It is easy to depend on your gut feeling when hiring people into your team, but you cannot always do that. Joining Eric Anderton is Jonathan Porter-Whistman, CEO of PerceptionPredict.ai and WhoHire.com, who debunks the biggest myths of intuition surrounding the most common hiring practices. Jonathan explores the high risks of recruiting incompatible talent if you fail to understand the correlation between data-driven approach and human intuition. He also unveils the dysfunctions of high-performing individuals and challenges conventional wisdom about what makes a good fit for your team. Start making better hiring decisions backed by data by listening to this episode.
Buy this book – Construction Genius: Effective, Hands-On, Practical, Simple, No-BS Leadership, Strategy, Sales, and Marketing Advice for Construction Companies: https://www.amazon.com/Construction-Genius-Effective-Hands-Leadership/dp/B0BHTRDY1T
Jonathan’s Book- The Sales Boss: https://www.amazon.com/Sales-Boss-Secret-Training-Managing/dp/1119286646
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Debunking The Myths Of Intuition In Hiring: A Data-Driven Approach With Jonathan Porter-Whistman
In this episode, we have a compelling conversation lined up with Jonathan Porter-Whistman, the CEO of PerceptionPredict.ai. We’re diving deep into the fascinating world of data-driven hiring processes and how they intersect with human intuition. Have you ever wondered why your gut sometimes fails you when you’re hiring or why certain qualities that you think are essential to job success may not correlate with performance? We unravel these mysteries and much more.
Jonathan brings to the table some eye-opening examples from the real world revealing how what we think we know might be hurting our businesses. We also explore the unique dysfunctions of high-performing individuals, challenging conventional wisdom about what makes a good fit for your team. If you’re interested in understanding how to make better hiring decisions backed by data while adding value to your organization’s culture and bottom line, this episode is for you. Let’s dive right in. Enjoy my conversation with Jonathan.
Jonathan, welcome to the show.
It’s nice to be here. Thanks for the invitation. I am looking forward to our conversation.
I’d like to dive right in. What is the role of data in predicting how candidates that you’re looking to hire will perform in your organization?
Data is extremely important. When we are hiring individuals and they’re doing a job for our company, there is a massive amount of data that that activity generates if you think in terms of production rates, cost of that employee, and how long they stay in your organization. Computing power has finally gotten sophisticated and inexpensive enough that we can convert that data along with psychographic data about those people to make sure that we’re hiring better people on the front end who are a good fit for our culture but, more importantly, can perform and will stick around for the long haul.
What do you mean by psychographic data?
There is this whole rich area of psychographic data. Most people think about tests like the DISC or Myers-Briggs where they say introversion or extroversion. It turns out that’s 30-year-old data. There are hundreds of things coming out of academic psychology studies that we can measure about humans reliably. We can do that with an online instrument. We focus as a part of our company on taking that psychographic data and converting it into something useful.
To pursue that a little bit, there are tons of different assessments out there. The DISC and the Myers-Briggs, most people have heard of those. What assessments have you found that are useful and perhaps data-backed as well as insightful in terms of where a person’s coming from?
There are a host of assessments out there. Our company, PerceptionPredict.ai, specializes in creating psychographic tests to help measure what is happening inside of a human being or the DNA if you’d like. What is different about our approach is when we talk to customers, we find they don’t care to know does somebody has grit or do they have emotional intelligence, or whether they are introverted or extroverted. The reason they’re using a testing instrument is they want to know, “How will this person perform in my company?” We’re trying to get at how we leverage technology to convert psychographic data into actionable data.
To give you an example, one of our customers does garage doors and he does it on a large scale, which is about a $220 million company. He uses the psychographic testing instrument. Think of it as an online questionnaire, much like the DISC but superpowered. His garage door technicians, before he hires them, take a fifteen-minute online questionnaire.
We predict the average ticket size they are likely to write on the garage door and also their customer satisfaction score, which is a blend of callback rates, rework, Google reviews, and those sorts of things. We’re getting to within 15% and 20%. You can imagine how that drastically reduces the expense of training somebody and then having them turn out of the organization.
When you say 15% to 20%, what does that number mean?
It means if we predict somebody’s going to have a $1,100 ticket average in the garage, once that guy comes out of training, he’s going to be 15% above or below that line. They never have to wonder, “Is this working?” We’re tracking that.
Are you saying that each company has a unique set of data that needs to be identified to be able to use it effectively in terms of hiring?
Yeah. We call that a performance fingerprint. We’ve started with large organizations. You think companies like CrowdStrike that are a large global cybersecurity company. You have to have some amount of data from the people inside your organization. We can get into predicting things like dollar revenue and customer satisfaction scores.
