If you're like many of my clients, friends, and family, you've probably thought about using CliftonStrengths as an assessment tool to select the right person for the job. "What a great matching tool," you've said. "What a great way to predict how a person will act and react!" When people voice these thoughts to me, I want to mirror their excitement about the possibilities of exploring a person's fit using their themes, but at the same time relay a cautionary tale from an evidenced-based and bias-laced perspective.
The scenario often goes like this: you're hiring an HR professional for your organization. You've written the job profile, considered the necessary competencies and the needs of the team. You know who thrives in your organization and who just survives. The last person in the role was great at engaging the team, but didn't think "big picture" enough or hold people accountable for performance.
This time around, you're not going to compromise these qualities. You know exactly who you're looking for -- you make your list of dream themes: Achiever, Strategic, Ideation, Futuristic, and Responsibility. You add the CliftonStrengths assessment to your hiring process and you get to work recruiting, screening, and interviewing. Only, you keep coming up short. Sure, you find lots of candidates with the Achiever theme, and even some who also have high Strategic or Responsibility themes, too. But to find all five, your dream themes, well, that appears to be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Before you go down that trail, here are some points to consider:
- There is no correlation between any of the themes and success in a particular role. We all have our stereotypes of what might be the dream themes for a salesperson or a manager or a leader, but these unfortunately don't work out when we put them to the test. The likelihood is just as high that someone would be a successful salesperson with high Competition, Achiever, Maximizer, Activator, and Self-Assurance as it would be if a person had high Harmony, Developer, Analytical, Relator, and Restorative.
- Even if there were a set of dream themes for a role, the odds of finding them are too low. To be specific, there is about a one in 33 million chance you would find someone with the exact Top 5 in the order you are seeking, or a roughly one in 275,000 chance you will find that Top 5 listed in any order. There's your needle in the haystack.
- Assessment tools that benchmark a candidate's talent intensity against that of your high-potential players are better predictors of success in a particular role. This is what Gallup uses to hire talent, and it's also the kind of assessment we build for our clients. Unfortunately, the CliftonStrengths theme sequence doesn't give you an indication of talent intensity. So, if I have Woo as my No. 1 theme, and you have it as your No. 6 theme, your Woo could actually be stronger than mine. This is because the theme sequence each person receives is relative to their other themes, not benchmarked against other people. This is a tricky distinction, but important to consider if you're trying to compare candidates and pick the one with the strongest talent for a given role.
- We all have biases about certain themes. I'm always taken in by candidates with high Ideation and Input, but have a harder time connecting with those who have high Consistency and Harmony. I might always find a reason to include and exclude certain themes on my dream theme list, and these reasons have nothing to do with finding the right person for the job.
Despite the analytics and biases that could take us down the wrong path, there is a case to be made for using the CliftonStrengths assessment as part of the hiring process. Once you've done your interviewing to assess talent intensity -- and your final candidates' talents match your best in the role -- then CliftonStrengths is a great tool to help you choose between them. Here are some wise applications:
- Engage in a dialogue about a candidate's Top 5 to explore self-awareness. Successful people observe themselves and understand how their own personality can contribute to their success and failure. They are more likely to adjust their behavior to fit a situation, or to adapt to people around them who are different. Ask candidates, "How have your themes contributed to your success? Have there been situations in the past where your themes didn't fit the role or the team? What did you do? How might your themes fit this role?"
- Prepare questions for the candidate that will give you clues as to how they work best. For example, in the scenario above with the HR professional who is high in Analytical, you could ask, "How would your Analytical theme help you to build our talent pipeline?" Or, "How do you use numerical data to help you make decisions? How do you work with people who lead and make decisions with their emotions?"
If the team the candidate is to join has gone through the CliftonStrengths assessment, then map the candidates' themes against the team to determine whether or not they might add some needed diversity to cover some gaps. If your team is full of individuals who have an abundance of themes that are action-oriented, but non-relational, then maybe your team needs someone who can create more collaboration among the team and with other groups -- perhaps someone who is strong in relational themes.
The key is to use the CliftonStrengths assessment and a candidate's Top 5 themes as another piece to the selection puzzle -- a tool for use after you have narrowed down the field of applicants -- rather than to box yourself into one specific Top 5 theme sequence that you perceive as ideal in that role.