Aptitude Testing in Nigeria: Is There a Better Way?


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The use of aptitude testing is widely employed as a key step in the recruitment process of many large corporations. The goal is to improve hiring decisions and reduce the cost of hiring mistakes.

Unfortunately, the field of Psychometrics (i.e. the technical term used to describe the scientific measurement of mental traits, abilities and processes that is underpins all psychological testing) is quite complex. As a result, there is growing concern over the largely unregulated and often inappropriate use of psychological testing in the workplace.

In this very interesting post Opeoluwa Ojo, a former Human Edge consultant who now works with the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, Nigeria takes a personal look at one of the most common applications of psychological testing, the aptitude test. Enjoy. Ope

Aptitude Testing In Nigeria: Is There a Better Way? by Opeoluwa Ojo, ACIPM

During a recent conversation with a friend, discussion turned to our mutual experiences with the use of aptitude testing for employment purposes. My friend strongly believes that as a Communication Arts graduate, when she sits for an aptitude test in Nigeria, she is usually put at a clear disadvantage by the emphasis on testing numerical aptitude adopted by many employers.

Reflecting on my experience and those of other friends, I can certainly empathize with her. Our reactions have typically ranged from “How on earth do they intend to test our abilities with this?” to “Okay, this seems fair.”

Now, you might think that what the person being tested thinks of a test has nothing to do with his or her performance on the test. Perhaps, but if there’s one thing that HR professionals now acknowledge, it’s the fact that talented people still have a say about where to deploy their abilities. So, developing a screening process regarded as fair by all concerned should be a key part of an organization’s employee value proposition.

Back to our subject, I believe the main problem with the aptitude tests I’ve been subjected to is the assumption that “One size fits all.” Irrespective of the job or role in question, the type of test employed rarely seems to change.

Unfortunately, I believe this position runs contrary to current best practice in the field of psychological testing. Indeed, current thinking recognizes aptitude tests as tools that are used to decide a person’s abilities and competences to do a given job. Furthermore, tests should be designed and employed judiciously using proper scientific methods as part of the broader recruitment process.

With this in mind, I suggest that organizations reconfigure their use of aptitude testing when assessing potential fresh entrants into the workforce along the following lines:

Step 1: Apply a General Aptitude Test: These type of tests should be able to test the general thinking abilities of candidates; they can also be used to assess candidates in one or more of the following knowledge areas:

  • General Knowledge/Current Affairs: Topics that an average University graduate would be expected to be familiar with
  • Residual Knowledge: Topics that candidates would normally become familiar with over a period of learning
  • Simulation/Scenario Based Knowledge: simulations that help to show the thinking patterns and likely behavior of candidates in particular job-related situationsaptitude testing

General Aptitude tests help to reduce the likelihood of some candidates having an undue advantage over others by focusing on their general thinking abilities and not their technical abilities

Step 2: Next, Apply a Specialized Test: Specialized tests seek to assess a person’s technical abilities. They recognize that different jobs require different competencies for best performance. Consequently, it is important to design specialized tests according to the particular job or role in question.

Step 3: Conduct a Personal Interview: Typically, personal interviews are used to assess candidates’ interpersonal skills, educational background and so on. They can also help to assess the fit between the candidate and the organization in terms of values, character and other personal characteristics.

Recent research reports suggest that a growing number of corporations are moving away from their former heavy reliance on aptitude testing towards a more balanced suite of screening techniques to identify top candidates for their graduate/management trainee programs. Hopefully, this practice will become more widespread in the future.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m all for aptitude testing when it’s used properly (i.e. right time, right place, and right content). My argument is simply that employers must do a better job of matching the tests they use to the real aptitudes they are seeking to measure. If they do, I am confident the accuracy of their selection decisions will improve and so will their organizational performance.

Designing the Candidate Experience: What I Learnt From My First Job Interview


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As I walked into the office, I spotted him almost immediately sitting quietly in the waiting room next to our reception area.

Aged somewhere between 25 and 30 years, he had that fresh-faced but anxious look about him that screamed ‘first job interview’ to all around. Opeoluwa, the charming associate consultant who manages our front desk didn’t seem to be around, so I asked him if anyone had attended to him. His quiet affirmation was barely perceptible over the hum of the air conditioner and CNN broadcast running quietly in the background.

“Here for an interview” I enquired? “Yes, I am” he again affirmed quietly. I wished him good luck and gave him a smile of encouragement as I headed towards my office.