We also, on the other side of it, realize there are a lot of SMB mid-market companies that maybe don’t have hundreds of people doing the job. For those roles, we do what we call an industry fingerprint. We have one for HVAC technicians and plumbing technicians. In that case, we’re predicting fit for the role and tenure.
The way we got to those industry models is we got hundreds of companies together of all sizes and assessed the people they had out in the field doing the work. We got actual performance hard metric data back from those companies. We use a machine learning algorithm to say, “Of the 500 things you can measure for an HVAC technician, these are the 10 that matter.” That model continues to learn.
For the larger companies, you can take a look at the folks that you already have in your organization. That gives you a sufficient data set to be able to generate meaningful information. With a smaller company, you do something a little more generic that is industry-focused. Am I hearing that correctly?
You heard that exactly right.
How large does my company need to be on a position basis? Let’s say I’m looking to hire a foreman for my organization. How many foremen do I need to have out in the field that will give me enough data to make what you are describing here meaningful without having to go generic?
If we want to do something custom, you start being able to customize that to an organization when there are around 50 people doing a role. As you get over 100 people, it gets even sharper. Once we install a fingerprint in an organization, it’s about a commitment to data. Let’s say they start and they only have 50 foreman in those roles. As they churn through people and people naturally retire and move out, we get more data. Eventually, that gets sharper.
Let’s say there are larger organizations. I know lots of large construction companies. Let’s say you’ve got McCarthy. They’ve got tons of superintendents. Turner has tons of superintendents and project managers. I’m a construction company and I’m not a McCarthy or a Turner. Are you saying that data would then become available, and based on their data, that might be used in putting together my data for a superintendent or a project manager?
We don’t approach it that way. We feel like the data from a large company is their intellectual property. It gives them the hiring edge. In large companies, when we’re ingesting and creating performance fingerprints, it is theirs. We use it for nothing else. I gave you the example of HVAC and plumbing. We go out and find 100 HVAC plumbing companies that represent 1,000 technicians or more doing that. They agree to share their data to help us build the model and we anonymize it. The agreement is they get to use the model but we also get to sell that to smaller companies who maybe aren’t quite to the point yet.
How do you know the data you’re collecting is correct?
All data is messy. There’s a process of cleansing that data and deciding what we’re going to measure and how we’re going to measure that. That’s true in any organization. How we ultimately know, and we’re the only talent-intelligent platform on the planet that I’m aware that does this, is we post in our platform, “Here’s the prediction we made about Eric, and here’s where he is last time we measured him.”
What we’re concerned about is what the correlation between those two things is because we’re basing decisions and informing our decisions based upon that. That’s how we know whether the underlying data is correct. Is the observable performance and the prediction we made also right? If it’s not or there’s a wide variable in there, our data scientists and IO psychologists are digging in to say, “How can we improve that model?”
As an example, sometimes when you’re in an international organization, your performance metrics for a particular role even though it has the same job title might be different from region to region. It might have a different set of competitors and a different operating environment. We’re trying to normalize that with the client. That comes down to sitting down and discussing. It’s not the easy button for a company to go this route but once they commit to data and learning, they’re going to see drastic reductions.
We’ve seen companies that have 66%-plus turnover and get that turnover rate down to 11% or 12% for particular roles. We’ve seen people reduce training time. It’s because, on the front end, you’re bringing in people who are naturally suited both to doing the job but also fitting into your culture. When I say culture, people think a lot of different things.
As an example, if you look at a dozen companies, and I know you consult with many companies, you have some that may have an inefficient training process or leadership dysfunction going on. What we’re trying to do is say, “How do we identify people that do well in your company today the way it is today, not necessarily the company you’re going to be five years from now when you’ve developed your leadership and training?” That’s why it’s never a static model. If we build a model for a company, it continues to adapt and change.
As an example, CrowdStrike is somebody we built an SDR and BDR sales model for. They’re a large global cybersecurity company. We found over a period of a couple of years, when we went through COVID and their selling model changed as well as who they were selling to, over a 70% difference between that base model we started with and who and what they needed to be identifying for hires in the current time we were looking at.
Without data giving them that insight, you’ll have many hiring managers who are still doing the same thing in terms of, “Who am I looking for? What questions do I ask them? How do I onboard them into the organization?” We serve as an early warning sign that the hiring environment and who you’re looking for have changed.
Let’s talk about that a little bit more. Typically, when you’re hiring someone, you’re looking at their technical skills and the cultural fit. How can you quantify cultural fit?
The way you quantify cultural fit for most organizations is do they thrive in the environment that is your company. We can influence culture or set out as a leadership team to say, “This is the culture we want.” It’s a fallacy. The culture develops itself. It is a result of all the actions we take as leaders within our organization and how we talk and communicate our value system.It is a fallacy to say that workplace culture develops itself. In reality, it is a result of all the actions leaders take within an organization and how they communicate their value system. Click To Tweet
Ultimately, for somebody to be a culture fit, do they thrive in the environment that we’re putting them in? Is that repeatable? Secondly, we can take a notch down. I’ll give you an example of a company that we worked with. In their hiring process, they look for four things. They want somebody to be intelligent, coachable, have character, and have experience.
