Jocelyn Hays

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Losing Sight of the Individual in Group Development Programs

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Tue, Feb 16, 2016

I often come across articles focused on development efforts for women and millennials. These two demographics – gender and age – are treated as key considerations in employee development program design. The thought seems to be that if organizations could only figure out how to develop women and young professionals, they could solve myriad talent woes from homogeneous leadership teams to high potential retention. While there is value in addressing the unique needs of demographic groups (I’ve blogged about developing women leaders in the past), by focusing solely on demographics we are missing individual characteristics that should be examined when investing in development efforts.

When building and delivering development programs, organizations may find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, individual interests, motivators, strengths, and weaknesses are simply too varied to apply a one-size-fits-all development approach. On the other hand, it is impractical to employ unique development techniques for individual employees and doing so would ignore the common challenges they may face based on shared characteristics, such as age and gender.  

Luckily, there is a middle ground that will lead to more effective development programs for women and millennials, along with any other specific group. In addition to incorporating standard elements for all participants, employee development programs should also include measures of individual characteristics. When used at the beginning of a program, these measures – whether they be interest surveys, assessments of values, strengths, and derailers, or multi-rater feedback instruments – provide useful insight in multiple areas.

  • Setting appropriate development goals: Personality assessments and multi-rater feedback tools will help program participants identify strengths to leverage and blind spots or performance risks that may hinder their effectiveness.
  • Designing valuable development activities: Understanding participants’ strengths and weaknesses will help program designers build valuable development electives. For instance, a participant who is low Interpersonal Sensitivity may benefit from activities focused on gaining buy-in and influencing others. A participant who is high Interpersonal Sensitivity may be better served by activities designed to improve conflict management capabilities.
  • Designing engaging development activities: Understanding participants’ interests and values ensures the activities offered throughout the program will be motivating and rewarding. For instance, a participant with a high Affiliation value may look for activities that allow for collaboration whereas a participant with a high Power value may be more engaged in activities that include a competitive element.
  • Evaluating program effectiveness: Including individual needs in program design and delivery provides additional criteria for program evaluation. In addition to looking at group-level results over time (e.g., representation of women in leadership, retention and promotion of young high-potentials), individual effects (e.g., improvements in performance, relationships, and career pathing) can be measured.

What experiences have you had with development programs designed for specific demographic groups? Please comment with your thoughts and lessons learned!

Topics: development

Gender as an Asset and a Liability in Leadership

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Thu, Oct 15, 2015

Following the September 16th GOP debate and the October 13th Democratic debate, political pundits praised the performance of the two female candidates, Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton. An online article published by The Atlantic noted that Carly Fiorina won the GOP debate “largely because she skillfully exploited the thing that is both her biggest liability and, potentially, her biggest asset: She’s a woman”.

It’s hard to envision being a woman as a leadership asset when the Pew Research Center published findings in January 2015 that indicated:

  • Only 20% of all U.S. Senators and 19% of all House of Representatives members are women
  • Only 26 Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs and women represent just under 17% of Fortune 500 board members
  • A significant wage gap still exists between men and women despite the fact that more women now attend college, earn a degree, and pursue graduate studies than men

Despite these downright depressing statistics, there may be reason to hope! While recognizing the undeniable truth that being a woman makes it more difficult to ascend to the highest level of most fields (politics and business alike), organizations are increasingly recognizing the strengths associated with “gender-balanced” leadership teams. According to commentary written by Michael Landel, CEO of Sodexo, management teams composed of a balanced mix of men and women achieve results – such as improved employee engagement and consumer satisfaction – more consistently than unbalanced teams.

Landel notes that Sodexo has taken specific actions to promote female leaders, such as an internal organization charged with implementing a strategy to increase female leadership and targeted efforts to change the corporate culture. Individual development efforts may also help women advance in their organizations and careers. Helping female leaders and high-potential employees build strategic self-awareness may better position them to face the challenges posed by gender bias and traditional leadership thinking. Targeted development and coaching efforts can help individuals:

  • Understand their reputation – how others see them
  • Identify and leverage their strengths both in terms of their current positions and those to which they aspire
  • Recognize and manage their weaknesses to enhance current effectiveness and prepare for advanced roles and responsibilities
  • Take a strategic approach to building and promoting an effective leader brand over time

What techniques have you seen used to advance female leaders and create more gender-balanced teams at the top of organizations? Which methods have been successful and which have fallen flat? Please post your thoughts and lessons learned in the comments section!