I was still smiling as I sat down at my desk, for unknown to my young friend, he had far less reason to feel downloadanxious than he might have thought. In fact, the 45-minute interview he was about to undergo would probably be one of the friendliest, yet most revealing, interview sessions he would ever attend.

To help you understand exactly how and why Human Edge interviews have been so carefully designed to bring out the best in candidates, I’m going to tell you a story.

From 1979 – 1980, I served my national youth service (or NYSC) with the now defunct Nigerian Petroleum Refining Company (NPRC) in Port-Harcourt, later to become the NNPC Port Harcourt Refinery.

To be honest, I had a great time in Port Harcourt. In the ’80s, life in the city was a young man’s dream and doing my national service at the refinery turned out to be quite exciting as well. I’d been posted to the company’s human resources department and the manager in charge put together an informal, 9-month internship program that saw me rotate through all the main HR functions. I learnt a lot and my stay there sparked off a love affair with all things HR that has lasted nearly 35 years.

Despite enjoying myself so much, I turned down an offer to stay on at the refinery in a permanent role at the end of my service year and returned home to Lagos. At the time, it seemed reasonable to assume that Lagos offered considerably broader options with regards to employment.

Shortly after my arrival back home, you can imagine my surprise when I received a letter inviting me to attend an interview with one of the big three oil majors operating in the country. To this day, I’m not sure how that invitation came about. I do know that I hadn’t yet started to look for work so I definitely hadn’t applied to this particular company. Perhaps a relative or family friend had spoken up on my behalf.

In any event, a week later I headed off to my first job interview, all scrubbed up and wearing my best suit. Sadly, there were no ‘selfies’ in those days, but I’m sure I must have been a sight.

My appointment was for 10 a.m and to make sure I wouldn’t be late, I decided to arrive a bit earlier. So, at 9 a.m on the dot I walked bravely up to the efficient – looking young woman at the reception desk on the ground floor of the company’s headquarters on  Victoria Island and politely informed her that I was there for an interview. She looked me up and down for a moment and then motioned me to take a seat on one of the row of chairs in the reception area.

I watched the flow of human traffic in and out of the building for a while and tried to guess if there were any other candidates like myself there, but it was hard to tell who all the various visitors might be. I soon gave up on this and decided to read through the résumé I’d put together. There really wasn’t much to it, I thought to myself, but I wanted to be familiar with the information I’d put down.

As time passed, I became increasingly nervous. Remember, this was my first job interview! What if the receptionist had forgotten about me, I worried? By 9.45 a.m, I still hadn’t been called and all my efforts to make eye-contact with the young woman had failed. So, I went back to the front desk and reminded her of my appointment. “What did you say you are here for again?” she asked disinterestedly. “An interview with the HR manager,” I said and gave her the letter of invitation to read once more. “Where are you from?” she queried. “Erm, from my house” I answered. “Yes, but where are you from?” she impatiently asked once more. “From my house. Do you want the address?” I replied.

Whoops. Wrong answer, it seemed. Flashing an angry look my way, she dialed a number, and informed whoever was on the other end of the line that there was a candidate for interview before her who “refused to say where he’s from!”

To my horror, she then shoved the phone at me and said “Talk to the HR manager yourself.” The smirk on her face suggested that he or she would soon sort me out. It turned out to be a gentleman …and he did.

Five minutes later, with my ears still ringing from the barracking I got for being so uncooperative – especially as I was the one “looking for a job,” I found myself being ushered into the HR manager’s outer office, where a surprisingly considerate secretary asked me what I’d done to upset her boss quite so much.

“I’m sorry madam, but I honestly don’t know. Both the HR manager and the receptionist kept asking me where I was from, and I kept answering as truthfully as I could, from my house!” I explained. She download (1)smiled at me in a knowing sort of way and proceeded to explain in a kindly voice “Ah, I see. What they meant was who referred you to our company?”

“Really? Why didn’t they just ask me that in plain English” I almost screamed.

Eventually, I got to spend about 10 minutes with the HR manager. I clearly hadn’t impressed him and it was quite obvious that he didn’t see much potential in me. He was kind enough to send me to have a chat with one of his assistant managers who, as it turns out, I recognized as having been a few years ahead of me at the University of Ibadan. Hopefully, he’d be a little more friendly. No such luck. Obviously my exploits of the day had traveled far within the company’s HR department and so, after yet another 5 minute tongue-lashing, I found myself back with the HR manager’s secretary. She gave me another apologetic sort of half-smile and urged me not to worry too much. Hopefully, things would turn out better than I thought.