Yeah, but that was how they defined a great cultural fit for them. Here’s the problem. When a hiring team says, “We’re looking for somebody that has intelligence,” that means a lot of different things. If you look at the world of psychology and all the psychographics, a person that the team identifies as intelligent means they have good abstract reasoning and cognitive ability. It could mean emotional intelligence, mental agility, and future-oriented thinking.
What we get at through our process of building a fingerprint is to say, “When X company says they want to hire somebody with intelligence, this is what they mean.” It means when somebody has emotional intelligence and mental agility, they fit well in our culture of intelligence. That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to take this broad label of what somebody is saying somebody fits our culture and identify what it is in the core DNA. When I say core DNA, in psychographics, it is about measuring stable human attributes, things that don’t change dramatically in a lifetime.
Think about if you were looking at a room full of kids and none of them had ever picked up a musical instrument. You could give them an assessment of some sort and say, “This kid is going to play in Carnegie Hall. This person probably does karaoke. This kid should probably go play football.” What we’re identifying is what is that core makeup that allows somebody with the right training and environment to thrive.
Part of our analysis of an organization is saying, “What’s the potting soil,” if you think of plants. It is like, “What’s the soil you’re going to surround that seed with that will cause it to thrive?” You may have an acidic culture, a neutral culture, or whatever it is. The result is we have to find somebody that when we place them in that environment, they’re able to do well and do their best work for you.
What you’re saying is your culture is your soil and the employee is a seed. The seed in the soil and what it will produce.
You could put the same plant and pot it in a different soil. All of a sudden, it withers. There is nothing bad with the soil or plant. They’re just not a good match.
Let me ask you this then. What questions should a company ask itself to separate between what it wishes its culture was versus what it is?
You could unpack that in a lot of ways. I’m always a big advocate of talking to people at the lowest level of the organization as possible and in an authentic way. Let’s have a real discussion with them. I’ll give you an example. In my Sales Boss consulting, I go in and help organizations build out their sales teams and sales structure.
When I first went into the organization, I asked the executive team, “Don’t tell me what you think the problem is because if I come back to you and I agree with you, you’ll think I check-marked exactly what you told me.” I always start at the very lowest point in the organization. Oftentimes, the galler guy that’s sitting at the front desk when I walk into the lobby, they’re going to be an accurate reflection of how people experience your culture. I then move up. The people that are most disconnected from the real culture are the people that are trying to set that culture.
Tell me more about that. Isn’t that counterintuitive? When I’m thinking about my culture, I’m thinking, “Who are my A players that I want to be here? Let’s do a little survey of Sally, John, and Fred. All of these guys are killers. I don’t want them to walk out the door. This is what I want my culture to look like. Let’s talk to them.”
The real question for those is, what is it about your company that’s causing them to thrive? It may not be the culture that you have.
What I mean by that is in every organization, you have people at varying levels of ability. Somebody coming in may intrinsically be a top performer. That might be in spite of your culture. If I’m driving A-players and I have a high turnover of A-players in my organization, what I need to find out is what’s causing them to wilt and leave early. That may have something to do with culture or something else entirely. By starting at the lowest level of the organization, the people that have the least to win and least to lose, you’re going to get at least a more accurate reflection. As you work your way through the organization, that image becomes sharper.
You talk to someone at the front desk. What if they don’t even think about culture? They’re doing their thing and picking up their paycheck and off they go. I’m thinking about your top performers who aren’t leaving your company. They’re staying in your company. I want to get more of those types of people, whether it’s the technical aspect that they execute or not. I want that type of person in my company.
Those are conversations that you should have with them. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting and saying. I’m like, “Why do you stay? Why do you like working here? How can we do more of those things?” What I’m suggesting is maybe we’re slightly looking at the same thing a different way. It’s the level of authenticity that you’re going to get in that response.
When somebody’s livelihood is dependent upon another person, a certain company, or a job, the level at which they’re willing to be transparent changes. The conversation that happens at a certain level in the organization amongst peers is a different filtered conversation when it’s at that level in an organization and a supervisor. It’s also a different level of conversation between the supervisor and the founder of the company.
Let me be clear on what you’re saying. If you start lower down in the organization, because they have less to lose, they’re going to be more authentic in their answers. Is that what you’re saying?
Less to lose but also, people who hang around them tend to filter their conversations and opinions less because they don’t fear that person. That person has heard the truth. If they trust you, they can tell you.
