Sometimes it takes a crisis

When this pandemic is over you will know a lot more about your staff/ managers . A crisis brings out the strength in some and the weaknesses in others. It will not necessarily have been the most experienced or knowledgable who remained calm and inspired confidence. It will not necessarily be those with the formal qualifications who showed themselves able to adapt quickly to the new circumstances nor will it necessarily be those who are good with computers and statistics who were able to remain positive throughout or who demonstrated the stamina and determination to keep going. So how should a greater appreciation of the importance of personality characteristics change the way your organisation recruits and promotes in the future?


The traditional person specification emphasises Experience, Knowledge  and Skills. Motivated by a desire to remove bias from the process the aim is to identify objective measures in these areas such as formal qualifications, training courses attended, number of years in related activity, size of budget managed , number of staff responsible for, changes brought about. References are only given weight if they raise doubts about the candidates health, loyalty or integrity and they rarely do  since since such comments can be challenged. 


To these traditional elements of the person specification add a new heading ,”mental strength “. This can sound very macho but it has nothing to do with aggression it’s about adaptability, reliability, resilience, stamina and positive outlook. 


So how do you assess for calmness in the faced of uncertainty and a climate of anxiety, the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, the ability to stay positive in the face of daunting challenges, the resilience to over come setbacks and the stamina to keep going when others give into fatigue. You can ask those who know them well, you can ask in the interview for examples of when the candidate has demonstrated these qualities or you can devise exercises which will reveal the extent to which candidates possess these qualities. 


 Outward Bound courses have traditionally been designed to test physical and mental strength. Management consultants have adapted this approach for management development courses with less emphasis on physical strength and more on team work. So there are ways of assessing and developing an individuals mental strength and the next generation of assessment centres may make more use of questionnaires designed to measure mental toughness.


Post coronavirus filling posts may see a change in emphasis with person specifications being expanded, more weight given to references and interviews exploring candidates character. It will still be important to match an individual’s experience, knowledge and skills with the requirements of the post but armed with the knowledge of who performed best in a crisis employers may give more weight to mental strength. After all it’s a lot easier to improve an employees knowledge and skill than it is to change their personality. 



Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger 

Security level: Public

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