Tweak B-School selection: How to identify young leaders
The validity and reliability of speed testing for success in business is suspect
During the past few days, well meaning B-school leaders have encouraged me to articulate propositions on B-school selection, which can serve as a discussion paper. The starting point is to ask, what should B-school selection look for? The objective of B-schools is to produce entrepreneurs and leaders in business. According to Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence, Pritam Singh and Asha Bhandarker in 'In Search of Change Maestros' and the incomparable CK Prahalad, the key to business leadership is the balance among social intelligence, strong personal character, interpersonal felicity and mental agility. This should not be confused with lower-order numerical and verbal proficiency. It is more than numerical and language intelligence, and has a strong data interpretation, data sufficiency and data organization component.
The selection method, therefore, should be able identify nascent abilities, including synthesizing information and conceptualizing issues; organizing information into frameworks, interpreting and discerning issues; an orientation to engage others, managing differences, forging understanding and handling pressure over a sustained period with focus and mental clarity. I do not believe in either the comprehensiveness or finality of these attributes. But if we cannot agree on what the attributes are, how can we design any selection tool?
The selection can be a four-stage process, with CAT being stage one. CAT should have two parts: Part 1 should focus on testing aspirants on logical call-taking and not solely numerical skills; analytics which places a premium on organizing information in logical frames and distilling inferences, not trigonometry/geometry/algebra. In my 28 years of working, I have never seen a manager using the kind of numerical ability CAT calls for. It should also focus on economic, political, social or business comprehension and not sentence correction, vocabulary, English passage comprehension.
Part 2 should create a level playing field by giving an option to the aspirant to choose his core under-graduation specialization. This helps standardize different universities and diverse under-graduate courses into a standard CAT framework. The validity and reliability of speed testing for success in business is suspect. It is now widely accepted that speed tests are more about practice and cracking the test code than intelligence. In all my years in boardrooms, working with remarkable leaders and managing leadership development and selection for over 10 years, I have rarely seen anyone confuse speed with grasping ability. This is a lower-order intellect skill compared with synthesizing and distilling non-numeric or hybrid information and taking a call. The presence of this lower-order intellect skill has no relationship with higher-order business intellect.
The last listed three attributes constitute the differentiating part of business leadership. They are the platform on which the first four translate into results. Hence, Stage 2 of the selection process should be a group discussion anchored on the following key principles of business discussion:
A well-written business/political/social case, with sufficient meat in it, which is amenable to test all the chosen attributes
Individual preparation time, of at least an hour to an hour-and-a-half for reading, distilling and formulating a plan for discussion
Group size not exceeding eight people. This sets up the best structure for group dynamics and right size for the evaluators to observe and judge
Time given for discussion of at least 45 minutes, but ideally an hour for a meaningful discussion. This is how long business meetings last
Briefing the group of attributes the evaluators would be looking for. Ideally, listing out a few attributes which would indicate dysfunctional behavior
Training the evaluators for identifying these behaviors
Stage 3 should have a psychometric profiler, designed to profile the aspirant on the chosen attributes and dysfunctional behaviors. This will serve as a supplement to the stage 1 and stage 2 judgments and give quality data on social intelligence and interpersonal felicity.
Stage 4 should be a personal interview, where the aspirant is given a choice of topics on which he or she would conduct research on a book or research publication of repute and present it to the panel. Also, one of the selection filters used by US colleges and business schools is an essay the candidate is asked to submit on questions such as: 'How do you want to be remembered? What are the three non-academic accomplishments you are proud of? Write about an ethical or moral dilemma you faced and how did you tackle it? What is the change you desire to cause?' The panel would engage candidates for at least 20 minutes on their presentation and essay to assess them on the pre-chosen attributes and dysfunctional behavior. This will remove randomness of the discussions and standardize the process.
None of what I have proposed for discussion is new. Anyone familiar with 70 years of selection of officers for the armed forces in West Point, Sandhurst and NDA, will be well-versed with the above propositions. Progressive organizations recognized the world over as role models for leadership development have also used this approach to identify young leaders from their first-level management. The propositions in this piece are intended to serve as discussion props and I am not presumptive to state that they are foolproof. The youth of India and burgeoning businesses look up to B-school maestros and test designers. I have unshakable belief that there are well-intentioned leaders in B-schools who will carry forward this debate to its logical qualitative end.
Source: The Economic Times; November 1, 2011
(The author is Executive Director ICICI Bank and is responsible for human resources, customer service and operations at ICICI Bank)