The Dartboard Strategy Isn’t Dead, Just Different: Targeting High-Performance Talent


In this video, Lynn Knight, President at Talent Function Group, discusses how companies can create good processes for identifying and targeting top performers, and avoid the hit-and-miss approach to recruiting.

Watch this on-demand webinar now to learn:

  • How to discover talent with a real connection to your company’s culture and values, and desire to grow within the organization
  • The right questions that talent acquisition professionals and hiring managers should be asking to assess cultural fit, leadership potential and other success attributes
  • Ways to track interviewer effectiveness to improve quality of hire

Webinar Transcript:

So the problem that I’d first like to talk about is that we all know that finding top performing talent isn’t easy. In fact, some might say like it’s looking for a needle in a haystack. But I would suggest to you that it’s more like searching for the sharpest needles within a pile of needles. Without a good process or perhaps at least a good pair of leather gloves, you’re likely to get poked a few times. Sadly, many companies continue to hire on what I call gut instinct, or it’s likely that they place a large amount, if not, all of their focus on identifying talent with the requisite professional or technical skills alone.

I think that maybe perhaps where we got off-track with the whole dartboard mentality and that we felt like candidates were the darts we were throwing at the board, not really caring how each one of them score per se, but rather just hoping that we would occasionally hit the bull’s eye once in a while. But with companies that subscribe to this behavior most commonly end up with are employees who perform their assigned task just adequately, just good enough, just getting by, or perhaps even employees that don’t really perform at all. And that’s because there’s much more to the story than just identifying a matching skill set or, as we say, hitting the bull’s eye.

I think companies often fail to determine if the talents that they’re considering has real aspirations. Do they have the desire to grow and possibly lead? Let alone identifying whether or not those candidates have a real connection to the company and to its values. And I think the result of that narrow focus is often less than desirable. And if you think about it, also quite expensive. That’s because lower tier talent takes considerably more coaching and development time than any other manager activity. And more often than not, when employees aren’t performing, customers aren’t getting their needs met and that directly impacts the bottom line.

So for much too long, I think companies had that narrow focus on what we’ll again call the bull’s eye. Most generally, I would suggest to you that the bull’s eye represents a specific set of professional or technical skills that the company has deemed critical for performance of a particular role. Now in some companies, the bull’s eye might be a prior job title, or it may be a select group of previous employers, presuming that if the candidate has worked at the same job before, particularly if it was for a top competitor, then surely they would do so there as well. But does that really tell us all we need to know? In other words, will the skill set, the job title or the previous employer really help us target high-performing talent?

The fact is that in this competitive job market, the target in the center, that is the bull’s eye, is already small, and it’s really getting smaller every day. As companies tend to focus only on specific skills, the candidate pool begins to shrink. And if yours is a strong company, your growth maybe out-pacing the talent availability, and of course, there’s the talent maturation of the workforce as a whole. So in essence, the pond is being fished out. I believe that what companies really need is a better process for targeting high-performing talent. They need to overcome the lack of definition and identification of culture fit, for instance, and they need to address the lack of consistent consideration of leadership capabilities, transferable skills.

These are qualities that are not only associated with top-performing talent, but qualities that will ensure a better fit within the organization and that leads to longer term employment and ultimately contributes to sustained company growth.

So let’s understand the problem more. Why does this generally happen? In a lot of cases and having been a recruiter for ten years in a previous life, I pretend to know what I’m talking about, I think that recruiters or talent scouts or talent acquisition folks are combing through resumes, looking for a particular set of professional or technical skills based on a job description.

And if and when they do perform a pre-screen interview, these same talent acquisition staff are most likely asking questions that are meant to simply confirm whether or not that candidate possesses the requisite, professional or technical skills. They’re not necessarily digging deeper. And if they are, they may not know exactly what they’re looking for. And then once we get to the interview with the hiring managers, it’s quite likely that those managers haven’t been properly trained as interviewers – at least in my experience – and they’re likely asking ineffective interview questions. Chances are, they know the desired skill set inside and out because it’s what they do, it’s what they manage every day. But they’re often incorrectly identifying or assessing leadership capabilities and culture fit, that is if they’re doing so at all.

