Organisational

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Disruption in L&D

Has Disruption begun to take place in our industry?

We’ve written elsewhere on the general definition of disruptive innovation, but what does this mean to us in L&D?

Well, for a start, there is a live example of disruptive innovation in the world of learning and development.

Training companies have sold expensive, residential courses for years and whilst these have been challenged before, it is only in more recent years with a better understanding of how people learn and with the introduction of better technology, that these companies have been disrupted.

The people who were not happy spending so much or sending out people for 5-day residential programmes are now enjoying the benefits of online learning – a cheaper and more convenient alternative.

This has also been an example of breakthrough innovation, as the existing customers of the residential training courses are investing more in their LMS and using e-learning in place of the big multi-day course.

So e-learning has both provided a new market for development and stolen business from the old market of long courses.

Love it or loathe it, we now have e-learning well established in our development world – whether it’s an intelligent, interactive or even gamified system or simply someone’s voice recorded over PowerPoint slides – this has opened up a new world of learning just when you want to, in a far more cost-effective way.

Of course there is a downside, if we think about the goal of most learning, it is to create a change in behaviour.

For example, watching a video or playing a game that teaches the importance of how to run performance management conversation, might give some interesting tips and increase knowledge, but these tools alone do not create the change in behaviour we are usually looking for.

To change our behaviour we need knowledge, skill and habit.  We need to know what we should be doing, we need to have the skill to put that into action, and then we have to actually do it.

So whilst we have seen disruptive innovation in L&D in the form of e-learning, the question is now how to achieve the outcomes we really want from learning?

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What is Disruption?

What does disruption really mean, should we be afraid? 

Well the short answer is that it is disruptive innovation – a new idea that changes things or creates a new market.

An example could be Netflix, who took the customers that didn’t like the fees and inflexibility of renting videos from Blockbuster and introduced them to all online content.

This became disruptive because all Blockbuster’s customers then realised the benefits of Netflix and switched over.  A new market of online movie streaming was created.

This is different to breakthrough innovation, which simply takes an existing idea, market, product or service and makes it better.  Through these definitions then, Uber – which is often quoted as an example of disruptive innovation, is in fact just a breakthrough innovation.

Uber have taken an existing idea of catching a cab and made it better.  A new market of cab users has not been created – it’s the existing market using Uber, more than the cab company they used to call.

It’s helpful to be aware of this difference between disruptive and breakthrough innovation because every business needs to protect itself from both types of risk.  How do you go about this?

Every business must make sure it is offering the best version of its product and service for its particular market – so Ryanair must stay the cheapest and BA must stay high quality to maintain their positions with their particular customer bases.

This protects the company from breakthrough innovation – that is, another company working out a way to do it better.  If a new airline appeared that offered the prices Ryanair publicise, at the same level of profitability for the company owners, but with far better customer service, comfort and overall customer experience, then Ryanair would be at risk.

We can protect our businesses from the risk of outside breakthrough innovation by making sure we are the breakthrough innovators.  Let’s stay focused on offering the best version of whatever we do for the particular people we do it for, so we cannot be beaten by others.

Then we need to protect ourselves from disruptive innovation.  This means looking at the markets we don’t go after.  Often disruptors will go for the people that nobody else is going after.

With Blockbuster as an example, the original Netflix customers were offered old movies at a low price – whereas Blockbuster was all about the newest releases.  What is the lower end of your market, or the people you don’t really service?  What risk could there be to your business if someone offered something they liked, which in turn could create a new market?

Many companies have been too slow to respond to breakthrough and disruptive innovation, make sure you’re not the next Kodak or Blockbuster story by educating your teams on these risks and helping them stay commercially alert.

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Brexit: Resilience through Uncertainty

breixt2Continuing to assess the impact from the referendum

The past few weeks have brought new meaning to leading through uncertainty.  With changes in government, low confidence in the UK economy, fluctuating share prices and the appearance that we are talking ourselves into a recession, how can any of us cope and perform at our best?