Let’s pursue that then. I understand where you’re coming from there. What kinds of questions are you going to ask someone in that role that you were describing, perhaps lower down in the organization, to get some insights into the culture of the company as it is?
You start with an authentic relationship with that person. You then ask them directly the same questions you would ask of a superstar. You would present a problem your organization is facing and say, “I know you don’t directly control this. If you were in control and you had 100% decision-making, what would you do, no holds barred?” A lot of times, they’re going to tell you an idea that makes sense because they don’t have any skin in there.
Why does that question help me to understand the culture of the company?
How would you define culture?
The way people behave.
What causes people to behave a certain way?
It depends. It’s a combination of nature and nurture.
I would add that it’s also the way they think that changes the way they feel which changes the way they act. I’m trying to understand when somebody enters into an organization, a role, or around a certain problem, what’s causing them to think and feel a certain way? That’s the action that’ll come out of that. When I’m thinking about culture, I think of the culture of a company like a stage play put on by a psychologist. If you go to a Broadway play and you’re the director, you can say, “I want the lights to come up this way. I want the sound to happen this way. The set’s going to go this way.” What am I trying to do? I’m trying to lead that audience on a journey to get them to feel a certain emotion and applaud.
We’re doing the same thing with our employees. We’re setting a stage for them wherein they get so involved in what’s going on there. They’re feeling and acting a certain way. At every touch point, we’re sending a signal about what’s important, what’s valued, and what is our culture. That’s how I would generate culture. When you enter into a place, it has the ability to bring the best out in you in a way that is acceptable to the organization.
Can you give me an example of what you’re talking about? Take that analogy of the stage play, which is interesting. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Give me a real-world example of it. You don’t have to name the company. It is so that we can hook into that, please.
I’ll give you a great example. I started working for this organization. There are two problems. I’ll start with the more basic one. They had high turnover when people were coming into their organization. This happened to be in their business development role. As part of my consulting with them, I decided I was going to show up as a candidate so I applied.
Did you tell them that?
No. This is mystery shopping. They don’t know who I am. I come in and see the way the emails are. It’s disconnected and disjointed. They might say they care about their employees. I have to fly out to Ohio for my interview so I fly out. I get to the airport and go to the hotel. The hotel is the cheapest in the town. It’s all right. I’m not a high-style guy. I get up in the morning and make my way over. This is a multi-building campus and HR is all in one area. I go up to the front door. The window is dirty. The door is locked. It’s ten minutes after when I’m supposed to be there. It’s the first appointment in the morning.
Finally, two people come up, rustling around. They’re like, “I apologize. We got it pulled into an executive meeting. Sit in the lobby. I’ll be ready in a minute.” I sit down in the lobby. The carpet has stains on it. The magazines are a year outdated on the desk. Already, I’m absorbing a lot. I spend all day in HR land there, trying to get through an interview. I’m supposed to be there all day. It isn’t until the end of the day I get to anything interesting.
I’m going to use that as an example. We remade that process for them so that when somebody flies in, there is somebody at the airport picking them up. If it’s late in the evening, they get them something to eat. They take them to a nicer hotel in town. When they get to their room, there is already company gear sitting there for them. There is information about the company and the history of the company. Somebody picks them up in the morning and gets them there, especially when they start their first day of work. We fixed the hiring process.
When they would start their first day of work, rather than starting in HR and building cabinets in the business on a large scale, they would take them into the factory and let them see the work that was being done. They take them into the showroom and get them into the executive. That’s the last thing they would bring them into.
While they were doing that, they had done some research about who’s left behind. Is it a wife or the husband at home? Are there kids there? That same morning, a gift basket would arrive with, “We know your spouse is out of town. Thanks for lending him to us for orientation this week. Here are some movie tickets and some fun things.”
That’s interesting, that whole idea of mystery shopping your hiring process. You are an outside person. Is that something possible to do for a company with someone inside? It would have to be a certain scale or something like that but you might want to bring in someone from the outside like yourself to help with that.
It can happen both ways. The problem is when you bring somebody internal in to do it even if you are a very large organization, they already have loyalty and biases. They know that what they share is going to impact somebody. Even if they’re not aware of it, they will have an agenda.
That one thing alone, hiring a company to help you mystery-sharp your hiring process could have a huge impact.
Even more when you think about your point of contact with a customer. I’ve met with many CEOs. They have a problem with their sales process or something. I say, “When’s the last time you listened to what happens face-to-face with your customers?” If they listen to the video call recordings or do a ride-along, in many cases, it makes them sick. They assume that the standard they had is being carried out. The bigger a company gets, the harder it is for that culture to come from the top. It has to be baked into the structure.