“Perhaps she’s right,” I sighed to myself as I signed-out from the Visitor’s Book at the front desk, but then I noticed the receptionist somehow managing to both glare and smirk at me at the same time. There and then, I vowed that even if this was the last place on earth, I’d never work there.

So, there you have it. My first job interview turned out to be the proverbial ‘interview from hell.’

Fortunately, there’s a bit of a post-script to this story. Many years later, after I had become a senior HR manager myself with another oil major operating in the country, I had the pleasure of meeting that HR manager again. When I recounted my experience that day in his office, he appeared genuinely contrite, offered a profound apology and blamed the affair on a ‘bad day at the office.’ Well, by this time I’d had a few bad days at the office myself over the years, so I could empathize with his explanation. We shook hands and that was it.

Or was it?

I suspect many of my current views about the importance of creating a great candidate experience during the interviewing process have their roots in my personal experience. For example, I believe that more than ever business organizations are finding themselves competing for a dwindling pool of talent. Their problems are compounded by the fact that talented employees are still able to decide where they prefer to work, despite the unfavorable market conditions in most parts of the world at the moment. In my experience, many employers are still finding it hard to come to terms with the power that prospective talented employees may wield.

I think this is unfortunate, not the least because the interview process is probably best viewed as a mechanism for  employers and prospective employees alike to decide if a given job opportunity represents a good fit for both parties. Designing a great candidate experience into that process can help tip the balance in favor of employers as they seek to secure the services of much sought after organizational talent.

At Human Edge, we’ve tried to turn this recognition into concrete action by assembling a team of consultants and tasking them with the design and monitoring of what we call the ‘Branded Candidate Experience’ at the firm. Their goal? To make sure candidates attending interviews with the firm have a great experience while doing so.

In case you’re wondering, the ‘Branded Candidate Experience’ isn’t just an exercise in employment branding or corporate P.R. In his fascinating new book, ‘The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, author Ron Friedman, PhD points out that the first few minutes of an exchange can have a dramatic impact on the subsequent development of relationships. By paying careful attention to those first ‘Moments of Truth’ in the interviewing process we’ve discovered that even candidates who eventually aren’t successful in getting their dream jobs enjoy the experience so much, that they often go on to become some of our most effective brand champions.

From personal experience, I’d also add that first impressions are usually lasting ones. Remember, the events described in my story occurred nearly 35 years ago but I still recall them quite vividly. Furthermore, the (negative) impressions I formed of the company in question have hardly changed since that time. Something to think about at a time when the  concept of ’employer branding’ is receiving growing attention.

Today, I’m more convinced than ever that a great candidate experience doesn’t just happen by chance. Rather, it’s the result of careful planning and disciplined execution. Done properly, it can produce a truly win-win outcome. Employers ignore this important tool at their own peril.

Want a Successful Career? Getting the Right Education Can Help


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fkThis week it’s my pleasure to introduce a new guest blogger, Miss Folakunmi Sosanya, who joined Human Edge in December 2014.

Folakunmi has some very definite ideas about how getting the right education can seriously boost one’s career potential. More importantly, she identifies the need to become a lifelong learner, which is certainly something I believe in.

Enjoy the post.

Want a Successful Career? Getting the Right Education Can Help by Folakunmi Sosanya

It’s a new year, and new thoughts begin to set in as to how to advance your career. So what are your career advancement goals? Educational achievement plans? What do you intend to achieve? Have you set any targets for yourself? So many questions to be answered all in a bid to improve oneself and yet, they can all be achieved by starting on a clean slate. That’s the awesome thing about the beginning of a new year – new plans, new dreams and a positive attitude.

Getting the right education can be a major factor in achieving career success. Try to imagine a world without education. Sounds weird right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that being uneducated is equal to being unsuccessful, far from it. However, most of us would probably agree that an educated person tends to get better opportunities in life. So, I believe getting the right education is important and in everyone’s best interest.

