jimi hendrix, ability, risk, technical, Toby Elwin, blog

Technical ability does little to mitigate risk

technical ability, recruiting, human resources, Toby Elwin, Jimi Hendrix, Gustav Mahler
OK, Mahler’s Symphony Number 9, from the top, ready?

Organizations don’t simply run from a strategic plan prescription. Projected cash flows don’t deliver themselves. Business units don’t run in a vacuum. Individual technical ability is not more important than the collaborative knowledge, ability, and skills of people and teams.

If you recruit people with evaluation efforts that focus on industry experience, work history, and academic education, evidence shows these human resource tools do not show positive correlation to predict someone’s success within a firm or that a collection of technical wizards would impact a firm’s future success.

Technical skill has little to do mitigating operational risk within your organization.

Evaluations that include work product, reports, stories, and conversations are qualitative views with only limited insight into someone’s technical ability.

Further, these qualitative types of human capital assessments remain highly subjective and are neither quantifiable nor comparative.

Only quantitative approaches provide comparative analysis.

Important predictive human capital tools are quantitative results include measures such as IQ. But studies estimate IQ accounts for as little as 4% to 10% to someone’s professional success.

Sum of the Squares

Research in over 200 organizations worldwide suggested the difference between top performers and average performers finds only 33% of the performance is attributable to cognitive (IQ) and technical ability and the remaining 66%* due to human capital competency**.

An IQ score does not accurately project job success or mitigate human capital risk so it is not the predictive tool we hope for.

There are measurable human capital, competency-based assessments that quantify how people manage themselves and others and how teams collaborate. Getting a quantifiable handle on competencies that people use to manage themselves and teams are critical human capital performance indicators. Globally, you can find that these competencies differentiate outstanding performers from average performers and include:

  1. Cognitive competencies, such as systems thinking and pattern recognition
  2. Emotional intelligence competencies, including self-awareness and self-management competencies, such as emotional self-awareness and emotional self-control; and
  3. Social competencies, including social awareness and relationship management competencies, such as empathy and teamwork

A competency is defined as a capability or ability. It is a set of related, but different, sets of behavior, organized around an underlying construct called the “intent”. The behaviors are alternate manifestations of the intent, as appropriate in various situations or times (Boyatzis, 1982, 2008; McClelland, 1973, 1985).

Alternatively, competencies can be described as the sum of practical, social, and analytical skills. Behavioral competencies are those that are seen or can be witnessed.

Competencies, or a behavioral approach to cognitive, emotional, and social intelligence studies on complex jobs reveal a top performer [someone rating highly in emotional and social competency] is almost 127% more productive than an average performer.  127% more productivity is the difference between a product launch or product failure.

Competencies, as part of the evaluation, provide a great insight into fit and projected success. Competency assessments when paired with cultural alignment tools, such as the Competing Values Framework, provide an opportunity to assess how someone manages them self, how they manage others, and the culture most likely to provide their success: hierarchy, startup, etc…

For a deeper view try these posts on Emotional Intelligence and the Competing Values Framework and an article by Richard Boyatzis on Competencies in the 21st Century.

*”Working with Emotional Intelligence”; Goleman, 1998; page. 19 and page 320

**Boyatzis, 1982, 2008; McClelland, 1973, 1985

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Comments 7

    1. A great opportunity to clarify and cite Emotional Intelligence sources on the study of over 200 organizations as well as other Emotional Intelligence research:

      Here are books, papers, or research quoted for the studies, Google books search allows views to some of these book links:
      1. The study of over 200 (286 organizations) is found at Spencer, L. M. J., McClelland, D. C., & Kelner, S. (1997). Competency Assessment Methods: History and State of the Art. Boston: Hay/McBer.

      More on Lyle Spencer’s research

      2. Similar results are found by the author of Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, PhD: pages 187, 320, and 356 (end notes 35 and 36).
      Goleman also cites:
      a. Richard Boyatzis, PhD, The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance (New York: John Wiley and Songs, 1982)
      b. Spencer and Spencer, Competence at Work

      I should have clarified my asterisk as competence defined, not a source for the study.

      If you are interested in how competence is defined in this case, see above Boyatzis source.

      You might find my recap link on what I’ve written on Emotional Intelligence a good chance to further our dialogue. There is a good book source that really attacks the validity of EI and the poor reliability or predictability that many EI practitioners misapply.

      Happy New Year.

        1. It is a fascinating connection to the technical skill to run a project and project management’s key to success. What is the saying: once the project is underway 90% of the project manager’s job is communication?

          We have to have a deep degree of emotional intelligence and communication skills to carry a project throughout all the stakeholder views and needs. Any tool that helps convey communication and collaboration is a valued tool for a project’s success.

          I welcome your perspective, always,


          1. Hey Toby, thanks for the extensive commentary. I appreciate the effort you’ve put into this.

            I’m having difficulty obtaining a copy of Boyatzis’s book but have found ample internet resources which reference his research.

            You should appreciate the fact that my main interest in this topic is in the context of project management. From that perspective I had intuitive issues with accepting the 200 organizations example, as although I understand and agree with the need to maintain not just IQ but also EQ, I didn’t think the impact would be that high. Having read various internet resources expounding on this issue I feel I need to do a bit more research to understand this point a bit better. If the above is correct then I suspect many PM’s with the correct EQ capability are not given the opportunity to demonstrate their skill as they might be seen as being ‘too soft’ and therefore less competent than PM’s with lower EQ capabilities. This needs some consideration.

            Cheers, Shim

        2. There are a grand amount of Emotional Intelligence claims out there from inferior studies. I spent a good amount of time deselecting dubious statistically valid and reliable tools or tools that do not really measure what they intend to measure. Others really only assess standard personality traits.

          Keep your eyes out for the top tier combination of Hay Group and Richard Boyatzis (who was a management consultant then moved into academia and successfully bridges valid and reliable with business drivers).

          Shim, I feel Boyatzis, in particular, will meet your analytic demand for rigidity.



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