1st Executive Blog

08 Nov Can SEARCH & Selection be Scientific?

Can selection during executive search and recruitment be scientific? In making choices about who to hire for what roles we are inevitably dealing with the vagaries of human nature. One of our warning bells goes off when a hiring manager tells us that they “like” or “dislike” a candidate when such a response is driven by emotion, connection or charisma.

While emotion, connection and charisma may be necessary for deeply effective working (and personal) relationships they should be secondary in the hiring decision.

In essence, we believe that selection in executive search can be scientific and provide the following 2 examples.


Example 1 - The Formula

Much of our and advisory work around structure, performance and leadership development is derived from theories developed by Elliot Jacques in his book “Requisite Organisation.” Jaques was particularly interested in concepts such as Potential Capability, Applied Capability and Future Potential Capability. In these concepts he discusses people’s capacity for complex mental processing, skilled knowledge, values and commitment and also the maturation of potential.

When any organisation is conducting an executive search they need future talent to be capable of handling complex information, applying their skills and knowledge, exercising values, demonstrating commitment and that they have capacity to grow.. This led us to borrow and adapt the following formula. It is a summary of Jaques thinking around the selection process:

Cp + S/K + Va + Wi – T

It looks complex but is actually common sense – for us, this represents:

· Cp = Cognitive Power. This means we need to evaluate the business leader’s ability to apply his or her intellect to business challenges and opportunities. This is possible to understand in structured interviews, drilling down in examples and in assessments.

· S/K = Skilled Knowledge. This applies across hard and soft competencies. We may want to know that a CTO has specific technical knowledge and also that he or she has an understanding of Effective Communication for example.

· Va = Values. This is everything from their “why” to the compass that guides their behaviour and decisions. It tells us how they may act when all corporate policies, guidelines and paradigms have been exhausted in addressing a particular scenario.

· Wi = Wisdom. We need to understand their ability to apply their experiences and to create and share insight.

· -T = Negative Temperament. This is a particularly interesting concept. Jaques view was that colleagues don’t necessarily need any emotional bonds to work together. This flies in the face of modern thinking around “cultural fit”. His point was that if an individual passes all of the implied tests above, that as long as they do not have elements of their personality that make working with individuals or teams problematical then they are likely to be just as effective in a role. The implied position is that most people are capable of “fitting in”all to any organisation that they join.


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Example 2 - Psychometric Assessments

In so much as psychology and statistics are sciences, psychometric assessments are scientific. In executive search, statistically validated and benchmarked psychometric assessments provide a very useful overlay to the concepts outlined in Example1 above.

In defining the attributes required in an executive and translating those attributes into what can be assessed, is a scientific starting point. It is a hypothesis. Interviewing against those attributes (many of which are covered by the formula in Example 1) and then having candidates complete psychometric assessments to validate those discussions. statistically reduces the risk of making the wrong hire and increases the likelihood of making the correct hire. Testing the hypothesis in such a way is the essence of scientific methodology.

In summary, not only can selection in executive search and recruitment be scientific, we argue that it must be. Too often organisations and individuals part company at great cost after a relatively short period of time because the evaluation was not conducted scientifically and was based on the kind of human responses and interactions that we all feel comfortable with.

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