Recent research carried out by Credit Suisse suggests 49% of FTSE 350 boards in the FT–ICSA Boardroom Bellwether survey did not put a plan in place to cope with a Brexit outcome.  So what can we do to help?

In this article we’ll explore the ways different businesses are responding to the current situation, offer some tips from the research on resilience and leave you with the reminder that your mindset is critical for your success and mental health.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Many anecdotal stories emerged from the last two economic contractions, indicating that the strongest surviving companies were those who maintained focus and continued to invest in advertising and people development.

In a Harvard Business School study of three recessions, it was found that “firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish. They have the lowest probability—21%—of pulling ahead of the competition when times get better.”  “Companies that master the delicate balance between cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow do well after a recession.”  You can read the whole study here.

If you’re not in a position to make or influence decisions about the direction the business takes post-Brexit, what can you do?  Developing your resilience or ‘bouncebackability’ can be critical for staying effective and focused no matter what life throws at you.

One of the critical aspects of resilience is self-belief – slightly different to self-confidence, self-belief is the sense that you can cope, you will survive and life goes on.  Why is self-belief important for resilience?  Without self-belief we can feel helpless in the face of difficult and challenging situations that occur.  We can be afraid of the future, worry that things will be impossible to overcome and feel frozen into inaction.

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However, if we believe that we have the skills and resources to deal with these situations, we will be willing to tackle the challenge head-on, focus on the outcomes we want and persist towards that outcome even when things get difficult.  So how can people develop self-belief?

Remember where you have coped before

We have all faced challenging situations before – and we’re still here, still breathing, still getting on with things.  Think back to the difficult things in life you have overcome.  When has life been hard and you have managed to survive and maybe even thrive afterwards?  Remembering that we have coped before can boost our confidence that we can cope again – building that belief in our ability.

Set goals and achieve them

A key way to develop self-belief is through ‘mastery’ experiences, ie setting yourself goals and achieving them.  In relation to resilience this means learning you can cope with unexpected situations.  By putting yourself in situations where you have to use your coping resources, you will learn that you are capable of dealing with these situations.

Identify and observe role models

Identify people who are able to cope with challenging and difficult situations easily.  What do they do and what can you learn from them?

Find a supportive coach or mentor

A key element of building self-belief is being encouraged by others and having them acknowledge your achievements.  Identify someone who can support you and mentor you.

Challenge your own limiting beliefs

Our belief in our ability to cope is often limited by our beliefs about ourselves and our own capabilities.  It is important to challenge and question these beliefs, as it is often only these beliefs that hold us back. The first step is identifying them: what statements do you tell yourself over and over?  Things like “I could never cope with…,” “I’m not good enough for this job,” “I can’t do this” and “I could never do this job if…” are common limiting beliefs.  We state them in our minds like they are facts.

Make a list of the most common things you tell yourself that fit into this category of sounding like facts, yet are really more beliefs about your ability.

The second step is to challenge these statements.  Are they facts?  For each one, ask yourself whether this is true, false or cannot say.  What evidence do you have that this statement might be false?  When we say things like “I always fail” or “I never do well at…” the fact is that we will have evidence to the contrary.  We will of course sometimes fail, but we sometimes succeed too.  Challenging these limiting beliefs and creating new beliefs for ourselves can be critical to our self-belief.

What if we changed “I always fail” to “Sometimes I do well and I want to do everything I can to make sure this time I do well too.”

Each business is reacting differently to the changes the UK is experiencing at the moment and that uncertainty will continue.  Looking at building resilience and self-belief – for yourself and your people, is a critical step towards surviving and thriving today and tomorrow.

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Brexit. What now?

Brexit TotemOvercoming Uncertainty.  How Psychology Can Help.

Whether you were shocked, delighted, devastated or relieved to hear the result on Brexit, the fact remains that for many businesses we’re now stepping into previously uncharted territory.  The only certainty seems to be uncertainty itself.

