Thick as a Brick

December 4, 2014
Thick as a Brick

My mum was a woman of clichés, yes, I know, I am my mother’s son! When she got frustrated with people who were struggling to ‘get it’ she would always say, “Gosh, he’s as thick as a brick”. Last week was a week of dealing with “bricks”.

Two weeks ago I imported a batch of assessments from an Australian supplier. Basically a ream of paper. The goods landed in Auckland via UPS 7 days ago. I had a phone call today to tell me UPS cannot deliver the package because the driver cannot find my delivery address!

For goodness sake, our office is not in the boondocks and our street number is clearly defined on the letter box. We are in a major street on Auckland’s North Shore, it’s a simple address to find. The UPS dispatcher verified the address was correct.

In my frustration, I enquired, “Who hires these drivers?” The dispatcher laughed, obviously an issue he deals with on a regular basis. It’s clear my delivery driver has very poor general mental ability. He’s a brick! A simple 12 minute general abilities test during the hiring process would have highlighted that.

Problem solving and general learning ability have a long history of research dating back to the American Military in World War 1. General mental ability tests were developed to identify the suitability of recruits for officer training.  A proliferation of research over the last 100 years has validated general mental ability as the best predictor of future job performance, a validity factor of around .52

On a regular basis, I see examples of managers who have hired people that are totally incompetent at their job. I bet you experience this as well? Obviously these poor hires are costing organisations (large and small) huge amount of money through lost revenue opportunities, human resource administration and staff morale. But, here’s the rub, it’s not the employees fault, it’s the hiring manager who failed to select a person with the right job fit.

This drives me back to the way managers hire. Usually unstructured and basically on gut feel and emotion. A general chi-chat (disguised as an interview) and a phone call to a referee supplied by the candidate is a sure way to hire a horror story. When hiring, you need a structured process that evaluates a candidate’s job fit based on, ‘can they and will they’.

Most managers are quite competent at adjudicating if a candidate CAN do the job – do they have the appropriate knowledge, skill and experience to perform the tasks required? Yes, my delivery man can adequately drive a van.

The hiring trap that most managers get caught out on is understanding HOW a candidate will do the job (The innate capabilities). My van driver lacked basic problem solving ability. It’s impossible to evaluate the HOW through a job interview. This important evaluation is usually judged on emotional or gut feel – how my van driver was hired.

Most managers hire on the CAN, but always have employee problems or terminations based on the HOW

Apart from general mental ability (your first port of call), there are many highly validated and reliable assessment tools that will unearth other key work behaviours. In entry level roles, a candidate’s counterproductive behaviours (like honesty, dependability, workplace anger, sexual harassment, attitude to safety, drug and alcohol abuse etc) is well worth measuring.

Other job fit attributes worth measuring are personality, motivation and job engagement. All of these assessments can be done online and within thirty minutes from around $50 to $150! Would that be an investment well spent?

Another simple solution is to do a standardised reference/background check. Past behaviour reflects future behaviour and a simple call to past managers (never trust reference points given in CVs) using a standardised set of question will quickly unearth if you are about to hire your next horror story.

Today’s managers are under incredible pressure to meet the daily targets. When it comes to hiring, short cuts are an easy path. Relying too heavily on third parties or your own gut feel will come back to haunt you six months down the track.

People are the backbone of your business, you are making an investment. If you were about to invest $50,000 on a new fixed asset for your business, would you spend that money based on how you feel? I doubt it. You and your accountant would do some thorough due diligence. Employing new staff is no different.

Hiring new staff is a lot like marriage, easy to get into, but very difficult to get out of.


Rob McKay MA(Hons) Organisational Psychology is Director of AssessAdvantage Aust/NZ Ltd.

He can be reached at 64 9 414 6030 – or



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