Google’s Perfect Employee – Skills for Today’s Marketplace

A significant amount of my consulting work is spent improving organizational performance by developing people. Sometimes employee development is done proactively – like taking vitamins before you get sick. More frequently, employee development is a reactive approach to problematic performance. Like setting a broken leg or providing an antibiotic, this approach can still be successful. However, like a physical ailment, it typically involves some organizational headaches and pain.

Negative employee performance often leads to discussions about hiring practices. How can employers screen potential employees in ways which maximize organizational health and minimize organizational ailments?

Traditional hiring methods focus heavily on technical or hard skills. This approach believes that an educated and skilled workforce will bring beneficial competencies into our businesses. In other words, a bevy of technical skills will equip an individual to succeed. However, this model breaks down and we’ve all worked with gifted (aka – skilled) people that no one can work with. So how do we find the right employee?

Recent research from Google provides helpful insights into this important question. Their study about workplace success contradicts the conventional ‘hard skill’ approach. Google, a company founded by techies (and, one that has historically relied on hiring hard skills) analyzed their own data to find their success recipe. In short, they discovered that it takes more than a knowledge of technology to be a technology company. By crunching their own data, Google discovered the following skills were most important:

  1. Being a good coach;
  2. Communicating and listening well;
  3. Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
  4. Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
  5. Being a good critical thinker;
  6. Having effective problem-solving skills; and,
  7. Being able to make connections across complex ideas.

The most fascinating insights is that, direct technical skills, sits at number 8 on this list! While technical skills are needed, they follow (not lead!) the list of high performing employee attributes.

“Google’s Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard” (Strauss).

These conclusions align with the triadic leadership model I use with clients. This diagram is a visual reminder that effective employees (and leaders) are a composite of three equally important ingredients:

  1. Skills – what a leader does.
  2. Self-awareness – who a leader is.
  3. Morals/values – why a leader leads.

Over-focusing on any single part of this model (e.g. – hard skills only focus on ‘what a leader does’) will lead to performance gaps.

There is no perfect system to hire or develop an ideal employee. But research is revealing that hard skills are not enough. Soft skills will play an important role in our modern workforce (and increasingly so as automation and robots are equipped to undertake traditional hard-skill tasks).

So, what does this practically mean for you and your organization? Here are a few concluding ideas for business leaders to consider as they seek to implement Google’s conclusions. Please add your own insights to this list!

  • Does your resume review focus on hard skills or soft skills?
  • How do your interview questions assess soft skills?
  • Many of the skills in Google’s list require strong moral development (e.g. – listening skills. empathy or generosity). How do you develop ethical behavior in employees? How do your interview questions reveal a candidate’s moral norms?

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

 

Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

Leading Globally: Understanding Cultural Assertiveness

A lasting impression from my trip to Indonesia is the pleasant smiles and accommodating nature of the locals I interacted with. In contrast, within hours of my arrival in Lithuania, a store check-out clerk brashly told me “No, no, no!” as I unknowingly attempted to purchase something I was not supposed to.

Both of these examples represent the cultural value of assertiveness. Cultural assertiveness reflects beliefs as to whether people are or should be encouraged to be assertive, aggressive, and tough or non-assertive, non-aggressive, and tender in social relationships. When you experience a cultural assertiveness that is different than your own you often feel discomfort. It is also easy to judge the behavior as inappropriate (either too passive or to aggressive). However, these are just cultural norms that define how things are done. After spending time in Lithuania, I have grown comfortable with their direct nature as I have learned that assertiveness does not mean the same thing as being uncaring or rude.

The chart below illustrates some of the most common differences between cultures or individuals with high and low assertiveness. At the bottom of this blog you will find a reference chart which provides specific results for the 62 countries in the GLOBE study.

GLOBE Assertiveness 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This idea is supported by Howard Guttman in who specializes in workplace conflict. He believes that one of the sources of conflict is because of differences in our communication style. He labels these styles on as non-assertive, assertive or aggressive (see diagram below). When we encounter someone with a different style than our own, we often feel like a conflict is occurring rather than identifying it as a difference in our styles.

Guttman Communication Conflict

Whether in your workplace or in your travels, you have experienced differences in cultural assertiveness. As Canadians (a mid-assertiveness culture) who are living in the United States, our family has had to work to adjust to the high assertiveness of the US Culture. We cannot rely on others to ask us about ourselves and have to initiate more than we are used to. While it can be frustrating to adjust to different norms, it is a requirement of living in an increasingly global society.

As you understand differences in cultural assertiveness you can:

  1. Become self-aware: What is your cultural assertiveness norm? Where do you believe your communication style sits on Guttman’s scale?
  2. Validate your assumptions: Ask others the same question to see if your self-evaluation matches their experience.
  3. Assess your environment: How does the cultural assertiveness of your situation differ from your own. How do you need to adjust or act in this situation in order to be successful?
  4. Adjust: Learn to behave outside of your natural comfort zone.

I would love to hear examples of assertiveness differences you have experienced!

NOTE: The content above has been adapted from the seminal work on global leadership commonly called The GLOBE Leadership Study. It assessed 62 different countries and identified important cultural and leadership norms. The results of this massive research project provide us with a goldmine of information which helps us understand cultural differences.


 

Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a GLOBE Assertivenessprofessor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Reference

Guttman, H.M (2003).When  Goliath clash.New York: Amacon

House, R., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M, Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.