How can we identify the traits in entry-level candidates that will most likely lead to performance, when there is little track record of experience to base our decisions on?
We know that intelligence is a good predictor of performance across the board. So, we might give candidates a psychometric test to identify mental ability. Or perhaps we assume that grades, or where someone attended third-level, will give us a better insight. Conscientiousness matters, so every resume with a spelling mistake should be binned…right?
For psychologist Angela Duckworth, 2013 winner of MacArthur Genius Fellowship for her work on achievement, we should be prioritising something else. Something which she claims predicts performance better than grades or intelligence or where someone went to college.
This something is “Grit”.
Duckworth describes grit as “passion plus perseverance”, or the ability to stick and persevere at goals over time, despite setbacks, frustrations and failure. It is about long-term commitment to a goal and engagement in a role, which allows for the development of mastery.
“Success is not final,” said Winston Churchill. “Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
The idea of tenacity in predicting success is not new. Indeed, Malcolm Gladwell popularised the notion that the common thread linking most major masters in their field was none other than boring old practice. Hard, gruelling, practice to improve the things you’re no good at – 10,000 hours of practice to be precise.
Selecting for Performance
So, how can we select for grit?
While it is likely that some people are naturally ‘grittier’ than others, Duckworth believes that environment is just as important as nature – in other words, a match between the role characteristics and the candidate preferences is key.
When someone pursues a topic they are naturally interested in; a topic that gets their energy – that they think about, talk about and read about, tenacity grows. So, choosing a candidate that loves what they do within your business should not just be an added bonus, it should be a central part of your selection process.
Yet, aside from a possible glance at an optional line on a resume, how much attention really gets paid to interests when recruiting? I’ll wager, not enough.
Next, according to Duckworth, comes purpose. Connecting to the wider meaning of a role, or how the role provides a service to others, dramatically increases grittiness. So, spending the time to understand what motivates your candidate, and what the job means to them at a deeper level, is crucial.
Structure your interview to probe these issues, administer values-based questionnaires or use a sourcing tool that can identify these deeper-level attributes. Hiring smart candidates that don’t buy-into your role is not a smart move.
Developing for Endurance
Selecting for grit is not enough.
For true grittiness to shine, employees need to believe that their aspirations can be realised, that the arduous search for the precious oyster shell will deliver. This requires that a culture of learning and growth is fostered, and that people can conceptualise how upward movement can occur. Pairing employees with more experienced mentors – people that have already transcended boundaries – can help destroy limiting beliefs.
So, when considering how you measure performance, stay mindful of metrics with longer-term results, like tenacity. Fostering perseverance may require more work up front but remember – no grit, no pearl!
Susan Kealy is a work and organisational psychologist, specialising in career psychology and a certified coach and trainer. She is also the founder of the graduate recruitment platform Budding, which helps prevent bias in selection through its innovative design. For more information on Budding, visit www.budding.ie.