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What Michael Phelps Can Teach Us About Hiring

Ian Cameron Aug 16, 2016 7:00:00 AM

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Michael Phelps is in the news again, winning more medals and announcing his retirement (again). He’s now the most decorated Olympian of all time. What an inspiration. And he also has something to teach us about hiring the right people.

That’s because Michael Phelps is a natural.

I’m not saying he doesn’t work really, really hard to achieve the success he’s had, but he’s got an advantage because he’s chosen a sport for which he’s a natural.

Why is he a natural? Well, here’s a guy who is 6 feet 4 inches tall. Now, most average people have an arm span that is exactly the same length as their height. I don’t know if you knew that or not, but try it sometime if you like. Michael Phelps, though, is 6 feet 4 inches tall, but his arm span is 6 feet 7 inches wide. He’s got a greater arm span, which of course is a huge benefit at that level of competitive swimming.

Not only that, he has the upper body of a 6 feet 8 inch man and the lower body of a 5 feet 10 inch man. In swimming that means he has less drag in the bottom half of his body and immense power up top. Then, to top it all off, his foot is a size 14 and he’s also double jointed in both ankles.

He was basically born for swimming. Now, he could have decided he wanted to play basketball instead. Maybe he’d have been good, who knows. But he’s a natural for swimming and because he chose that path he was able to unlock that potential and excel to the level he has. Again, this isn’t to discount all the training he puts in, but he’s a natural for this.

Hiring a Natural

So, what can Michael Phelps teach us about hiring the right people? A lot.

If you want to ensure that someone succeeds in a role, you’re way more likely to make that happen if they are naturally disposed to the environment and kind of work they’ll be doing.

This means looking beyond skills and experience and considering their natural behaviors and how those will play out in that environment. Does the job require someone who’s very driven, works at a fast pace and is very independent? Or do you need someone more methodical and detail-oriented? If you hire against that grain, no matter what their skillset is, they’re not going to live up to their potential. And they’re not going to be happy because they’ll be in an environment that runs counter to their personality.

At McQuaig, we call this a person’s temperament. Temperament is that aspect of personality that psychologists tell us people are either born with or instilled with at a very early age, and it tends to stick with us through our lives.  We don’t tend to change very much from that temperament. It has to do with things like the way we approach situations, problems, opportunities, the speed we work at, the amount to which we want to be the leader or, in more of a support role, the amount we want more rules and regulations, or maybe forget rules, we want to work free and easy. When we think of different people in our lives and we start to describe them to other people we’re really describing their personality and their temperament. 

So, to hire a natural, you have to first figure out what type of person will succeed in the job. We have a free tool that can help you do that here. Once you have those characteristics identified you need to look for them in the people you’re interviewing through the use of behavioral interviewing techniques. How you do that is a longer conversation, but here’s a post on what those interviews should look like.

If you can figure out what kind of temperament will succeed in the role, and identify those characteristics in a potential hire, you’re far more likely to hire someone who will excel.

If you’d like to see how we help our clients hire naturals, you can get a free trial of McQuaig here.

If you’ve got your own tips on how improve hiring success, please share them below.

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Topics: Recruitment

Ian Cameron

Written by Ian Cameron

Ian Cameron is the Managing Director of The McQuaig Institute®. He has more than 20 years of Human Resource and Organizational Development consulting experience. Throughout his career Ian’s focus has been on helping organizations realize their goals through their people and helping people live their passion through their work.