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Should Healthcare Hiring Focus on Traits or Behaviors?

June 3, 2016

hiring-in-healthcare.jpgLet’s use a simple example: You need to hire a nurse manager. You have two candidates who, on paper, are qualified for the job, although this would be the first management role for both. One would be an external hire. The other would be an internal promotion.

How do you give yourself the best chance to pick the candidate most likely to succeed in the role? What can you use to predict their degree of success?

1. Past performance data  Of course, the best predictor of future performance is past performance. In this case, your internal candidate has not been in the manager role, though, so you’d need to extrapolate from her performance as a nurse. You likely have some real, observed behavioral data that can be useful. Has she shown to be adaptable, collaborative, have a strong work ethic, etc? Even if she’s done well in these “behavioral” areas, we still don’t know much about her real management or leadership skills. At best, we may be able to look at whether she’s performed some of the job functions? Perhaps she has supervised subordinates, or taken on specific “manager-like” tasks?

For the external candidate, you have even less useful data. There’s been no opportunity to evaluate specific manager-leader behaviors. The best you can do is rely on references, and they usually provide limited useful information.

2. The Interview – A well-structured behavioral interview, targeting clearly identified behavioral competencies can yield useful, predictive information. The key, though, is knowing what leadership behaviors you want to evaluate. Then you need a skilled interviewer who can probe the candidates for specific examples of how they’ve demonstrated the specific skills in the past. Again – neither candidate has been in this role, but they have experiences that will shed light on how they might perform as a manager/leader.

3. Personality Traits The past performance data and interview evaluate actual “behaviors” – what behaviors has the candidate exhibited in the past? Both, though, are dependent on the quality of the data. The other big area that can inform your decision are not behaviors, but “traits” – These include personality, motives, values, and behavioral “tendencies” – this is where well-designed behavioral/personality/psychometric tests come into play. Decades of research show that certain behavioral “traits” predict performance.

If you can combine whatever performance data (including references) you have, with a more predictive interview and a sound assessment of personality traits – then you have a true “selection system” and significantly increase your chances of choosing the right candidate.

Behaviors vs. Traits  I often explain it this way:

Traits look at personality, motives, values, and skills. These could include Social Awareness, Adaptability, Planning and Organizing, Accountability, Openness to New Ideas, and Positive Impact. Traits don’t change much over time, but they can strongly influence behavior.

Behaviors, on the other hand, include things like Communication Techniques, Organization Habits, Facilitation Skills, and Delegation Strategies. There is overlap with traits but these can be learned.

Two personal examples: I always score low on the “trait” of attention to detail. I hate details. When I was a practicing attorney, though, attention to detail was of critical importance – whether attending to deadlines or reviewing detailed contracts and documents. Accordingly, I developed certain behaviors to ensure I could overcome that natural trait. So the learned “behaviors” of planning and organizing allowed me to succeed in spite of my natural “trait” of low attention to detail.

Similarly, while I tend to score high on the “trait” of social awareness, it was specific training I learned in group facilitation and communication “behaviors” that allows me to take advantage of it when working with groups.

You can see how traits and behaviors come into play when evaluating candidates. Both are important data points. Your selection and development efforts will be hampered if you don’t understand, and take advantage of, both.

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Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.