Topics: leadership, women in leadership

Why Are Selection Assessments So Scary?

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Thu, Aug 13, 2015


In June, an article in Time magazine delved into the use of assessments in employee selection. It wasn’t the first time the mainstream media has found a story in assessments, and it probably won’t be the last. The article added some interesting thoughts to the ongoing dialogue, providing examples of companies that use assessments and why they believe in the tools and tying the use of assessments to the growing Big Data trend in business. However, it also reiterated much of what’s been said before, including the common lament that assessments are a “black box” and that relying on this kind of data is somehow more fraught with the potential for error than relying on other selection tools, such as in-person interviews.

It always surprises me that people searching for jobs, and even some organizations, treat assessments as if they are completely unique from other selection measures. In reality, when comparing selection tools, it’s not an exercise of apples versus oranges, it’s more Honeycrisp versus Red Delicious. Every step of the hiring process, every tool and technique used in the process, is designed to tell the organization something relevant about the candidate. It’s like a first date – you don’t walk into the restaurant with no idea of what’s going to happen. You know from the start that you’re going to be looking for those subtle signs, that certain something, that will tell you if the person on the other side of the table is a good fit for you. Your goal is simple: Determine if a second date is warranted or if it’s more a handshake-at-the-end-of-the-evening situation.

As soon as a candidate comes into contact with a potential employer, the organization is assessing the individual. Perhaps it’s an evaluation of qualification for the job based on the education and work history listed on a resume, an evaluation of interpersonal skills based on performance in an interview, an evaluation of strengths based on what references say about the candidate, or an evaluation of potential fit for the job based on a validated personality assessment. With each activity, the organization is building a comprehensive picture of the candidate as a future employee – to determine where the person will shine, how he/she will fit with the team and the culture, and the kind of training and development that will be needed. The goal of every organization’s hiring process is to get to know a group of strangers and select which one has the greatest potential for future success; ultimately every selection measure used provides insight into what one person brings to the table that his/her competition doesn’t.

When used correctly for employee selection, validated psychological assessments are no more mysterious or risky than any other selection measure from resume reviews to in-person interviews. With that in mind, my advice to candidates is: try to represent yourself well throughout the selection process. Ensure your resume reflects your most relevant and unique qualifications; arrive at interviews well-prepared and ready to answer questions about your previous experience (successes and failures); and complete standardized assessments by following the instructions given. My advice to organizations: leverage assessments as one piece of data in the hiring process that can help you (1) get to know more about individual candidates, (2) better differentiate multiple candidates from one another, and (3) ultimately inform a sound hiring decision.

Topics: employee selection, assessment, personality assessment, job candidate

What Do We Do?

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Tue, Jan 20, 2015

As anyone in my field can probably relate, I spend a lot of my time with friends and relatives answering the question “So, what is it that you do?” It recently occurred to me that when people ask that question perhaps they don’t really want to know what I do. Rather, they’re asking what my job achieves. They want to know how what I do is valuable.

A similar lack of understanding may explain why many organizations are hesitant to adopt talent assessment broadly, despite clear evidence demonstrating the efficacy of using sound assessment tools. Organizations understand what assessments do – they measure characteristics related to job performance. However, many people may struggle to understand the value of that information in the broader organizational landscape.

Assessments help organizations identify talent
Whether you are evaluating external candidates for hire, identifying internal candidates for high-potential programs, or searching for undiscovered talent in the organization to strengthen your leader bench, assessments provide information that is difficult, if not impossible, to gather any other way.

Assessments help organizations prepare talent for future roles and responsibilities
This may include onboarding and determining potential career paths for new talent, exploring individual contributors’ aspirations for and predilections toward leadership positions as well as performance risks that are likely to emerge when they are placed in leader roles, or helping middle managers ready themselves for the responsibilities and challenges of more strategic leader roles.