Here are four reasons to focus on getting the right education:

  1. It helps to develop more confidence and greater independence: Having a strong educational base helps to make us more self-sufficient and independent-minded, particularly when it comes to making those critical life and financial decisions.
  1. It helps us turn our dreams into reality: We all dream. But, as awesome as dreams can be, they can also be quite scary for many of us. One reason is that we often lack the resources or the wherewithal to make our dreams come true. Fortunately, the more confidence we have, the more we are likely to truly believe that we can really achieve the things we set our minds to. According to Brian Littrell, the former Backstreet Boys singer and now Christian music artist who almost lost his life twice to a serious medical condition, we should “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you’ll land among the stars.”
  1. The more knowledge we have, the higher our potential for financial advancement: Having a good education should make us more knowledgeable, which in turn should help us to broaden our horizons. This is not just about personal gratification, after all we live in a world in which being knowledgeable often makes us more powerful. Rather, there’s simply a plethora of evidence that the better educated one is in general, the greater the chances of landing a well -paying job. Money certainly isn’t everything, but it sure does help.

Now that we’ve agreed education has a big influence on our chances of advancement, let me give you a peek into how my educational choices have played a big role in getting me to where I am today.

To start with, like many young people I chose my undergraduate/first degree course with the help of my parents. In my part of the world (Nigeria), parents tend to guide the early educational choices of their children with the hope that they make better decisions regarding such an important life choice.

Soon after I finished my undergraduate studies, I got my first job as a Business Analyst in an I.T consulting firm. I enjoyed my job a great deal but eventually I decided to go back to school for further studies. My choice of postgraduate course was influenced by several considerations. First, I wanted to study something related to the kind of work I had beingimage2 doing in my first job. Second, I wanted something that would allow me to gain more insight into what seemed to be an interesting field of study. Third, if all went well, I hoped to be able to significantly enhance my earning potential once I got back into the labor market.

At first, it was quite difficult contemplating the thought of not being able to earn an income for myself and having to become financially dependent on my parents once again. In fact, it was a really hard decision, but one I honestly don’t regret making. My postgraduate program turned out to be a real opportunity to gain more knowledge and a different type of experience, things which will surely will help me to build a better career in future.

I don’t yet know where my formal education “journey” will lead me. However, I now recognize that I must be committed to lifelong learning and that knowledge must be acquired on a daily basis if one is truly to attain a state of self-actualization.

So, what about you? Don’t let this year go by without aspiring to learn something new or something interesting that will add value to who you are and what you can do. Now that you know how education can improve your worth, what bold steps are you ready to take regarding your educational choices? To boost your career? It’s all in your hands now. Go for it!

Integrity in the Workplace


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It’s been one of the hot workplace topics of 2014 and a subject that has many managers throwing up their hands in despair: just how do you address the subject of “INTEGRITY” in the everyday life of a manager? Talent Matters caught up with Adekemi Akinyede and Olabimpe Alabi, Consultant and Associate Consultant respectively in the Advisory Services division of Human Edge Limited, and asked them for their views. As you can see from their post below, they both expressed some pretty forthright opinions on the subject, certainly no grey areas for them. However, I’m not so sure. Many managers find themselves in a delicate “no-man’s land” when it comes to integrity. One in which “good faith” and “best intentions” are often hard to fulfil due to circumstances way beyond their control. Many managers also wonder if the issue of integrity in the workplace hasn’t become too one-sided, something that applies only to managers and not employees as well. Whichever way you’re leaning at the moment, Adekemi and Olabimpe’s piece certainly adds to the debate. Enjoy.

