Can we predict future performance based on past behavior?
March 6, 2018
By Keisha Ward, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE
We have all heard the phrase “past performance determines future behavior.” This theory has been used throughout many industries. HR professionals have depended on this rule of thumb for more than 20 years as a tool to make decisions on hiring employees. In fact, one of the most highly regarded interviewing methods was designed with it in mind.
The Behavioral Interview has been used as a tool for hiring managers to identify patterns of behavior. During a behavioral interview, candidates are asked questions that require them to provide specific examples. The examples should include a Situation, Task, Action, and Result (S.T.A.R.). The interviewer will present their candidate with questions such as “Tell me about a time when you were faced with a difficult decision at work? The question is then followed with probing questions like, “How did you handle it?” or “What did you learn from this situation?” It is the goal of the interviewer to ask questions that address the candidates’ past performance. The goal is that the candidate’s responses paint a consistent picture as to how he or she has handled situations in previous positions. The question is, does it truly identify future performance?
Predicting Future Behavior:
During a behavioral interview information is gathered and used as insight into the candidate’s world at work. They will evaluate responses to determine how the candidate will likely react in situations based on provided examples of past performance.
How effective is this method today? According to an article on Monster.com, the behavioral interview has become a victim both of its own success and the fact that hiring practices have changed since the technique was developed 30 years ago. Meaning behavioral interview questions are no longer as effective or useful as they once were.
- Traditional behavioral interview questions are predictable and often overly structured
- Candidates are widely trained and/or coached on the technique, thus prepared to master anticipated interview questions
What can hiring managers do to overcome this loophole? Interviewers should listen thoroughly and come up with alternative questions and find consistencies/patterns in responses. Jim Kennedy, founder of Management Team Consultants suggests the following tips:
- Seek repeated evidence that shows a pattern of behavior
- Drill down for specific details with every story you hear
- Ask what the candidate learned from past experiences
Interviewers should want more than one example on each given category. To improve probability of a successful prediction, they should ask for specifics such as supporting data or metrics. They should also look for ways the individual shows willingness to grow and ability to adjust to change.
Time brings about change:
Several factors should be taken into consideration before ruling a candidate out based on the behavioral predictions. The primary factor to consider is change. Is this candidate able to change his or her behavior? If the candidate has provided unfavorable examples or examples that counteract with job related preferences, to make a fair assessment we need to understand when this situation occurred and what changes have taken place since. Has he or she developed skills or attended training since the last example took place? Behavioral prediction is more reliable within a shorter time span. A candidate who made a poor decision at work 10 years ago may consider a different approach to the same situation today.
People will often change their behaviors as a result of:
- Feedback received from others – guidance and mentorship can dramatically improve performance
- Consequences of past performance – people learn and improve by first making mistakes
- Environmental changes – change in leadership, company, or position can reset behaviors and improve performance
Past performance can predict future behavior; however, it is not a fool-proof method. It can be a useful rule of thumb as long as it is used with all factors in mind. Assess all S.T.A.R examples carefully and evaluate change – the change that has occurred and one’s ability to change.