Saturday, July 02, 2016

Trust and/or Competence ??

I once had a boss, who will go unnamed, who had a tendency to hire people based primarily on the credentials in their resume. Granted, this probably helped me get hired in the first place - all modesty aside - but that practice looked very different from the inside.

After I was on board, I found that our hiring and recruiting proclivities diverged wildly. Whenever we had a senior-level vacancy, he looked for someone who had the best resume, worked at the most prestigious organizations, etc. My sense of it was that he was using the credentials as proxies:
  • The credentials were a mark of competence - after all, if the candidate worked for Company X, he/she must be very good at what he/she does.
  • The candidate's stellar credentials would bring luster to our organization.
In other words, competence, or at least perceived competence, was the key, if not the only, factor.

I, on the other hand, preferred to hire people I knew or those who were referred to me by those people whom I knew. Of course competence and skills were important, just not solely important. I developed the philosophy, therefore, that I would prefer someone who had, in general, the skill set I was seeking, even with gaps. My familiarity with them provided me sufficient comfort that hiring them was the right choice: I was comfortable that they would do their best, despite the gaps, or that they would make the effort to close the gaps in their knowledge.

As usual, I concluded that I had come to this brilliant conclusion entirely on my own. And, as usual, it turns out that someone smarter than I had thought this through and taken my meager intellectual efforts to an entirely greater level. If nothing else, however, I might as learn from each such experience and benefit from someone else's feverish mind contemplating the same issue.

This article from Business Insider, citing the book Presence by Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, encapsulates the question with which I had been wrestling and shines a light on the question:

A Harvard psychologist says people judge you based on 2 criteria when they first meet you


Professor Cuddy posits that the two criteria are Trust and Competence. She argues that most people assume that Competence is more important, but that Trust must be established first.

amy cuddy

The question is particularly interesting when we consider that we are often on either side of the trust/competence question. If we are doing the hiring, we are looking for trust before we get to the question of competence, at least according to Professor Cuddy as cited in the article.

If, however, we are looking to be hired, we try to establish our competence in our interview, perhaps neglecting the need to establish trust first.

In other words, depending on which side of the conversation we are on, we may behave in a way that we would find unacceptable if we were on the other side - the interviewer wants to trust the interviewee, who is however concerned about establishing his/her competence! Talk about not being self-aware!

This is an interesting lesson because it applies to so much in life. While the prior episodes from my career that triggered this thought process were about hiring, it really applies to sales, dating and virtually any human endeavor involving more than one person - establish rapport/relationship/connection first, the rest will follow. 

Do you trust me on this ?