Finding the Right Talent and Training Them Are the Same Subject

When a company has a common performance language, the processes of recruiting, training, developing, and evaluating high-quality people are all based on performance objectives, objective processes, and objective language.

We have all seen fish trying to climb trees in the workplace. We recognize them when we remember the quote from Albert Einstein:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

When someone doesn’t have the skills required of their job, they are the fish trying to climb a tree. Matching the skills required by a job with people’s skills is not as difficult as we often make it. Matching skills is what will keep the fish out of the trees in our workplace. The biggest obstacle in this process is subjective job descriptions. “Subjective” meaning that tasks and required skills are left open to interpretation.

On most any job description, you will see phrases such as “must have strong communication skills,” “5 years of experience required,” “must be a team player.” Such subjective phrases do little to match skills for the applicant or for the people screening applicants. Not only are job descriptions subjective, but when the recruiting process is filled with subjectivity, it is difficult to match candidates’ skills with those required by the job.

Consider the interview process. “Job interview” has come to represent a question/answer process that is humorously characterized by this conversation:

Interviewer: What is your greatest weakness?

Skilled interviewee: I guess my greatest weakness is that I work too hard. I just can’t seem to tear myself away from work.

What is the alternative to the traditional subjective recruiting process?

An objective, performance-based recruiting process!

The same tools the pioneers of the performance-based training revolution used to take the subjectivity out of the training process can be used to take the subjectivity out of any process in which a human is performing, including the recruiting process.

Dr. Robert F. Mager’s book, “Preparing Instructional Objectives,” has made such a tremendous impact in the training world (more than 3 million copies sold, translated into 16 languages) because it shows us how to develop objective training that keeps the subjectivity out of the process.

Using the same process to write a performance-based job description results in:

  • A list of tasks required by the job
  • A performance objective that identifies the task, the conditions under which it is performed, and objective criteria to measure the performance of the task
  • The skills that are required to perform each task

That list of skills then is separated into two groups: the skills for which a person will receive training, and the “prerequisite skills” that will not be trained, but that are required to learn and/or to perform the job. The skills for which a person will be trained can be ignored in the recruiting process. The prerequisite skills appear on the job posting.

The job interview now takes on a new structure. Since those prerequisite skills have the criteria, or the standards to which they need to be performed on the job, they don’t need to be discussed in the interview, they need to be performed!

When applicants demonstrate they can perform the prerequisite skills to the standard required on the job, you have matched the skills—you won’t have a fish trying to climb a tree!

Why Is this the Same Subject as Training?

Both the recruiting and the training should focus on the skills required on the job. Both the recruiting and the training process should be completely objective—free of subjectivity. Both processes should be governed by the performance objectives required on the job. These are characteristics of a Common Performance Language.

When a company has a common performance language, the processes of recruiting, training, developing, and evaluating high-quality people are all based on performance objectives, objective processes, and objective language. These processes are all consistent with the principles and language that govern human performance.

For example, the language that governs performance can’t be subjective. Dr. Mager uses the title, Goal Analysis, to describe the process of clarifying subjective performance language by translating it into observable performances.

The link contains the step to the written Goal Analysis process, but the conversational process of clarifying subjective performance language goes something like this:

Boss: You need to be more of a team player.

Bossed: Fair enough, boss. When you observe me being a team player, what are you observing me do?

Boss (pensively): Well, for one thing, you would arrive at team meetings on time.

Bossed: OK, what else?

Boss: You would volunteer for assignments that are given to the team.

Bossed: OK, what else?

Boss: You would not roll your eyes when your team members talk.

This conversation continues until the boss has defined “team player” with a list of observable performances. That makes being a team player a lot less subjective.

The point is that this process takes the subjectivity out of the description. There are similar ways to take subjectivity out of the processes of recruiting, training, evaluating, developing, and retaining high-quality people.

If you take the subjectivity out of your recruiting, training, and evaluating processes, not only will you not have fish trying to climb trees, you will have significantly happier and higher-producing people in the workplace.

Rex Conner is the lead partner and owner of Mager Consortium, which since 2012, has applied the processes of Dr. Robert Mager to the entire spectrum of human performance in the workplace. Conner has witnessed the common violations of common sense while working as a trusted partner inside of more than 50 companies in dozens of industries over the last three decades. He is also speaker and Certified Instructional Technologist and holds a Master’s degree in Education and a Doctorate in Flying Instruction. For more information, visit and connect with Conner on LinkedIn at

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