The bottom line is that we’ve really been fooled into thinking that hiring the most skilled candidate will produce a high achiever, and that’s just not the case. So what should companies do instead? First off, I feel they should properly train their recruiters and talent scouts and definitely their hiring managers as interviewers to ask effective interview questions that will properly assess the leadership capabilities, the culture fit, in addition to the require professional and technical skills. And secondly I think companies should implement a hire only high-performing talent minimum hiring standard. And for continuous improvement, they should ultimately track interviewer effectiveness and quality of hire over time and then make adjustments as necessary.

So on to changing our way of thinking. And not to be disruptive, but I think the definition that companies use to deem whether a candidate is qualified should really change, and it should likely continue to change over time. Rather than focusing on the bull’s eye, again, the professional or technical skills, the job title, the previous employer previously mentioned, let’s look at the whole target in its entirety, and let’s also consider what each space on the board might represent.

All of those spaces are worth something in terms of points or skills or capabilities, qualities, et cetera. Mind you, they might be different for every company, if not, every department or job family within the company. And then lastly, let’s associate weighted values with each space on the board so that the highest value qualities, or better yet let’s call them success attributes, will score higher than those that are deemed less critical. So in terms of the past, again focusing only on the bull’s eye, let’s consider what that got us. I’m assuming the bull’s eye again represents professional and technical skills, but let’s consider how most companies have done things by, in essence, throwing three darts at the board.

And each of these darts represent the candidate’s skills. One, two, and three, not too shabby of a dartboard player. So looks to be a pretty solid candidate. As we could see here, they hit a portion of the bull’s eye with every dart. Now if you’re not a dart player, you may not know that the bull’s eye itself is divided into an outer ring which is worth 25 points and inner circle that’s worth 50 points. Therefore, this candidate scored a total of 100, 25, 25 and a 50. And that certainly means they must be a great fit when it comes to the required professional and technical skills. But what does it say about their culture fit or their leadership capabilities? Does it tell us about their development opportunities or learning agility?

These are the things that make me go, “Let’s think about now the future. Let’s refocus our view to look beyond just the bull’s eye to see how another candidate might score. And in doing so, let’s associate each area of the board with the success attributes that are associated with high-performing talent. In this case, the bull’s eye will still represent professional and technical skills and for our example, the middle ring will represent culture fit. Lastly, I’ll have the outer ring represent leadership capabilities. Now of course, behind the scenes we know that there are a multitude of success attributes or competencies that are associated with each of these categories, but we’ll discuss how to better determine what those might be in a bit.

So once again, we’re going to throw three darts if you will at the board with each of the darts representing the candidate’s skills. One, two, and three. Now as you can see this candidate’s darts are spread across the entire board and the fact is they only got one in the bull’s eye. Now at first glance, you might think this candidate didn’t as the previous candidate, at least in the game of darts. It’s interesting to note however that people often think that the center of the bull’s eye represents the highest score available. And we generally all know that hitting one of the larger portions of the numbered section, the black and white alternating blocks there, scores the point value for that section.

However, I found out that a lot of people don’t necessarily know – I was one of them myself at one point – didn’t know that hitting the thin outer portions of each of these numbered sections scores double the point value of that section. That’s known as the double ring. Hitting the inner portions of these sections, which is it’s roughly halfway between the outer wire and the center circle scores triple the point value of that section. So that’s the triple ring. Now taking this scoring mentality into account, the candidate’s score is a whopping 148 and that’s a 48% improvement over the candidate who only hit portions of the bull’s eye.

It’s contrary to common thinking, at least for nonprofessional dart players. Now, mind you, this is just an illustration, but perhaps the point is I think we’ve been placing too much value on what we consider to be the highest value portion of the target and should instead be paying more attention to those areas representing the success attributes that are truly of higher value and which really ensure a better fit. That again leads to longer-term employment, faster development tracks, and contributes to sustained company growth.

