The business impact of defining what great looks like within the graduate population

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Increasingly organisations are seeing the value in having a clear profile for successful hires. This typically provides guidance around key attributes and commonalities that drives high performance and retention. The benefits include:

  • Codifying ‘fit’
  • Allowing an organisation to connect current and new employees with the purpose and vision
  • Developing a shared understanding of what great looks like within key stakeholder groups (Talent and HR teams, senior management and line management)
  • Defining the criteria that predicts performance now and in the future
  • Informing the design of future assessment/selection/promotion/development approaches

Regular conversations and validation of what great looks like allows organisations to ensure it continues to align to strategic shifts and market and political shifts. Furthermore, ensuring this profile includes more intrinsic attributes such as strengths, motivation and values allows for a more holistic approach which has been shown to impact engagement and attrition targets.

A recent piece of research we conducted revealed some interesting findings on graduate strengths between students and graduate recruiters. When comparing over 6,000 student’s top 5 strengths with the top 5 strengths graduate recruiters (across 51 organisations) are looking for to help achieve their strategic aims, we found the following 3 strengths matched:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration

This alignment suggests employers are looking for graduates who are positive, analytical team players – people who can work well with others, communicate their ideas with passion and problem-solve with logic and data. These are interesting generalisations and it is likely that there will be slight differences between employers.

In terms of differences between these groups the students picked Efficiency and Creativity in their Top 5, whilst employers are looking for Resilience and Flexibility, so graduates who can cope well with change and lack of structure, and who see challenge and difficulty as energising. This provides useful insights for both employers and universities/students:

  1. Employers should be aware that graduates may bring skills and strengths different from expectations and should consider how to get the most from these ‘hidden’ strengths.
  2. Schools, Universities and students themselves should prepare for ongoing change and challenge when they reach work and develop flexibility in their approach and style to cope with shifting conditions inside and outside of organisations.

Whilst these findings have some interesting implications for the graduate recruitment market I urge clients to invest the time and resource in understanding the unique strengths combinations that their organisations require. Here are some of the misconceptions or pitfalls around defining what great looks like:

  1. The process is easy and can be objectively delivered by our HR teams – the resounding feedback we receive is around how difficult it can be to identify and differentiate strengths for high performance. Have a good facilitator who can objectively challenge and delve beyond a big wish list of attributes.
  2. This can be done in isolation – Whilst you want to keep it practical and pragmatic it is important not to underestimate the need to identify and engage the right stakeholders and to consider team dynamics. It is a great opportunity create a shared understanding and will ensure buy-in and credibility around any subsequent changes to the assessment and development journey for your hires.
  3. Over-reliance on historical job descriptions – whilst it is important to build on work that has already taken place rather than reinvent the wheel we are noticing the pace of change in organisations requires clients to ensure they are re-valuating and re-validating their what great looks like profile to ensure it is still relevant.
  4. The recruitment and development journey looks different– increasingly clients are finding a joined up approach across assessment and development is much more possible when they invest in defining what great looks like. There is clear sight of what an individual development journey needs to looks like and both hiring managers and new graduate recruits find the clarity allows for focus and clear sight of gaps and stretch projects required.
  5. On the face of it nothing looks broken – Due to volumes or great attraction campaigns it looks like the programme is bringing in the right number of people. However, when measuring the success of the programme with metrics such as retention and pace of progression, organisations are finding it is not all working as hoped. By defining the strengths that predict success and assessing and developing against these leads to better retention and quicker progression (see our ASDA case study). This is no surprise as candidates are recruited on what energises them allowing to be authentic in role and continue to grow in confidence and resilience as they learn to stretch these strengths further

Creating a clear what great looks like profile has been found to deliver a number of benefits and here is how I would summarise the tips and hints for this type of project:

  1. Ensure you have the right people to facilitate this conversation
  2. Invest time in looking at other attributes beyond competencies such as strengths, energisers and motivations as this will give you a much more holistic overview and allow you to assess and develop characteristics which are related to peak performance. Embedding strengths within the recruitment process and beyond has been found to deliver measurable business returns such as increased revenues, reduced costs as well as indicators of future success such as increased customer engagement and engaged workforce. Click here for more information on Strengthscope®
  3. Engage the right number of stakeholders
  4. Ensure you have regular dialogues to ensure the profile remains relevant and is utilised for the new hires development journey

Silpa Gohil

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