Assessments help organizations develop leaders
Assessments provide a mechanism to help leaders build strategic self-awareness. By reflecting on their personalities, leaders are able to (1) identify their inherent strengths and plan to leverage them, (2) discover blind spots and stress-induced derailers that may impede their success, and (3) leverage their team member’s strengths and talents to complement their own.

Assessments help organizations build and maintain effective teams
The first step to understanding a team is to understand its individual members and how they interact and work with one another. Assessments can be used to build a diverse team whose members’ strengths complement one another. In addition, by providing insight into how individuals approach problems, make decisions, and execute work, assessments can be used to help team members relate to one another, plan for how to best work together, and predict and proactively address potential interpersonal conflicts.

I’m certainly not claiming that assessments represent a cure-all for the many talent management issues that organizations face. However, when used consistently and responsibly, assessments can yield a significant return on investment in terms of improving talent decisions and enhancing talent development initiatives.

What have assessments done in your organization? What benefits have you achieved and what challenges did you face when implementing and using talent assessments? Please comment to share your thoughts and experiences!  

Topics: assessment evaluation, assessment provider

Selection in the Real World

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Tue, Apr 15, 2014

Jeans resized 600I was recently invited to guest-lecture in an undergraduate Personnel Psychology class. I was quick to accept as this particular professor started me down the I/O path that I’m still enjoying today. I started thinking about what I could tell undergraduate students that would be valuable to them both in and out of the classroom, and I landed on the topic of employee selection. Hiring has become so much more complex since I sat in a BSU classroom, and it really hasn’t been that long.

In many companies employee selection is marked by a few common practices:

1. It begins with an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Large multinational corporations use Applicant Tracking Systems to efficiently gather information about large numbers of candidates, evaluate minimum qualifications, and screen out candidates who do not meet basic job requirements. This technology often dictates the kind of information that candidates provide as well as the order and format in which the information is submitted. This can lead to a lengthy application process, which may leave candidates feeling frustrated and poorly-represented by the information solicited. These feelings are likely exacerbated if the individual fails to meet the minimum qualifications and is immediately eliminated from the selection process.

2. It’s not what you know, it’s who you are.
A recent Hyper Island study found that 78% of 500 leaders and employees surveyed rated “personality” as the most desirable employee characteristic, followed by “cultural alignment” at 53%, and “skill set” at only 39%. It is no longer enough to have the right education or previous experience. Candidates must also be able to demonstrate critical individual attributes, such as drive, teamwork, and innovation.

3. You may not be applying for just one job.
When applying for a given position, candidates’ qualifications may be evaluated in terms of the job for which they are applying as well as more broadly. Organizations may apply candidate information to multiple job profiles to determine not only if the individual should be hired, but also where he/she should be placed. In addition, given the challenges associated with finding and retaining high-quality talent, employers are increasingly considering candidates’ long-term potential. Proctor & Gamble’s Careers site offers the tag line “We hire the person, not the position”. They state that they hire not just for a given position, but with the expectation that each candidate should have the potential to grow in the company.

4. Just like a good pair of jeans, it’s all about fit.
Organizations are largely defined by their unique values and culture. To ensure continued success it is critical that they hire employees who fit with that culture and can embody those values. Candidates who demonstrate a high level of aptitude for the job, and perhaps even show leadership potential, may not be hired due to a lack of fit. Employers know that employees who are not a good match for the organizational culture may perform well in the short-term but be difficult to retain.

What common selection practices have you seen in the past? What trends do you see building in talent acquisition?

Topics: employee selection

From Middle Child to Middle Manager

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Tue, Dec 10, 2013

chicksThe December 2013 edition of Talent Management magazine includes an article focused on mid-level managers – the characteristics that facilitate success in these critical, complex positions and how to best assess those characteristics.  The article led me to thinking about middle children. (What can I say? On the Hogan Personality Inventory both my Inquisitive and Learning Approach scores are high, so my thought patterns and processes can be disjointed!)