So how can we use a strategy to elevate our top-performing talent in the process? Let’s begin by not just asking what makes a successful employee at your company? When it comes to professional and technical skills we’re basically assessing, “Does the candidate have the training and education and experience to do the job?” So focusing on professional and technical skills means we hire people who are great at what they do and that’s okay. But let’s also ask, “Who makes a successful employee at your company?” In other words, for learning capabilities we’re assessing, “Does the candidate have the ability and the behaviors to do the job well?” And for culture fit, we’d be looking at, “Does the candidate do the job the way that your company does or perhaps wants to?”

Again, we’re at the focus on skills means we hire people who are great at what they do, focusing on leadership capabilities and culture fit means we hire great people. And that ultimately could mean the difference between a company that survives and one that thrives. Keep in mind that what makes people successful at your company is not necessarily what makes people successful elsewhere, but there are definitely a lot of variables in play here. But for the sake of argument, let’s look at it this way. Let’s assume that your company has determined that learning capabilities should have a weighted success attribute or multiplier of two.

And let’s also assume that at your company culture fit is of the highest value and really should have a multiplier of three. Again, professional and technical skills are still quite valuable and remain the bull’s eye, but they have no multiplier. In other words, they are what they are. Keep in mind that in the end, we must consider the totality of these high-scoring targets in order to determine the best fit, the top-performing talent. So before we go into perhaps identifying what success attributes might be applicable at your company, let’s first clarify the definitions one more time for our categories.

When it comes to technical skills, that really relates to the operative capacity that mainly deals with the procedural day to day aspects of the job at your company. The culture fit relates to the experience and feelings that employees have at your company and how work ultimately gets done. And then lastly, leadership capabilities refer to the ability to manage and develop interactions, communications, leadership with others at your company. So I just wanted to make sure that we’re all on the same page as we begin to look at more specifically what some of the success attributes might look like.

When it comes to the identification of the success attributes, how do we determine what to associate with top-performing talent? It’s good question and it’s not an easy one to solve, but here are a few suggestions that I would have to help you perhaps get the party started so to speak. Number one, it would be reviewing high performer profiles. Most companies typically know who their top performers are. But if necessary and you don’t know who they are, you can always go back and use the previous period’s performance review results in order to identify those individuals.

But ultimately, you should examine a sampling of those profiles for your highest-performing employees. And in some cases, I’ve seen organizations use resources, and there’s a multitude of them available that are designed to manage human capital in organizations based on assessment of personality and perceived job performance. But whether you do that or not, the bottom line is to identify common traits and what we’ll call predictive behaviors of these high performers, and it is how a person behaves in most situations. So look at your best, people. Do your best to mimic what they do.

Secondly, obtain influence from leadership. Interview a sample of your senior leaders. Find out what qualities they value most and begin by asking them to identify the skills, the qualifications, the experience that they consider to be the must-haves to ensure that your with the bull’s eye, the professional and technical skills for all the roles. But then go beyond to ask them, to isolate the differentiators, those things that are observed among the highest performers. Those typically act to leadership capabilities and culture fit and again we’ll help you elevate the selection process to those who best fit.

Another option or another suggestion I should say is to use your company’s culture as the foundation. Your culture is the consistent experience that employees, customers, partners, and ultimately candidates have whenever they interact with your company. So you must engage and drive expectations of what that culture is. Now if by chance your culture is unclearly defined within your company, then you could always assume that you and I met in an elevator, and you had one minute to convince me to come to work for your company. What would you say? What would you tell me about the organization that ultimately sells [inaudible 00:16:45] and convinces me of your values?

And when it comes to the identification and selection process, when you’re sitting there with the candidate across the desk, don’t just assess the culture from their perspective, sell it. I encourage you to do so without arrogance. And then in terms of identifying development opportunities, I think that this is an area where it helps us determine the value of each of these attributes. So we all know that a significant member of newly hired employees fail within a few months, typically due to non-technical or non-skill related items. Things like coachability or lack thereof, emotional intelligence or lack thereof. Motivation, yeah, you get the point. Temperament, those kinds of things.