In my book, I talk about a company where I’m going to switch from the stage play to being like a jazz club. The reason I use a jazz club is I love jazz music. When I was in Kansas City from my office to my home, which was in a loft, I would go by the oldest jazz club in Kansas City. Even if I wasn’t in the mood and I wasn’t planning on stopping that evening, all of a sudden, I’d start hearing the beat and there’s a tempo. It plugs something good into me. I’ll say, “I’ll stop for 10 minutes or 15 minutes. I’ll listen to one set.”
Pretty soon, I’m tapping my foot to the music. The bartender says, “Have one drink.” I’ll be like, “I’ll have a drink.” Pretty soon, it is 2:30 in the morning and it’s like, “You got to go home.” I’m sucked into that. What’s interesting about the musicians is they play there all the time. They bring in visiting musicians. A visiting musician can rift over the top of that music and bring their talent and energy. At the end of that measure land, they are in harmony with the rest of the home musicians. The reason they can do that is there’s a structure and a beat.
That’s how we have to be as a company. We can draw people into our organization, keeping their talent, uniqueness, and everything that makes humans beautiful. They can bring that special talent but they know how to land in beat with the rest of the organization. More importantly, they get that they sound better and they do their best work when they do that. It’s not forced on them. They want to hit it because it sounds better for the audience or the customer.
Let’s go back to this data-driven idea here. When does a data-driven approach fail in hiring?
When a data approach fails, it’s typically because of a belief system. The hiring manager believes they’ve been at it for years. Their gut and intuition believe that it’s better than it is. As humans, we have this thing oftentimes called recency bias. When they hire a superstar, they give themselves 100% of the credit. When somebody churns out quickly, it’s always forgotten and there was something wrong with that candidate. That’s where you run into trouble with a data-driven process. It is if you have people who are unwilling to recognize that their intuition might have led them astray.A data approach typically fails because of a belief system the hiring manager has been holding on for years or depending too much on their gut and intuition. Click To Tweet
I’ll give you an example. We did a project for a large retail organization. Think of people selling cell phones and other things in a retail environment. They had a highly defined hiring process built on their gut and intuition. They believed if they hired somebody and they had a good customer orientation and loved technology, they would do great in that role. Yet, they had a 50% turnover.
Guess what the data showed us about their hiring process? There was zero correlation between customer orientation and success on the job. It doesn’t mean it’s not important to hire somebody who’s going to treat your customer well but as a filter for hiring, it wasn’t doing you any good. Worse, we found that the people who self-reported a love for technology did worse than the job. There was a negative correlation. On the surface, what seemed like a good hiring process, based on the experience of a hiring manager and the people that were sitting around saying, “What should we look for,” they had picked, 1) Something that didn’t matter at all, and 2) Something that was hurting them.
We did a large cleaning organization that had a very high turnover in the cleaning role. We found one of the psychographics that was predictive of churn in the role. It was that the more sincere somebody was, the less time they lasted on the job, which is counterintuitive. If you’re the hiring manager, you’re going to say, “Eric seems like a genuine, likable guy. I’d love to put him in front of my customer.” That quality of sincerity is predictive that Eric is probably going to churn out and not be happy at all.
Why was that in that situation?
That’s always the million-dollar question. Why? While coming up with something that sounds right and makes it feel good, we’ve found it’s not important why it’s true. It’s important that it is true. When we ask the hiring managers why it might be true, they say, “Now that I think about it, if somebody’s sincere, they have a hard time going in and dealing with a person that’s in a bad mood.” These are people that were going into residential cleaning. They say, “They are putting on a false front, smiling, and dealing with it.” That was the why. I don’t know if it’s true.
The why isn’t important. That is an interesting thing to think about because, in business, we’re looking for the what and the how. If it works within the realm of acceptability in terms of performance and ethics, then the why behind it isn’t that important.
It’s interesting but not necessarily important. We could boil that down to if you take one psychographic like grit. A few years ago, grit was the hero trait. Everybody was measuring, “Does the person have grit?” I don’t think a company cares if somebody has grit. What they care about is when they show up. Can you train them to the level of excellence you need them? Will they stick, stay, be happy in that role, and add to the culture of our organization? That’s what people care about.
Sometimes when we talk about the culture of a business, we forget that it is a business. A business fundamentally has a purpose and that is to make money. Some people don’t like that for whatever reason, which is dumb. That’s why we’re in business. We are in business to make money. We have to function within a realm of ethics and safety, particularly in construction but at the end of the day, you’re there to make money.
I write about this in my book. Oftentimes, if you have a high-performing salesperson, they’re naturally gifted at it. A lot of times, that person’s a prima donna. They’re a pain in the ass. They’re hard to manage. They don’t want to follow all of the rules. There’s a point at which that becomes caustic to the organization and you have to get rid of them.
What is that point?
