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Finding Employees Who Can Pivot

Written by: Sara Choate, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Pivot. A phrase up there with “the new normal” and “unprecedented times.” Although, in reality, who among us has not had to pivot more than a few times over the last 20-plus months? COVID-19 has left nothing untouched and altered countless aspects of our professional and private lives.

Think back to March 2020. It’s quite possible that over the course of a week, your entire business model was turned upside down. I worked alongside many clients, helping them navigate these uncertain times. Hopefully your organization created an environment that welcomed new ideas and innovation, and if you did, think about which employees rose to the occasion. Who among your ranks said, “Ok, we can do this, but have we thought about trying xyz?” I suspect those were, and hopefully still are, your most valuable employees. How great would it be if we could pose interview questions to help find the type of employee who can help navigate a crisis? Well, maybe we can.

I recently came across a TED Talk by Natalie Fratto where she discusses the value of adaptability in business. Here’s the kicker – the talk is from May 2019. I believe it’s safe to say her presentation aged like fine wine. Natalie suggests that asking “what if” interview questions, as opposed to only those which focus on the past, forces the brain to simulate scenarios. In asking “what if” questions, you may get blank stares or hear some really off the wall ideas. However, I see value in those unconventional ideas. It tells me the candidate has the ability to stretch boundaries and may prove invaluable if things start to go off the rails. They’ll want to learn about your business and culture, and those once wacky ideas will become more refined. In short, they will adapt.

Whereas behavioral-based interviewing is a technique that many HR professionals and interviewers use. The thought is that the best indicator of future performance is past behavior. Therefore, asking questions that illustrate the way someone behaved (or didn’t) will provide the greatest insight into how they might behave in your organization. I certainly feel this type of questioning can be helpful and have used it many times in my career. More than anything, I believe it gives you an idea of the true depth and breadth of a candidate’s experience.

Based on my experience, real power is found in combining the two techniques – behavioral-based interviewing coupled with “what if” scenarios. This approach offers a snapshot of how someone behaved in the past, along with how flexible they can be when faced with the unknown.

Ultimately, it’s important to find an interviewing approach and technique that works for your organization and culture. I can’t promise that you’ll always get it right – anyone who has done enough hiring knows that occasionally you miss. However, a strategic and refined approach can help ensure you’re selecting candidates who can grow, innovate, and help your organization should you need to pivot in the future.

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