This website is loaded with freely available materials to help you through times of uncertainty, from mindset to neuroplasticity we’ll be sharing some of the most relevant support via our Thought Leadership updates as the situation unfolds over the next few weeks and months.

We’ve also created a new tag called ‘Referendum‘ to help you search for supporting articles more easily.

As many of our clients are facing difficult conversations with their people we explore these early reactions of uncertainty and unease:

  • How is my company affected by the news?
  • Could budget cuts and fears over economic uncertainty lead to me not having a job?
  • Will the budgets be cut from my key projects leading me back to square one on a lot of hard work?
  • How are things going to change in my job?
  • What does all this really mean for me, my job, my team?

These are just some of the questions swimming around the minds of people and in conversations around the workplace.  Yet as with any time of uncertainty and ambiguity, the fact is that nobody really knows the answers to these questions.  So how do we respond?  How should leaders communicate “I don’t know” or “we’ll have to wait and see”, when that response is unlikely to put people at ease – in fact it might make things worse.

Totem Lollipops

We know from neuroscience research that the brain responds far better to bad news than not knowing.  We would rather know what difficult things lie ahead than be in a time of uncertainty; we simply crave certainty.  This means that messages about seeing how things go, or needing to wait for reports back from certain teams or results, can be really unhelpful.

A better option is to frequently and to the point that it feels like over-communication, clarify what you know, what you don’t know and when you will update people again.  You can reinforce this with reminders on what will stay the same and what will change.  The key reason for this over-communication of simple messages is the threat of an unhelpful series of events, which can build in times of uncertainty:

  • The brain craves certainty and will find it – so if you don’t tell people what is certain, their brains will choose things that seem likely or possibly assume the worst
  • That will start the rumour mill, so if you’re not communicating regularly or clearly enough, the rumours will fill in the gaps for you
  • People assuming the worst and worrying about their job security creates a threat response in the brain, which can lead to a variety of unhelpful behaviours
  • Without clarification on what will stay the same, people may also jump to conclusions about how much will change – possibly creating a further threat response
  • You’re likely to see more defensive behaviour, people wanting to keep their heads down, or worse – people becoming negative and cynical about their work
  • And through all of this, because of the brain’s focus on the threat situation – people will not be doing their best thinking or their best work

Once a week – perhaps as part of the usual company update or results check-in conference calls,  update your people on how things are progressing.  When you think about it, you might notice that we often repeat messages many times, for example clarifying the goals or targets for the month or year.  This is very helpful as the classic saying “what gets measured gets done” also applies to “what gets talked about gets heard.”

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When we talk consistently about targets and goals, people have certainty; they know what is expected.  In the same way when we talk about uncertainty or not knowing what will happen in future, the mind is filled with doubt and concern.  You can see it in the media already, where a strong narrative is that nobody really knows what will happen next – causing fear and unrest in the economy.

Here’s a sample communication script from one of our client’s support functions teams, which you could adapt for your specific business, level and situation.

What we know, whilst also emphasising what will stay the same

  • The Brexit news has caused a shock and some concern in the economy.  You will have heard in the news that the pound and FTSE have taken a big knock, but this is normal with any big change in politics and government
  • We know that our customers are continuing to spend as normal based on the past few days’ results
  • We know that our partners and suppliers around the globe are concerned about possible changes to our trade agreements, but because we all know it will be some time before anything actually changes on that front, everything continues as normal
  • As we’ve talked about many times before, our major focus for the next three years is to improve our platforms to enable smoother operations for our customers and our internal reporting, whilst also growing our B2B services.  This has not changed, we will continue to invest and grow in these areas

Notice the emphasis on clarifying what it might be easy to assume is obvious.  Saying our results are the same when surely people can see it in the data might seem pointless but we need to keep positive messages front and centre to give our people (and their brains in particular) reassurance and clarity.