I would say it is when their presence on the team is pushing down the performance level of everyone else. If having that prima donna salesperson on your team is only annoying to the manager who’s managing them and the leader who’s leading them, who cares? Oftentimes, an organization says, “They’re a pain to manage so I’m going to hire a bunch of people that are milk toast and will do everything I say.” It’s the same thing if you have owners of businesses and I’m sure you deal with senior leaders all of the time. Oftentimes, their dysfunction is equal to their level of genius.Oftentimes, the top talent's dysfunction is equal to their level of genius. Click To Tweet
This means that sometimes, there is this whole area of their life that they’re dysfunctional in. You read the biographies of people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. There was an area of their life where people said, “They were terrible in a meeting. There was this dysfunctional area.” You’ll get people leading organizations that aren’t data-driven. They’ll say, “I don’t want that in my organization,” but we should be grateful for the dysfunctional piece if it gives us the genius piece.
That’s good. You’ll pick up a business book at the store and your typical business book is going to say, “You’ve got to insist on these particular things. No compromise there. If they don’t fit, they’re out.” You’re thinking, “This operator that I have in my company produces more than anyone else.”
I’ve had sales leaders say, “I want to fire this guy because he won’t put things in the CRM system.” I’m like, “Let’s look at the data. He’s producing 80% to 100% more than everyone else. If you do the initial sale, which is not all the referral business and everything that drives from today’s activity by this guy, why don’t you hire him an executive assistant to follow him around and put everything in the CRM?” They’re like, “I can’t do that. It would be unfair to everyone else.”
You’re not running a data-driven business if you’re allowing things like fairness. Equal does not mean fair and fair does not mean equal. The larger an organization gets by necessity, they put in processes and policies for safety and other things. Where we have to be careful is that we’re not squeezing out the ingenuity and the things that make people uniquely gifted and talented to do that role. That’s where data helps us. We can start finding people like that.
You’re the leader of your company. Let’s say you’re the president of your organization and you have a team of people. Bob not only kicks ass but he’s a good dude. Dave kicks ass and he’s a pain in the ass. What’s the conversation I’m having with Bob to make sure that Bob isn’t looking at me and saying, “You need to fix this or I’m gone?”
I’ll quote my grandfather, “Business would be easy if it wasn’t for the people.” It’s messy. You have to be willing to get in the thick of it. It doesn’t mean I’m never going to talk to the guy who’s a pain but I’m going to realize I have to. Oftentimes, you’ll find people that are that way. You talk to them and coach them. They come back to a level of tolerance for a week or a few months. You know they’re going to percolate back up. I’m willing to accept that.
I’m willing to say to the person over here, “That’s his dysfunction. We’re going to continue to work on it but it’s not going to override the value he brings to the organization. The moment it does, when that dysfunction trickles into something immoral, or illegal, puts our company in jeopardy, or harms other people, they’re gone. No amount of revenue production or performance is going to overweigh that.” We should tolerate more uniqueness in humans because that’s what makes us great. It’s what differentiates us in the market.
That’s a little bookmark for us to think through. We’re talking about something more complex than, “These are our values. If you don’t fit in our little box here, you’re not welcome here.”
When people talk about culture, everybody puts a different label on what their thinking of culture is. This is my definition. Culture is how the world and our employees experience our company. That all boils down, at the end of the day, to what they think. How does that make them feel? What action does it take to make them take it as a result?
In my book, I say, “People are giving you 100% of what they’re capable of or they have what they believe is a valid reason for not doing so.” At some point, I’m capable of doing more as an employee but I go, “Nobody notices. They don’t hold anybody else to standards. They don’t pay me enough,” and insert an excuse. It might be an excuse but that belief to them is real.
I can get annoyed as a leader or I could dig under the surface of that, go low in the organization, and say, “If people are feeling like they’re underappreciated and you had to fix that, why would you fix that?” They’ll say, “One of the reasons I hear all the time is they complain about XYZ and it would make me feel that way too.” You’re like, “I never even noticed that.”
You use this think-feel-action framework. The order of that think-feel-action, is it ever feel-think-action?
If you look at the field of cognitive behavior therapy, that’s where this stems from, at least in my background thinking about that. Every feeling is the result of a thought and the importance we give to that thought. We experience the feeling first and then the thoughts additionally after it. There is some thought that went into that. I hear somebody’s sharp tone and my thought, maybe even subconsciously, goes back to when my parents yelled at me and I got bullied in school. All of a sudden, I felt like, “They’re trying to bully me,” but they didn’t have that intent at all.
What you’re saying then is that with the think aspect, it could be subconscious thinking as well as conscious thinking.
Almost always, it is subconscious thinking first, some sort of emotion and then the visible thing that they’re thinking that you’re consciously aware of comes. The thing that gives you the most power to change individuals and even yourself is to identify what are the thoughts and beliefs you have that you don’t even recognize as a belief. You just accept them as true.