Integrity in the Workplace by Adekemi Akinyede and Olabimpe Alabi

If only there was one value to live by, it would be this: INTEGRITY!!!. Success, work, people, things and money will come and go, but integrity lasts forever. Integrity integritymeans doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences will be. Building a reputation of integrity takes years, but it takes only a second to lose. Why is integrity so important in the workplace? We have heard of many instances where integrity is taken for granted at the workplace, the reason could be any of many reasons. When you think about something, and you say it out loud, then you are obliged to act on what has been said. For instance, where you are invited for a conference/workshop and you accept that invitation, you are obliged to be present irrespective of other pressing engagements or bad traffic you are faced with. You owe it to yourself and the person to be there. You have to give people around you the opportunity to trust your word. At the beginning of the year, there are expectations from the employer and the employees, objectives are clear, goals are set, promises are made, salaries are expected amongst many other things, we are all excited! For an employer, because nothing is certain and businesses face good times, hard times, economic recession rears its head, things may not go as planned. You therefore, owe it your employees to communicate change in circumstances. Communication is one of the most important and effective tools of managing an organization. Communicate why you cannot meet these set expectations, communicate why you cannot pay that leave allowance we’ve been planning our holiday around, communicate! Let the people you work for and who work for you “trust your word”. The “policy” says after one complete calendar year an employee is due for promotion, in fifteen months, no promotion, and no communication whatsoever. Employees’ feel they are being taken for granted, they don’t feel appreciated or even noticed. These will impact the way the employee feels towards the organization and there won’t be any feeling of camaraderie or ownership because the trust was broken. You want to create a work environment where people don’t jump off the bus at the slightest glitch the company faces, you want an environment where the people are committed and trusted, but that will not happen by paying lip service or ignoring the needs of your employees. An organization needs to invest emotionally in their employees, find time to genuinely care, empathize, and communicate with them. The worst thing that can happen to an organization is to lose her good employees. Employees, on the other hand, should endeavor to honor their working hours and not steal time from their employer. Keep workplace secrets such as client information, employee salaries and up-coming company changes to yourself – it’s an absolute integrity must. We live in a world where integrity isn’t talked about nearly enough. Where “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable school of thought for far too many. Sales people over-promise and under deliver, all in the name of making their quota for the month. Applicants exaggerate in job interviews because they desperately need a job. Employees call in “sick” because they don’t have any more paid time off when they actually just need to get personal errands done. The list could go on and on, and in each case the person committing the act of dishonesty told himself or herself they had a perfectly valid reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity. Profit in Naira or popularity is temporary, but profit in a network of people who trust you as a person of integrity is forever. Warren Buffet, said it best: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy.  And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.” 

Finding the Right Talent

Talent Matters recently caught up with Colin Enim and Jumoke Aleoke-Malachi, Head, Staffing Division and Senior Consultant respectively with Human Edge Limited.

We asked them what they are currently advising their clients to do in order to find the right talents in today’s hyper-competitive talent market. I think you’ll enjoy some of their insights. Over to you.

Finding the Right Talent by Colin Enim and Jumoke Aleoke-Malachi

Successful hiring is a two-sided process. You have to find the right talent and the right talent has to be interested in the working with your organization. Talented people almost always have options available to them. To ensure your organization is on the right pedestal, consider adapting the following strategies to attract talent:

  • Treat your Employees Well: A good and enabling work environment will create a positive message about your company/organization in the community. Your organization will be a place where people want to work
  • Promote your Company/Organization: If no one has ever heard about your company/organization, it will be difficult for your organization to attract the talented people you will need to grow and prosper
  • Focus on Employee Retention: Lowering turnover will reduce your need to hire from outside which in turn should lower your costs considerably. In addition, give your employees the same courtesies and opportunities that you extend to customers and the public in general.
  • Be Conscious of Timelines: Don’t lose employees’ to other employers because your organization acted too slowly. Act quickly.
  • Show Enthusiasm: Always speak positively about your Company/Organization. During interviews, sell the candidate on yourself and your organization.


Now that your house is in order, let’s examine the hiring process.

Hiring the right employees for your organization is a challenging process. Hiring the wrong employee is expensive and time consuming. On the other hand, hiring the right employee enhances your work culture and pays your organization back a thousand times over in high employee morale. To achieve hiring the right employee the following steps are crucial:Finding the Right Talent

1. Prepare a comprehensive job description before initiating the hiring – This will go a long way in determining the right specification for the job

2. Plan your employee recruiting strategy – An effective recruitment strategy will go a long way in reducing the duration of time used in identifying the candidate from respective organization and sectors.

3. Use a checklist for hiring an employee – A checklist will serve the purpose of ensuring that every potential candidate provides every necessary documentation relevant to the job he /she is applying for.

4. Recruit the right candidates when hiring an employee – Recruiting the right candidate goes beyond the paper qualifications and relative experience meant for the job but also addresses the issue regarding the candidates’ profile that has to be right for the organization and for the job itself.

5. Review credentials and applications carefully – The review of the candidates credentials becomes prime necessary due to the risk of forgery of credentials that is rampant in this day and age alongside the required experience level of the applicants for the job positions.

6. Prescreen your candidates – The pre-screening of candidates helps sieve out those that are not qualified by not meeting to requirements so the focus can be on those qualified that would be subjected to a rigorous interview process.