I think middle children and middle managers may have a lot in common. Hear me out on this. Despite popular perception of “middle child syndrome”, some research suggests middle-born children possess a number of unique strengths. The same strengths may make for successful middle managers:

Middle children build relationships
I’m willing to bet that anyone in middle management will tell you that their success is due in large part to the ability to effectively work with those above them, their management teammates, and their direct reports. Middle managers have to build and maintain productive relationships with employees at all levels of the organization, often across divisions, functions, and geographies, in order to fulfill their responsibilities.

Middle children compromise
Middle management positions are unique in that these individuals are largely responsible for taking strategy from the top, selling it to the bottom, and ensuring it is successfully implements. Effective middle managers may be those who implement strategies in manner which ensures that, while no one can have everything, everyone will get something. 

Middle children innovate
The job descriptions for middle managers across companies may vary widely, but oftentimes these are the people in the organization who are responsible for “making it work” and that requires thinking outside of the box.  An effective middle manager may need to generate, adapt, and implement ideas to ensure the success of the team and the enterprise.

Middle children keep their cool
I doubt anyone would deny the stress inherent in the majority of middle management positions. Middle managers may be called upon to act as both an individual contributor and a leader in the organization. As a result it is critical that they remain calm, focused, and productive despite the pressures of workload, deadlines, and office politics.

What strengths do you see in middle managers? As globalization increases and organizations move further into the 21st century, what attributes do you think will lead to middle managers’ continued success? I hate to be alone with my own musings, so please post your thoughts!


Congress and the Leadership Equation

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Wed, Oct 09, 2013

Congress 2At Hogan we often speak of how leaders use their personalities to “get ahead” and “get along” at work. Both functions are equally important – effective leaders must be able to achieve goals, but must also be able to work with and through others to do so. It simply isn’t enough to be a hard-charging idealist, you must also be willing and able to compromise with, negotiate with, and influence others to be successful. Unfortunately, with the current state of the U.S. government, it feels as though the entire “get along” side of the equation has been lost.  

I believe that the balance between getting ahead and getting along is especially important, and particularly challenging, in government leadership, which is designed to include (at least) two opposing forces that possess virtually equal power at any given time. I would argue that the success of our political system depends in large part on our leaders’ ability to:

  • Engage in healthy, productive conflict while avoiding dysfunctional disagreements
  • Promote their values and objectives while also collaborating and compromising with those who are actively promoting very different ideals
  • Adhere to a platform and plan while also being able to recognize unproductive approaches and change course when needed
  • Pursue the goals of their specific constituencies while also working for the good of the nation as a whole
  • Work in a passionate and devoted manner while remaining objective and not letting decisions be clouded by bruised feelings or interpersonal vendettas

My call to the U.S. Congress – whether Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, or Independent: stop trying to get ahead and start trying to get along! Leaders who do not possess the complementary capabilities of being able to advocate and achieve their goals while also bringing others into the fold and assuring mutual success not only fail as individuals, but more importantly fail their followers. 

Please comment on this blog and share your thoughts on the topic. For instance:

  • What unique challenges might government leaders face compared to private sector leaders?
  • What techniques could government leaders use to balance the “get ahead” and “get along” components of the leadership equation?
  • Are there lessons learned in the corporate world that may apply to government leadership and mitigate the dysfunction we are seeing now?
  • Does the academic literature – regarding team functioning, conflict management, leadership practices or personality in general – offer specific insight that might be beneficial to our current government leaders? 

Not Everyone Wants a Promotion

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Tue, Jun 04, 2013

NoThanksWorking with managers and leaders across organizations and industries, I often wonder if they enjoy their jobs and truly want to lead others. Too often organizations promote talented individuals based on their capability to perform the job in question without considering their desire to perform the job. One critical piece of high potential models that I fear may be overlooked is the individual’s appetite for advanced responsibility. Forget for a moment about whether or not the person will do the job and consider if the person will like the job. A strong individual contributor may enjoy collaborating with others, but have no interest in supervising others. A high potential employee known for generating innovative ideas may prefer to work in one narrow area of expertise rather than applying those creativity skills to overall organizational strategy. 