I’ll give you an example. I believe the sky is blue. I have no reason to believe otherwise because every person I’ve ever come across has called it blue since the moment I was born. It doesn’t occur to me that it could be red. There are a lot of things in life that are that way. I grew up in what I would call a religious cult. I had a lot of thoughts about society and people that I wouldn’t have even called a belief.
People would say, “You’re brainwashed.” I’d go, “I have the cleanest brain. You’re the one that’s off-target here.” When I got away from that and I was able to give some distance to it, all of a sudden, I could see, “Here’s how I inherited that thought and feeling. That led to actions that reinforced my belief. I’m in this cycle of being trapped.”
Is there a way to distinguish between a belief and what’s true?
That’s the human condition. You’re never going to fix that. It comes from a person’s willingness to take it apart and look at it. One coaching tool that I found super helpful is when somebody comes to you with something that you know is based upon a false belief. I’ll ask him, “If what you’re saying couldn’t be true, what else might it be?” I’m telling you it’s not true. You could be 100% right but if it couldn’t be true, what else might it be? They’ll give you that and you say, “What if it wasn’t that? What if that couldn’t be true?”
When you get down about four levels, you’re causing somebody who’s stuck in a belief to open their mind that there are other possible options that they haven’t considered. The question is, “Why haven’t we considered those other options? These two options over here are something you can do something about. There’s something you have influence. The one you’ve chosen as an excuse, you have no control over.”
What was that religious cult you were brought up in?
There are a lot of great people there so I make it a practice to leave that be and take away the experiences I had from it. I don’t want to hurt those people because there are some people that are in there and it’s the best thing ever for them in terms of a set of beliefs and friends. Out of honor of those people.
I appreciate that. You’re good. I’m curious because we hear the phrase religious cult in various contexts. What do you mean by a cult? I’m curious.
When I define a religious cult, it is when no freedom of thought is allowed without being kicked out of that group with very severe consequences. As an example, when my son was born, I was still in the cult. One of the things that they defined as an unforgivable sin, meaning God would never forgive you, is if you gave your son a blood transfusion. My son was born four and a half months premature. The option was to let him die or give him a blood transfusion. That’s what science said. That’s what I call a cult. That environment is controlling human thought and the ability to take independent action.A religious cult is when no freedom of thought is allowed without being kicked out of it with extremely severe consequences. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting because the word cult is related to the word culture.
The one thing I learned from going through that experience is understanding how people get from here to there. In a cult, people have this need to belong. How do people learn to belong? I write about this in my book. There are five things about how people learn to belong. Having a common language, an insider language, and something to be against, all of those things go into how you craft a culture. It automates much of it. In a great culture, you don’t have to get up and say, “This is our culture.” The group starts reinforcing that thought, “We don’t do things like that around here.” Since people have such a strong desire to identify and be involved, they’ll subconsciously change themselves.Because people have a strong desire to identify and be involved, they will subconsciously change themselves. Click To Tweet
Think about this example. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Most people say, “I have a standard I would never change.” It’s not true. If you go to a football game or a baseball game and you go into a stadium and the bathroom, it’s a mess. There are all those people drinking. You wash your hands and try not to touch anything. You look at the trash can and maybe try to shoot the towel. If it doesn’t hit, you don’t pick it up because that’s what everybody’s doing.
If you go to a nice, fancy restaurant and there is maybe somebody standing there handing out mints and a towel, you don’t even think about shaking your hands. You pick up the cloth towel and wipe everything down. What happened isn’t that you changed as a person. You fit in subconsciously. That’s what happens in our company.
You come in. Does your culture tell somebody subconsciously, “I might’ve been a superstar elsewhere but I got to earn my place on the team here,” or does your culture say, “You don’t have to work quite so hard to fit in around here. You better lower your standard a bit so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb with the guys you’re hanging out with at lunch and other places?”
You mentioned something very interesting, this inside language. I understand what you’re saying there. I’m assuming that inside language would be useful in a certain way to help me define my culture. How can I get a better sense of what that inside language is? If I’m the president of my company, I’m probably speaking that language and not even knowing it.
Have you ever gone into a new industry? You’re in the construction industry so you know all the acronyms. You show up to do a consulting engagement and people go, “Eric belongs here because he knows our acronym.” That’s what I mean by insider language. It’s not helpful for customer-facing. Let’s take this to a company level. In my last company, every Friday, we had an employee activity. We labeled it Fractivity. Pretty soon, it became a part of the culture. Without telling anybody, the marketing team started doing full-size movie posters for it. We started doing ad reels for it. It took on a life of its own and it’s because we labeled it as Fractivity. We made up a name for it.