7. Ask the right job interview questions – Asking the right job interview questions will show great level of professionalism during the interview stages. This will help identify the right person that has met the required job specification

8. Check backgrounds and references when hiring an employee – This is considered a necessity while considering hiring. This would eventually check mate the risk of a potential miss hire or mischievous individual before hired or within the system

9. Pay Fairly: Poor compensation is a major reason a new employee may walk away early. For instance, someone who takes a job with your organization may get a better offer a few weeks later and decide to jump ship. The economy has evolved and many candidates are getting multiple offers. If your organization truly likes a candidate, then offer them fair market value.

10. Don’t neglect looking inside your organization when filling an open position. Employees are a great source of potential hires because a current employee is likely to give a realistic preview to a candidate and is less likely to refer someone who will not be a positive reflection of themselves.

Also consider promoting from within; proven employees who already know your company and fit in well with the culture are the easiest hires you’ll ever make.

11. Consider several approaches, such as giving candidates an assignment before the interview. For example, ask them to review your product or webpage and give you their comment. If the position for which you are hiring is especially key to your organization, make an effort to see the person in action. For example ask a shop foreman candidate to walk through your plant and comment on things he/she sees. Always give a five minute warning before closing an interview. People often say something important about themselves at the last minute.

In closing, put your house in order so you can attract the right candidate.


Where Do Top Performers Come From?


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In Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World- Class Performers From Everybody Else, the author, Geoff Colvin, tackles the question of where great performance comes from head-on.top-performer-200x150

His conclusion is that it comes from neither hard work nor people’s innate qualities (what we typically call talent). Instead, he suggests that it comes from “deliberate performance” i.e. intense, focused and systematic effort to master a skill or subject.

The concept of deliberate practice was pioneered by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University. In a seminal 1993 paper titled “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Ericsson argued that:

“People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance, the expert performers must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults. This view has discouraged scientists from systematically examining expert performers and accounting for their performance in terms of the laws and principles of general psychology.”

Ericsson further stated that he and his colleagues agreed that:

“Expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

Ericsson’s research identified four essential components of deliberate practice that when met, help to improve accuracy and speed of performance on cognitive, perceptual and other tasks:

  1. You must be motivated to attend to the task and exert effort to improve your performance.
  1. Each task should be designed to take into account your pre-existing knowledge. This will ensure the task is correctly understood after a relatively brief period of instruction.
  1. You should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of your performance.
  1. The same or similar tasks should be performed repeatedly.

Much of the argument by the proponents of deliberate practice reinforces with my own observations over the years. I’ve certainly come across many hardworking people whose applications and efforts simply did not translate into superior performance, I also agree with Colvin’s assertion that ascribing great performance to innate ability or talent alone simply allows too many people to find an easy excuse for their lack of achievement.

On the other hand, I wonder if deliberate practice by itself can explain all cases of superior performance. I’ve met more than my fair share of top performers whose achievements could hardly be ascribed to anything remotely resembling deliberate practice.

Clearly, the debate over where superior performance in the workplace comes from is one that isn’t going to be decided anytime soon. Nature versus nurture: which side are you on?


A Question of Trust


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I’ve just finished reading Turn the Ship Around! by Captain L. David Marquet, a former U.S. Navy submarine commander. The book chronicles Marquet’s successful efforts to turn the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear- powered submarine from worst to first in the fleet.

It is a remarkable account, not least because Captain Marquet found himself having to challenge nearly all the Navy’s traditional leadership principles as he struggled to build a high-performing team out of the chronically under-performing crew he inherited when he assumed command.

Working with a very tight deadline to meet exacting combat readiness standards, Marquet knew he had to quickly find a way to move the crew away from the Navy’s traditional “leader-follower” leadership paradigm. In its place, he would seek to establish a “leader-leader” approach that would shift his middle-level managers out of their comfort zone or “position of privilege” as he calls it towards one in which they actively sought out and accepted increasing levels of accountability, responsibility and work.

As he tried to implement this new approach, Marquet often found himself having to make direct contact with people below his immediate reports. In some cases, this was necessary to ensure clarity about how the new approach would work, in others it was to check up to see if the new way of managing was actually working.

Now this is a problem I can readily identify with. As Human Edge has continued to grow and expand, I too have found myself struggling to find the right balance between empowering colleagues who are often assuming managerial responsibilities for the first time and maintaining close contact with their team members in order to monitor work output and quality.

Like Marquet, I have been accused by managers of undermining their authority by not demonstrating sufficient trust in their managerial abilities. However, until I read Marquet’s book, I could never quite respond to such accusations the way I really wanted. I do trust them, but perhaps not quite in the way they expect.