Therefore, I encourage you to take your list of the success attributes that you have identified and sit down and determine perhaps with management how difficult would it be for a typical new hire to develop any of those capabilities. Is it easy? Is it moderate? Is it hard to learn? And then consider these facts during your identification and selection process because basically you’re identifying, “Is it something they need to have when they come in the door or can we train to this?” and then you’d take that into account as you’re considering the candidate.

Lastly triangulate the results. Break it down. What you’re left with should tell you what it really takes to be a high performing employee at your company. All of the things that are required, all of the things that are differentiators to be a top performer. What training and education has required, ultimately you need to identify the three to five must-have skills on the role, albeit not years of experience. You need to identify the abilities or the behaviors that are required to do the job well.

And ultimately if you can identify the most important competencies and behaviors that will make them successful in that role. And then lastly, what way does your company do work and get work done. What are those key cultural aspects or the values of the organization that the candidate must possess in order to fit well. Again, these are differentiators between the status quo and the top performers, right? So next, how do you then identify and select high performers based on those criteria?

Well first step, I believe, is to formulate. This is what is traditionally known as the intake meeting. And as a former recruiter, I am immensely surprised by just how infrequently these meetings actually occur in the real world. The recruiter and/or talent scout and the hiring manager really do need to meet to validate the job description and ultimately the position requirements. And they should do so not just once but early and often because things change. The fact is that current and future critical challenges may be different from week to week, month to month, year to year, and it needs to be accounted for as you’re considering the candidate for a specific role.

Just because the job description stays the same doesn’t mean that the immediate critical challenges are the same. So keep that in mind. Meet with the manager to discover what those are. They’re not constant necessarily. They should also review the core competencies that match the position requirements. Now if your company has competencies clearly defined, then you’re already ahead of the game. And if not, this might be a good time to begin because tying the success attributes back to your core competencies is a great way to map the success and the growth of the organization.

So anyway, as a result of the recruiter, the manager, the talent scout should all work together to identify those success attributes that are associated with high performers that complement current resources and ultimately build a successful team. This is what we call establishing the target.

Secondly, I would suggest that you facilitate, that is to choose or if you don’t have them previously developed, to write behavioral interview questions, those questions that will enable you to clearly assess the candidate’s competencies or success attributes, questions for which the answer should not only identify but differentiate high performers and again complement the current team.

I would also recommend respectfully that you use the DART structure interview framework. They have never heard of that. It’s because we came up with it. I’ll explain that in a moment. And I always encourage interviewers to use the 80-20 rule during each and every interview — that is the candidate should do 80% of the talking and not the other way around.

So before we go onto the third step of identification and selection, let me talk quickly about the DART technique. Now we all typically know that star is a common strategy for developing competency-based interview questions and obtaining quality answers based on the situation, the task, the action and the result. However, in keeping with the dartboard thing, we created what we call the DART technique, which requires to ultimately provide the very same information as star, but to also identify what they took away from the experience and ideally what they then would continue to apply. That translates to learning agility. Do they pick up things as they go? Are they improving themselves as they go through their career?

So as you can see, the comparisons are that describe means to describe the situation that you are in or the task that you needed to accomplish. So that ties back to the star. The action is very much the same. What action did you take? Describe why you did it and ultimately, what the alternatives were? Results, again, the same. What results did you achieve or accomplish? Can you describe the outcome and whether or not you met your objectives.

So the key diffentiator here is what did you take away from this experience? Can you explain to me whether or not you continued to apply the learning since this experience occurred. Again, this is critical. I’ll mention this in a moment as far as learning agility. So what do you do with this information? Now we figured out the methodology we’re going to use again to get the answers to the behavioral interview questions, but how do we perhaps organize those questions.