Good help is hard to find, and it is certainly understandable that organizations who attract and hire high potential employees want to make the most of that talent. However, by placing employees in jobs for which they are a poor fit, you might inadvertently put an expiration date on their tenure. Over the years I’ve heard many stories of employees who chose to leave their jobs not because they couldn’t do the job, but because they couldn’t stand the job.

So, what are organizations to do? How can they benefit from employees’ talent if they can’t advance those employees to leadership? The most concise and most honest answer is, “I don’t know”. However, I do have a few ideas:

  1. Consider how high potential is defined. The characteristics that constitute success in one job may not contribute to effective performance in another job. You may need to adopt multiple high potential models to represent different divisions, levels, or jobs in your organization.
  2. Ask honest questions about what employees want to do and be ready to hear that upper management might not be their ultimate goal.
  3. When developing high potential employees, define and offer multiple career paths if possible. Let them know that you want them to be engaged in your organization and allow them to make a positive impact by aligning their aspirations with your strategy.
  4. If you find that your designated high potentials do not aspire to traditional leader roles, start looking at other employees. Your solid performers might flourish in managerial positions where your exceptional performers would flounder. 
  5. After promoting employees, keep an eye on them to ensure they are appropriately challenged and satisfied in their roles. Be prepared to make adjustments, as is feasible, so that you aren’t forcing individuals to stay in positions or perform work that is not a good fit for their natural work styles or core values.

What are your thoughts? Please comment on this blog to share your ideas and experiences in leveraging and retaining talented employees who don’t aspire to traditional leadership roles.

Topics: high potentials

3 Steps to Better Hiring

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Mon, Jun 04, 2012

istock 000000989612xsmallIn his recent Wall Street Journal article, “Software Raises Bar for Hiring,” David Wessel raises some interesting talent acquisition questions: As candidate pools have grown exponentially in the struggling economy and screening processes have become more efficient and cost-effective through the use of various software solutions, have organizations become overly stringent in their job requirements? Are employers cutting training programs, and therefore costs, based on the idea that they will be able to find someone in the vast pool of available workers who have the skills they require?

It seems that many organizations make the mistake of setting forth myriad requirements in their job requisitions, which are then programmed into software solutions used to screen out candidates early in the selection process. As a result the organization fails to find anyone for the job. At the same time, unemployed workers apply to positions for which they believe they are well qualified only to find themselves dropped from the selection process based solely on an initial application or resume submission. In the end frustration abounds – organizations are frustrated by the lack of “qualified” talent, and job seekers are frustrated by organizations that eliminate them from the selection process based solely on an initial screen.

Individual organizations can take steps to increase the likelihood of finding the right person for the job, regardless of what that job might be.

1. Carefully define job requirements

If your organization is struggling to find qualified candidates, make sure you are evaluating the must-haves that an individual needs to be successful in the job. You might find that you have been focusing on nice-to-haves (additional years of experience, advanced degrees for jobs that don’t require them) that do not truly differentiate high and low performance on the job. 

2. Focus on competencies, not experience

It is also important to consider what the employee needs day one on the job. Instead of looking for someone who has performed the exact same type of work before, focus on finding a candidate with the core competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities, and traits) required to be successful and supplement that talent with organization or job-specific training and education.

3. Take a whole employee life cycle approach

Organizations would also be wise to take a whole employee life cycle approach that includes recruitment, selection, development and retention. In some fields, such as engineering and IT, numerous opportunities are available to experienced workers, and organizations may find it hard to hold onto strong talent. When recruiting and hiring employees, ensure that the candidates you select are a good fit not just for a particular job, but also for your overall culture and work environment. Once employees are on the job, take steps to contribute to their professional development and keep them engaged. Depending on your structure this may include identifying high potentials to include in succession planning efforts, but don’t overlook middle-of-the-road performers who are your organization’s backbone – make sure they have opportunities to grow and develop their skills.  

Talent acquisition and management are complex processes, but careful planning at each step will help your organization hire and retain the right talent. Using selection techniques that identify candidates with the potential for success and focusing on onboarding, development, and engagement post-hire will go a long way towards ending employers’ and job seekers’ frustration.

Topics: employee selection, hiring, talent management, unemployment, talent acquisition

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