It’s the same thing with people naming their meeting some very plain title. Make up something unique to your organization that represents that. When you title a conference room after a person or something, it’s got a name. It’s not Room B-103. When an outsider comes in, they go, “Why is this the Judith whatever room?” “That’s the founder,” and they tell the story. That’s how you come in and feel like an insider because you know the company’s stories and the ritual.
When you go to a family event like Thanksgiving, most families have a tradition around that. When you show up, you know how it’s going to go, what the food’s going to be, who’s going to get drunk, and who’s going to keep talking politics. That’s what makes it family. You can be yourself in that environment because you know how it’s going to go. That’s what you’re trying to get as a leader defining a culture in an organization. “What’s our insider language? What are our rhythms? What are the sacred things that we do?” When we do those consistently, we’re saying, “What do we value?”
What you’re saying then is it’s possible to quantify those or data-fy those, whatever the phrase you want to use.
That also has to be a balance. You can’t be a data head because we’re human. The danger is when you’re an extreme on either side.
How are you balancing that then? You’re talking about using psychographics to generate data to make hiring more effective. How are you balancing in the hiring process the data versus the human side?
Primarily, on the front end of the hiring process, if you have multiple candidates coming in and your candidate stream, I want to prioritize my efforts on the highest bet candidates. I only have so much time in my organization for my hiring executives, directors of territories, and whoever’s making those decisions so I want to make sure I’m putting best bet candidates in front of them. I’m then wanting to let that person use their gut, intuition, and everything else they would normally bring to the table to decide if that person’s a fit. What I want to do is give you 5 or 6 choices that you couldn’t make a mistake if you picked any of them. That’s the balance.
It’s the same thing when I’m looking outside of the hiring process. If I’m data-driven and looking at numbers, I have to also look at the people behind that. I have had senior leaders in organizations that say, “I know this person is performing at this level. I’ve decided I’m going to accept it because I’m human. They’ve spent their life with us. They have a love for the company. They would give us the shirt on the back. I know they’re never going to be 100 but I’m okay that they’re 85.” The famous thing of top grading where you cut out the bottom performers every year, I don’t think that’s human. It’s data. It does drive results but it has the unintended example of saying, “Perform at all costs,” even if that decimates humans.
Tell us a little bit more about your business and how people can get in touch with you.
Our business is PerceptionPredict.ai. People can get in touch with us there. They can get in touch with me at [email protected] and [email protected] as well. WhoHire is a platform in which we enable some of those data tools. For the kind of audience that you have, it usually starts with the conversation, “Let’s sit down and talk about what are the highest impact areas in an organization where performance or turnover and identifying the right people is a challenge. Let’s do a pilot around that so you can see and experience the difference for yourself in your organization and what impact that has.”
Would that be by going out to PerceptionPredict.ai and booking a demo?
That would work perfectly. There’s a great story around this. I’m not responsible for all our formulas. I got involved as an equity partner a few years ago in the organization. I was out speaking based on the Sales Boss and I was working with clients. That’s how I got exposed to their product. It’s a great story. It was started by a gal from Taiwan. She grew up in a rice paddy with no running water and electricity. She was the first of her family to go to college. She’s a great thinker, data scientist, and IO psychologist.
She had this idea of, “We’ve got these two rapidly evolving sets of data that people aren’t using. Let’s see if we can use them in unique ways.” She didn’t have a lot of clients at the time but she had reputable clients like Mercedes-Benz, CrowdStrike, and others that you would recognize. Fortunately, I was able to get involved. We’ve moved a leadership team here to the US but we’re global as to our employees in our company. We started systematizing, “How do we bring that in a very usable way to our clients?”
Jonathan, I appreciate you joining us. I found this conversation interesting. I do wish you the best.
Thank you, Eric.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Jonathan. You can go to his website, PerceptionPredict.ai to learn more about his business. I have a quick request. If you like the show, and I’m assuming you do because you are reading this, please go out to wherever you get your shows and give the show a rating or a review. That’s helpful because it helps us to get seen across the internet. If we’re seen across the internet, it benefits the show in terms of it being spread.
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- The Sales Boss: The Real Secret to Hiring, Training, and Managing a Sales Team
- [email protected]
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- Apple Podcasts – Construction Genius
- Construction Genius: Effective, Hands-On, Practical, Simple, No-BS Leadership, Strategy, Sales, and Marketing Advice for Construction Companies
About Jonathan Porter-Whistman
As the CEO of PerceptionPredict.ai and WhoHire.com, Jonathan commands a deep knowledge of building and scaling businesses. His best-selling book, ‘The Sales Boss’, stands as a clear indicator of his expertise. Jonathan specializes in aiding clients in constructing efficient teams, tailored to their business’s unique requirements. His targeted approach mitigates the anguish and disappointment that often result from recruiting incompatible talent.