These Companies Assessed for Soft Skills…and Saw Results

A lot of companies use competency-based interviewing techniques to choose the best applicant. As I’m sure you know, in the 1980s and 1990s HR departments went through agonies breaking down every job into competencies so people could be interviewed against them. There’s no doubt this led to a higher degree of success in recruiting competent people, but there were (and still are) two main problems with them.

  • They can be manipulated by applicants who are well practiced in the process.
  • More importantly, they’re not suitable for discovering what a candidate loves doing and is truly talented at. 

Clearly skills and competencies can’t be ignored, especially in fields in which professional qualifications are essential. But there’s an increasing, and exciting, trend towards assessment processes that enable us to get to know the applicants as people, discover their passions, feel what kind of energy they have, and learn what they’re great at. Then we can work out how to use those talents rather than trying to shoe-horn employees into jobs in which they’re good at seven out of the 10 criteria we’re assessing them against.

Cloning Employees

Reward consultancy organization NextJump has a great technique for doing this. It spent years examining which of its employees it would clone if it could, so it could structure their needs around a set of attributes rather than competencies.

NextJump eventually found its surest indicator of success was having a sense of humility. The ability to be open to other people’s ideas was so important to it that it developed a 45-minute interview dedicated solely to finding out the applicant’s propensity for humility, and anyone who didn’t measure up wasn’t hired. It also looked at three other areas: gratefulness vs. entitlement, responsibility for one’s own actions rather than feeling like a victim of circumstance, and a willingness to invest in doing things outside of one’s comfort zone rather than “knowing it all.” Once it got this right, its staff turnover fell from 40% to 1%.

Personal Attributes Over Skills

Another example of a company focusing on personal attributes rather than skills and competencies is ATB, a Canadian financial services organization. Prior to changing its hiring methods it looked for a strong sales background in its candidates, but it found that although this approach brought in short-term sales, it didn’t make the people successful within the company’s culture. 

So ATB looked at its top performers and saw what each was doing was not “being a good salesperson” but “being someone who wanted to deeply understand their clients.” This led it to create a list of desirable attributes such as authenticity and the ability to connect to people and communicate well. Again, it experienced a huge reduction in staff turnover.

Article Continues Below

The Future Over the Past

Aviva, the U.K. insurance company, has also started using strengths-based recruitment. It evaluated 60 different competencies, such as time management, teamwork, and empathy, which it then integrated into its interview methodology. This shifted its approach from assessing people’s past performance to evaluating their future potential. As a result it’s seen its staff productivity levels increase by 21%, delays in its call centers fall by 54%, customer satisfaction jump by 12%, employment churn halved in the first 12 months, and morale noticeably improve.

Energy company RWE npower goes one step further and doesn’t specify the role at all when it creates a job ad. Candidates are interviewed based on their soft skills and experience, not on their ability to manipulate their CVs for a specific role. Through this, its hiring managers gain a genuine insight into the applicants and are then able to recommend the right roles.

You can see the difference it makes when you focus on the person rather than the job, and if you think about it that’s probably how you’d prefer it if it were you. I know I want to be chosen for who I am, for my passions and my energy, rather than for the list of experiences I can tick off. 

Excerpted from HR Disrupted, 2nd Edition by Lucy Adams. Practical Inspiration Publishing. ©2021

Lucy Adams is a "recovering HR director." Having held board-level HR roles in major organizations, she is now on a mission to change outdated HR practices for good.

Lucy is also the author of HR Disrupted: It’s time for something different. As the ex-HRD at the BBC, Lucy brings her beliefs and practices into her work as CEO of Disruptive HR.

Published in January 2017, HR Disrupted is already a best-selling book on HR, topping the Amazon charts. Her book addresses some of the biggest challenges facing leaders and HR today and is packed with practical ways to innovate HR’s approach to leading people in a disrupted world.

Topics