Fortunately, Marquet manages to hit the nail on the head when he explains that “Trust means this: when you report that we should position the ship in a certain position, you believe that we should position the ship as you indicated. Not trusting you would mean that I thought you might be saying one thing while actually believing something else. Trust is purely a characteristic of the human relationship. Now, whether the position you indicate is actually the best tactical position for Santa Fe is a totally different issue, one of physics, time, distance and the movements of the enemy. These are characteristics of the physical world and have nothing to do with trust.”

And that, I guess, is the real point. As managers we have a duty to obtain the facts about a given situation. This may require us to check up on the handling of a situation by whatever means necessary, including the questioning of people closest to the action.

Turn the Ship AroundMany managers see this as an issue of exercising legitimate control and not a question of trust. But with hindsight, perhaps it is a question of trust. Our reports must “trust” us enough to believe that we will not intentionally seek to undermine their authority with team members.

Needless to say, achieving such high levels of trust requires considerable hard work. In particular, attention must be paid to ensuring that people are clear about their individual roles and responsibilities.

Once people understand what an organization is trying to achieve and how they can contribute to its success, most of the unproductive second guessing and mistrust gradually fades away.

Trying To Build A Better Brand? It’s All About People (2)


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In my previous post, I examined the relationship between an organization’s brand promise and the brand experience produced by customer interaction with its workforce.

In this post, Mr. Folu Adeyeye, a creative strategist with a leading Lagos-based strategy and innovation firm shares his views on how to ensure that an organization’s employees deliver its brand promise to customers.



Folu Adeyeye

Winning with People by Folu Adeyeye

Your organization is only as good as its people. No matter how cliché this proposition has become, it still holds immense truth especially for businesses in the 21st century that are serious about catalyzing business growth based on consistent brand delivery. Just as your organization is only as good as its people, this group of people are also only as impactful as the creed that binds and guides them. This notion, perhaps, best underscores the importance of “branded behavior” in creating the right corporate culture that will guarantee effective delivery of your brand’s promise.

More often than not, business owners go about setting up their businesses without giving consideration to the kind of environment the business will sport or the kind of people that will best deliver the business’ value proposition. Ultimately, the employees of such businesses get the front row seat in defining what culture will pervade the business – more often than not, this culture is not very enabling.

Your people continue to be a major pillar in your business strategy, but now more than ever before, these people must become the key drivers and builders of your brand. If the people that represent you to your customers and your market do not understand your brand, then it would be near impossible to deliver that brand. While marketing communications play a vital role in the brand building process, it is people who deliver the vital brand experiences and encounters that reinforce your values and fulfil your promise.

A classic example of this would be most Nigerian banks. Very often does a bank communicate to the public their utmost commitment to service, creating some anticipation of almost celestial encounters when you do business with them. However, one cannot help but notice the sharp contrast during actual physical transaction with staff of that bank. The sad result is that the millions on Naira spent on marketing communications have gone to waste because disappointed customers will not only withdraw patronage, they will also become negative advocates for your brand.

The global business landscape, over the last decade has witnessed immense changes; so much more than the preceding century. The most obvious consequence of these changes is the transfer of power to the customer within transactional relationships. After years of empty talk, the customer is now truly king. They have developed an ever evolving taste, they have access to lots more information and now seek to be more included within the realities of business owners. They want more.

These customers, however, are people; people who still need other people to interact with in the course of their lives. The implication for your business within this new paradigm is that you have to “humanize” your brand and distil all that you stand for into personal interactions. This is where your people come in. Customers do not interact with your brand in a vacuum. They interact with you through your people and if these people do not effectively portray what your business stands for, then that sharp contrast which I referred to earlier will mark off a dangerous slide for your business.

So how do you ensure that your people effectively deliver your brand? It’s simple really. Over the last few years of working at Headstart Consulting, a strategy and innovation firm, we have developed comprehensive branBrandingd acculturation program which we call “Living the Brand*”. This program employs a comprehensive and systematic way of entrenching an organization’s values, ideals and aspirations and creating a pervasive a corporate culture that is aligned with corporate objectives. The format for the program shows clearly the steps for taking your staff through that transformational process: from employees to brand champions. Here are four steps to achieve this:

Understanding the Brand

The first thing to do is create a pervasive understanding of the key elements of your organization’s brand. These include a clear definition of why you exist as a business, the value proposition on offer to your customers, specific character traits of your brand and a sturdy position you intend to occupy in the mind of your customers. These elements make up your brand platform and when effectively applied, can be a viable springboard for effective brand delivery.

