The Million-Dollar Recruiting Risk: How Behavioral Benchmarks Take the Danger Out of Hiring

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Increasingly, more and more business, HR, and recruiting leaders are recognizing that it’s not just a candidate’s experience that matters. Making a great hire is about more than what someone has done; it’s about their behavior – how they have done things and how they will do things in the future.

Getting behavior wrong can be a huge risk, especially in high-visibility, high-impact roles in tightly regulated industries.

For example, in the nuclear energy sector, training costs alone for the role of shift supervisor can add up to seven figures over the course of a seven-year apprenticeship.

What follows is a miniature case study from the energy industry that illustrates how recruiters in any sector can minimize risk and predict success by better measuring and understanding a candidate’s behavior.

Hiring: More Than Filling a Role – It’s Ensuring a Culture

The nuclear energy sector is subject to exacting requirements that must be met – and, ideally, exceeded – to ensure safe operations. These requirements apply as much to plant systems as they do to organizational management and talent performance.

Safety is woven into every aspect of operations and culture, from rigorous emergency response planning to cultivating sound employee performance practices. Nuclear energy companies need to develop people in key who roles who are capable of handling both methodical, day-to-day operations and potentially unimaginable situations, such as the Fukushima, Japan, crisis of 2011.

Here’s the rub for recruiters: Nuclear energy plants require leading-edge technologies to operate safely and effectively, so there is a bias toward employing engineers who are highly analytical and technically proficient to manage operations. Recruiters in the sector have therefore prioritized candidates with those skills and experiences.

However, extensive industry analysis after Fukushima pointed out the significant impact leadership behaviors had in galvanizing staff actions under extreme circumstances. When people suddenly found themselves without light, power, communications systems, and any means of knowing the status of the reactor core, it took profound people-leadership talent to maintain the trust, confidence, and willingness necessary for people to focus on managing the situation.

It wasn’t about making the calls for others to follow in the moment of crisis – it was about having built a culture where people would have the self-confidence to contribute and solve problems. Such a culture requires equal parts leadership skill and behavior.

Behavioral DNA: Like the 23andMe of Career Success

The question, then, is what does success behave like?

As in many industries, employers in the nuclear power sector are looking not only to put more people with science skills into their businesses, but also to put more science into their selection processes.

To start, these employers are focusing on behavior. They leverage databases of behavioral benchmarks that isolate the key behavioral tendencies of the highest-performing people in specific roles. Then, they compare the results of a candidate’s career-focused behavioral assessments against those benchmarks to better predict the candidate’s probability of success or failure.

In a way, it’s like the behavioral equivalent of a 23andMe DNA test. Companies analyze the behaviors that make each person unique and predict how those competencies will serve each candidate in practice on the job.

For example, HR leaders at New Brunswick Power in Canada, worked with SuccessFinder  to build out benchmarks for shift supervisor and control room personnel. The leaders tested their benchmarks for years to provide scientifically valid proof that the benchmarks could predict the probability of high performance, which in their industry – run by some of the brightest engineering minds in the world – was absolutely crucial.

The benchmark development process showed that while analytical reasoning and decisiveness were important for the technical aspects of the role, the crucial skill from a people-leadership perspective was being able to engender trust in the team. That requires empathy and intuition.

Knowledge and skill ride on the back of behavior. In some industries, there is wiggle room for hiring people who lack some behaviors – assuming no one could die as a result. In other fields, that is a risk that no one can afford.

Didi D’Errico is the founder of D2 Tech Marketing and serves as communications strategist for SuccessFinder.

By Didi D'Errico