Well, depending upon your target – and again it’s going to vary at each company, if not, with any department or job family – the behavioral interview questions should I think ideally be organized into four categories. The first is introduction or introductory question, things like what were your responsibilities in your most recent position. You’ll notice that in this particular interview guide that I built, I put below it the lines that describe action, result and takeaway, the DART technique, so that the interviewer could document whether or not those items were addressed and perhaps notes that are associated with that so that they can ask probing questions if need be.

One the right, you’ll see that I had a drop down for rating, and then I ultimately had the multiplier. In this case, it’s simply one. That is, this is an introductory question. It is what it is. We’re giving it the value of the specific rating.

Next category would be professional or technical skills. And this could be again more behavioral in nature — tell me about a time we maybe introduce and idea, et cetera. Again, this is for someone who creates opportunities and you’ll see the DART technique listed there again at the bottom. You’ll also notice that in this case, we identified the success attribute that we wanted associated with it, that is to be disruptive, if you will. This likely was for a sales role. And then we also noted the developmental difficulty for this role. Remember, we talked about that previously. We identified this one as being moderate. Instead of easier or harder, this one is moderate. So potentially, someone could come in with so-so capabilities and learn and grow and develop. Again from a professional and technical skills perspective, again relating back to the bull’s eye, this has a multiplier of one, so it is what it is.

The next category, leadership capabilities. In this case, communicates influentially. We want them, from a success attribute perspective, to communicate with authority. So we ask him about those kinds of experiences. Notice in this case on the right hand side, you’ll see that there is that multiplier of two. So this is where we first apply our weighting to elevate those candidates who have defined skills in this particular success attribute that we found to be of higher value and associate it back to leadership capabilities.

Then lastly is culture fit. And again, in this particular case, we set it with the highest value. We wanted them to model the values of the company. We ask them to describe a tough situation. In this particular case, the success attribute was a strong work ethic, and you’ll notice that the developmental difficulty for this particular attribute was deemed to be harder. That is that you’re born with the work ethic or you’re not. It’s not something we can necessarily teach or train on. And so this one was of critical high value. So it got a multiplier of three. Now keep in mind that the combined questions should ultimately cover the complete range of functions and responsibilities. So this is a very small subset of what we would ultimately deliver.

But just like the sections of a dartboard, all of the competencies, all of the attributes are worth something and ultimately, they’re required in some degree in order to achieve individual success. The questions that are aligned with, again, the high performer success attributes, use that multiplier so we better identify top candidates. Again, we have the opportunity to use probing questions to again learn . . . see if they learn from their experience, see what that takeaway was, see if they’re able to use this learning in a future situation.

So going full circle then to step three, that is to evaluate. The last thing you need to do is to assess the candidate’s skills level on all the assigned questions.

Use the multipliers to weigh the predictive success attributes and in some ways, you have to predict the future — that is to look for potential today and determine whether they can be the perfect candidate tomorrow. Analyze the future earnings powered by that individual rather than where they stand at the given moment. At the end of the day, what an individual achieved yesterday will not yield you any revenue, but what they can do tomorrow can make all of the difference in your organization.

And again, I mentioned I talked about learning agility. Research has revealed that the single best predictor of who will climb the high levels in the organization has learning agility, that is a person’s ability to take from their experience, change their future actions as a result.

It’s a strong predictor that a person will perform well in challenging first time situations and that they’ll have the potential to succeed at high levels of responsibility. So look for the potential by listing for things like, “I used to be like this, then this happened. Now I’m like this, and I have applied that in this situation.” And then lastly, complete the overall candidate evaluation and at the end of day, you’ve got to make your selections accordingly.

So in the end, to wrap things up, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. And again, I think if you apply this methodology, if you refocus your efforts at your company on targeting high-performing talent using the entire dartboard part by part, not just the bull’s eye, then together, we can prove that the dartboard strategy isn’t dead. It’s just different.

I thank you for your time and attendance today. And again, I ask if you have any questions to please tweet me @lynndavidknight and do #twitterinsights. Have a great day and happy hunting.