Living the Brand

This stage is called the “Baptismal Stage”. After ensuring a clear understanding of your brand across your business, the next step will be to cascade this knowledge into your corporate culture. This means that in re-writing your culture book or HR manual, you must take account of the kinds of behavioral characteristics and personality attributes that your people need to foster in order to fully take on your brand image.

Delivering the Brand

At this phase, your people are ready to begin the process of delivering your brand. However, you need to ensure that their knowledge of your brand is matched by a comprehensive consideration and understanding of the peculiar need, expectations and aspirations of your public (internal and external). This way they can be sure to create consistently delightful brand experiences.

Championing the Brand

Finally, you need to ensure that you entrench a deep sense of pride, ownership and responsibility amongst your employees as they take on the role of brand ambassadors.  You can achieve this by not only identifying but by also rewarding brand-centric behaviors and actions.

It is important to note that to realize your true potentials as a business, you need to effectively and efficiently tackle cultural misalignments and deficiencies by entrenching a culture that reinforces corporate aspirations and a workforce who’s collective and individual behaviors support corporate values and ideals.

*Living the Brand is a proprietary brand acculturation program of Headstart Consulting Limited

Trying To Build A Better Brand? It’s All About People


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Brand building is all the rage these days. Perhaps that’s not as big a surprise as one might think. After all, a growing glut of look-alike products and sbrand buildingervices is making it increasingly difficult for organizations to differentiate themselves to customers and employees alike.

The hope seems to be that a powerful brand can somehow cut through the noise of the marketplace, heighten awareness of our products and services, and shift demand in our favor.

Unfortunately, too many businesses are finding it hard to deliver on their brand promise and the consequences of not being able to do so are easy to see at various points of contact between the customer and the organization.

These are the so-called ‘moments of truth’ that can enhance or erode a brand, heighten or undermine customer loyalty and generally impact on business outcomes for better or for worse.

In recognition of the dangers uncontrolled moments of truth present, businesses are increasingly seeking to create a unique ‘customer experience’. Doing so typically requires every point of customer contact to be carefully aligned with the brand promise.

Although several factors must combine effectively to create a successful customer experience, the behavior of an organization’s workforce is probably the most important. Those moments of truth involving human interaction often have the greatest impact on how a customer feels about the brand.

Taking the right steps to ensure employees continually reinforce the brand through their actions is crucial. Yet, all too often it is quite clear that many organizations have little or no real understanding of what enables or hinders employee effectiveness at the key moments of truth.

As always, a variety of factors combine to undermine an organization’s brand promise. Rarely, is it all about malicious intent or lack of interest on the part of employees.

My personal experience suggests that many employees, particularly, those on the frontline, don’t understand the implications of their organization’s brand promise for their own work situation. Others simply don’t have the wherewithal (training, tools, etc.) to deliver.

In most cases, employees can be just as frustrated as business owners or managers, when faced with the sheer reality of the gaps between what their customers expect and what they are able to for them.

Fortunately, all is not lost as there are a number of steps smart organizations can take to better align their human capital practices and brand investments. These include focusing on the experience and competencies of customer-facing employees, as well as on the work process and organization structure.

Attention must also be paid to the availability and timeliness of critical business information, the way decisions affecting the customer are made, and the reward system the organization uses to motivate people through pay and other incentives.

Not easy, I hear you say. No, but well worth the effort.

Stop Shooting Yourself In The Foot On LinkedIn


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I recently turned to LinkedIn to search for candidates for an executive position I was trying to fill. During the process, I observed that a number of potential candidate-nominees could only be sent invitations by people who know their email addresses or who appear in their “Imported Contacts” list.

Now, this might seem like a smart thing to do considering the fact that social networking sites can sometimes attract all kinds of unpleasantries but, securing your profile certainly could hinder your chances of being offered a great opportunity. You know, the kind that comes knocking on your door when you least expect.

Get Out Of Your Way

Think about this for a few seconds and ask yourself why you decided to establish a LinkedIn profile in the first place. If one of your reasons for signing on to LinkedIn is to showcase your talent or career achievements to prospective employers, why would you create a ‘firewall’ to prevent them from connecting with you? What was the purpose of showcasing in the first place? Don’t you think you might be shooting yourself in the foot?

So, here’s a word of advice: Try to avoid getting in your own way.


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