How Pole Vaulting Helps with Better Hiring Decisions
My last blog about change focused on one very good reason change is hard – it is literally tiring. Innovation is Good, Change is Bad…Oh, Wait…
Another reason change is hard: we can’t see an upside, even when the upside is right in front of us. Consider pole vaulting.
Pole vaulting is a pretty amazing
sport that depends on biomechanics and the pole. Poles were originally
bamboo, then steel. American Don Bragg won gold and set a world record
at the 1960 Olympics using steel. His teammate, Ron Morris, won the
silver medal with steel. After the Olympics, attempts at besting
Bragg’s 15 feet 9 ¾ inch jump regularly fell short. It seemed that
steel was as good as it was going to get.
Then Bragg’s record was broken by
George Davies…using a fiberglass pole. Bragg hardly embraced the new
technology. In fact he fought it, unsuccessfully lobbying track and
field rule makers to ban the fiberglass pole from competition! They
Ron Morris, on the other hand, jumped
on the fiberglass technology and learned to use it. In 1962 Morris was
the number one pole vaulter in the world. Another vaulter, John Uelses,
also adopted fiberglass and on February 2, 1962 he broke the 16-foot
barrier at Madison Square Garden clearing 16 feet ¼ inches. The very
next night in Boston, he vaulted 16 feet ¾ inches – a height thought
The current pole vault record is 20 feet 13⁄4 inches, set in 1994 by Ukrainian Sergey Bubka who described his work this way to Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith:
love the pole vault because it is a professor’s sport. One must not only
run and jump, but one must think. Which pole to use, which height to
jump, which strategy to use. I love it because the results are immediate
and the strongest is the winner…”
Talent selection is the same: hiring
managers and human resource professionals have been using steel for a
while, but they now have a choice of talent decision technologies and,
as Bubka would say, choosing demands thinking, not just running and
After some 100 years of scientific
research, we pretty much know the strategies and tools that
substantially reduce error in the prediction of employee performance –
it is the match between the job requirements and the cognitive,
personality, and work culture preferences of the candidate. Not experience. Not education. Job match.
But companies and many HR pros
continue to rely on a set of implicit (and inaccurate) beliefs that
inhibit the adoption of selection technology that will deliver
significantly better results. In the next few blogs, we’ll take a look
at the beliefs that get in the way of better selection and successful
First let’s explore the difference between what people believe about selection and has been proven by scientific research.
The Gap Between Belief and Knowledge
It is widely known that certain human
resource (HR) practices are consistently related to organizational
productivity and firm financial performance.
HR practices really do make a bottom line difference. Yet
organizations do not adopt the practices that will improve business
performance. One big reason is that there is a gap between what HR
practitioner believe and research evidence – the gap was best
demonstrated in a knowledge survey of HR professionals.
When asked about selection procedures,
70 percent correctly understood that structured interviews are more
effective than unstructured. But there was a great deal of
misunderstanding about other important aspects of selection like the
role of intelligence, personality, and values.
When asked whether intelligence is
actually a disadvantage for performing well at low skilled jobs, 47
percent believed this was true – it is not – and 12 per cent indicated
they were uncertain. So 59% of the respondents did not know that
intelligence (cognitive ability) is the best predictor of job success
for any job, low skill or C-suite.
There is also a difference between
scientific evidence and belief about personality factors and job
success. When asked about assessing personality, 52 percent believed
there is very little difference among personality inventories with
respect to how well they predict job performance. They believed that an
assessment like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) evaluates the basic
dimensions of personality. The MBTI actually examines only one
dimension of personality and the MBTI was not designed for (nor does it
claim) to predict job performance.
When asked about assessing values, 57
percent incorrectly believed that companies screening job applicants for
values have higher performance than those that screen for intelligence –
they do not. In fact research has not yet found any relationship
between candidate values and later on-the-job performance.
So one barrier to adopting selection
best practices is the gap between what we believe and what has been
proven. The solution? Get familiar with the human resource research
literature – the strategic HR exec can then recommend adjustments in the
selection process that save time and deliver better results.
In the next blog, I’ll look at the
myth of selection expertise and how it is that we do not get better at
making hiring decisions, no matter how many we have made.
Maule, Tex. He Could Do It On Bamboo. Sports Illustrated February 26, 1962. Available at
Highhouse, Scott. 2008. Stubborn Reliance on Intuition and Subjectivity in Employee Selection. Industrial and Organizational Psychology 1: 333–342.
Sara L., Amy E. Colbert, and Kenneth G. Brown. 2002. HR Professionals’
Beliefs About Effective Human Resource Practices: Correspondence
Between Research And Practice. Human Resource Management 41 (2): 149–174.
survey was based on dimensions covered by the Human Resource
Certification Institute’s “Professional in Human Resources” (PHR) exam
and the respondents are all SHRM members.