more urgent and critical responsibilities. However, the ability to measure and manage beyond more than performance expectations will not only help ensure the right strategic hire, but help avoid future frustrating evaluations and reviews. The premise of the bestselling book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” is a popular paradigm for this same issue; disconnects in both personal and professional relationships arise when two individuals have differing understandings of exceptional, average, or unacceptable behaviors and expectations.

The Spectrum of Soft Skills

The process of creating a comprehensive list of every possible personality trait, communication style, social grace, and interpersonal skill required to perform successfully within a role and within a team is overwhelming. Our suggestion is to start with those most critical to a new hire’s success; think of those qualities that you expressed to Sanford Rose Associates® when describing the ideal candidate to join your team. More often than not, what is important to you is easier to articulate than you may realize. If you mentioned qualities like ‘driven’, ‘high integrity’, ‘empathetic’, or ‘innovative thinker’, take a moment to process why those qualities are important to the organization. In most situations, those characteristics are important either because your existing team is strong in those areas, or because past hires have not been and it has caused issues that you would like to avoid with future hires.


Team Effort

There is tremendous value in the process of defining expectations for soft skill competencies being a process that includes a team effort. In service of allowing for both input and buy-in of the future expected standards, group participation is a must. Holding employees to newly defined interpersonal skills can be a much more successful endeavor when those employees have played an active part in the creation and explanation of those skills. Over the course of several weeks, take one or several soft skills and begin to put together a comprehensive “playbook” that can be referenced by a new employee, a tenured associate, or a manager.

If you think about any great athletic team, one of the hallmarks of a great coach is their playbook: the sacred diary that has decades of strategy, knowledge, and standards. Even for organizations outside of the NFL, NBA, or FIFA, this playbook is still critical. In the world of effective management, standards of performance require a single-mindedness of those standards; the entire team needs to know exactly what the plays are, or management boils down to nothing more than individual style and opinion. Not only does this cause a manager to lose credibility and impact, discretionary judgment calls will be made from one manager to the next which can result in inconsistent messages and frustrations within the team.

Where to Begin

Once the initial list of the most desirous critical soft skills to measure has been created, where do you begin? If we use the example of defining a ‘good listener’, it may be easier to gain universal consensus of what a ‘good listener’ does not look like. This list can be populated a little easier: multi-tasking during a conversation, does not maintain eye contact, interrupts or finishes sentences, does not ask clarifying or expanding questions, or does not take notes. Once that list of deficient characteristics has been created, take each deficiency and begin to define proficiency. What are all of the ways that multi-tasking can manifest itself in a meeting or conversation? The answers to this question can provide the first measurable definitions of a previously un-measurable situation: does not answer or check mobile phone during meetings (or keeps mobile phone in pocket during meetings), turns off computer monitor, does not accept incoming phone calls, closes the office door.


Questions to Ask

Most leaders responsible for hiring have experienced the frustrating situation of a candidate interviewing as one individual and showing up day in and day out as a completely different individual. It is not necessarily the candidate’s fault; many experts share a belief that an individual perceives both their “real self” and their “ideal self”. The “ideal self” is the individual who interviews well and believes in their potential; the “real self” is the individual who arrives at the office each day and follows through on commitments. In order to assist in the successful screening, interviewing, and onboarding of a new employee, be able to articulate answers to these types of questions:

  • How is “successful performance” defined or measured in this role?
  • What are the biggest challenges the candidate will face in this role?
  • What is the first project or assignment for which this candidate will be responsible? What are the expectations for timeline to completion?
  • What are the two most important problems that need to be addressed/corrected in the first six months by the individual in this position?
  • How will this candidate know whether or not they are properly performing their critical functions?
  • What has a past employee accomplished in this role that exceeded expectations?
  • What outcomes, or specific accomplishments, must be achieved through this position and within what timeframe?
  • Following that timeframe, how will the candidate be evaluated, and how often?

Waves of Trust

M.L. Covey, in “The Speed of Trust”, explores an interesting concept surrounding the various layers of trust to which successful managers must be attuned. This foundation must exist first, in every coaching and management relationship, prior to mentoring or directing behavior and objectives. Trust is about behaviors, not beliefs. The challenge is that very few individuals would think of themselves as falling low on the scale of integrity or character. To begin walking the walk and building on whatever level of trust is already established with your team, consider beginning the implementation of this exercise with yourself first. Select what specific soft skill you think would make the biggest individual impact, and publicly declare your deliberate measurable changes and request that your team or peers help hold you accountable to gradual improvement. If you would like to take this exercise even further, solicit input from your team or peers as to what they think your first initiative should be.

This can be where trust is strengthened or broken between management and employees, but spans beyond a professional partnership into a successful business, thriving economy, and influential organizational leadership.

Positive Change or Foundation for the Future

It is important to address a final challenge, which is an employee’s receptiveness toward being coached and consciously working on improving imperative soft skills and emotional intelligence. Even with the gift of a playbook, specific direction, and consistent positive reinforcement, not every employee will be an active player in this new game. The opportunity then exists to either impact those who are receptive and begin to shape the future generations of leadership within your organization, or to accept that there may be individuals within the team who are limited by their own desires and capabilities.

Regardless of the receptivity from your existing team, the exercise of beginning to concretely measure and manage beyond more than performance expectations will help create a long-term roadmap for successful professional partnerships. Most people are willing to grow and evolve; the key is to be able to provide a foundation of trust and universal standards of expected behavior and performance.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®

Once you have quantified these soft skills in the context of your office or culture, use them, along with the candidate’s background and technical skills, to create an ideal match. Sanford Rose Associates® can partner and serve you in both endeavors. “Finding people who make a difference®” is the goal of every search assignment conducted by Sanford Rose Associates®. Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultants have in-depth industry specific knowledge and take the time to understand their clients’ needs and unique culture. Finding the candidate who not only possesses the requisite skills for a position, but is also a “cultural fit” is crucial. The proprietary Sanford Rose Associates® Dimensional Search® process allows our search consultants to drill deeper and match (1) the client’s expectations for the position with those of the candidate, (2) the technical requirements for the position with the candidate’s education and background, (3) the candidate’s experience and personality with the company’s culture, (4) the chemistry between the hiring manager and the candidate, and (5) the candidate’s experience and prior results with the client’s expectations for the major, measurable initiatives of the position. Engaged employees can play a tremendous part in the growth and success of a company, and for more than 50 years, Sanford Rose Associates® has been committed to “Finding people who make a difference®” for its clients.

—Karen Schmidt

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