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The selection spiral


Disciplines > Human Resources > Selection > The selection spiral

The power of talent | The selection trap | The spiral | See also


There is a significant danger in selection and promotion that a company can spiral downwards into incompetence and failure.

The power of talent

The talent and motivation people in any given job can make a huge difference to the achievements that are gained. It is not uncommon to reckon that there can be a ten-to-one ratio in the performance of two different people doing the same job.

This has led to a significant focus on 'talent' and the categorization of A-, B- and C-players, where A-players are the high-achieving stars, the B-players are the solid, good-enough middle team and the C-players are the limited bottom-end.

The selection trap

Selection is arguably the most important process in organizations. If you recruit or promote the wrong person, you get to live with the relative incompetence and never know the potential that has been lost.

The biggest danger in organizations is where managers select people who are less capable than themselves. The selection trap is where managers have an ego need to feel superior to their charges. If they interview someone who seems to be better than them, they feel threatened by that person and are less likely to employ them.

There are several fears involved in this. First, managers have a legitimate concern that they should be able to manage their subordinates. If they employ someone who challenges their directive too often, then it would seem that this is an unmanageable situation. This supports the less legitimate desire to look good and fear that a superior subordinate might make you look bad and even try to take your job.

A-players are particularly susceptible to this trap, as they often have bigger egos and may be driven narcissists who work hard to seek the recognition they need. Anyone else who takes glory from them is thus to be feared, rejected or attacked.

The spiral

The subsequent spiral of managers appointing less able people than themselves is that there is a downward spiral in the talent that the company appoints. The gradient of this slope depends on how widespread this behavior is and the gap that the manager needs between him/herself and the new appointee.

In particular, if managers feel threatened by people who might take their job, then they will filter out applicants who show signs of ability in management and leadership. This fear of replacement may also drive a general opposition to development of their employees, leading to a leadership vacuum that eventually results in a company that lacks direction and inspiration, and which is eventually overtaken (and maybe taken over) by fitter competitors.

See also

A-, B- and C-jobs, Identity, Needs

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