What we don’t know, clarifying what is known within this, what that means to people now, when we might know and when updates will come from the business

  • Because of the uncertainty in our political structure, we don’t know who will be in charge of major governmental projects or how and when these might go ahead.  We suspect some or all of these projects might be put on hold and if so we won’t know how long for.  We therefore want to complete our current research phases on three of those projects, then pause until we know more
  • Our team’s role on these projects is to support the research and when that is complete, we still have plenty of work to do on the platform improvement projects, so there will be no job role changes or cuts to this team
  • One of the project teams in department X will no longer have work due to the government budget for the research going on hold.  This team has been told and is going through a consultation process to see if we can find them work on other projects.  We will know by the end of July what is happening here and will update you on progress every week
  • We know that within six months there will be a budget update from each of our government teams, so we can assess then what happens next
  • In the meantime we will update you every week on the progress with all of this, clarifying what stays the same and what, if anything, will be changing

Notice wherever there is a comment about something we don’t know, or something changing, there is a supporting comment on what’s next and dates to clarify things.

The overall message with all of this is to over-communicate.  Clarify what stays the same, talk about what is unknown and how and when you might have answers.

A classic fault with our brains is to assume everyone is thinking in the same way, which causes major issues through times of change and ambiguity.  Business leaders may have had the privilege of new insight, market research or an in-depth study of the political and economic news; whereas the rest of the company may be unsure what’s happening.

By sharing information, the insight used to make decisions and the thinking behind what is going on, business leaders empower their people to think for themselves, engage with the uncertainty and see a way through it.  That’s your people working at their best.

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Lost in Translation

Totem TranslationTechnical Specialists and Business Managers.  Finding a Common Language.

It’s a classic story – we have great technical experts, but business managers cannot understand the data analysis or subsequent recommendations.  Surely we can find a way to make the relationship between business management and technical specialists a fruitful one.

Here we explore the classic story in detail and recommend five steps to make life easier and break the language barrier.  This story is not limited to IT professionals.  We have had exactly the same experience with financial experts, data analysts and HR professionals.

We once worked with an IT team who were always keen to do interesting work and see that their work made a positive impact on the business.  At least, that’s what we learned when we spent time trying to understand where they were coming from.  This was not evident to the rest of the business.  The team were well-respected experts, but there was a perception that the team did not understand the needs of the business and often did not deliver the best outcome.

The business wanted experts to do some great analysis, present the analysis in a way that made sense, then make sound recommendations and explain why.  The IT team considered that they were doing all of that, but the business was not satisfied.  Something was getting lost in translation.

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After a series of workshops, and the design and implementation of some structured work plans, we all started to see a difference.

The workshops had explored what was important to the IT team, what they wanted to deliver for the business and the perception they wanted others to have about this team.  It became clear that this team wanted the same reputation as the business was desperate for them to live up to.

Through questions, listening and recommendations we found ways to connect what the IT team wanted to deliver with what business leaders needed to see.

The relationship improved and both teams got what they needed, by all parties following these simple steps:

Ask Questions – make sure you know what each other need, the end outcome and key information required.

Listen and Clarify Understanding – listen to responses and play back what you understand about the other person’s needs.  Check your understanding is the same as theirs.

Agree Outcomes, Success Criteria and Timelines – make sure everyone is on the same page about what will be produced and when.

Clarify Style – we all have different approaches to receiving information.  Some people like to see visuals – graphs and bar charts, others just need the detailed spreadsheets and many would prefer very little data, just top level trends and recommendations.  Find out who needs what and deliver against those needs.

Keep Reviewing – keep asking what is working well and what needs to be improved.

Sound too simple and good to be true?  We find time and again that the simplest solution is often the best.  If things are getting lost in translation then we might simply need to communicate more & focus on understanding each other.

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Behavioural Change

change-management totemIf we want people to be doing something different, shouldn’t we just train them?

Quite often organisations go through a shift in focus or strategy, legislation changes, the introduction of new technology or some other need to do things differently. When this happens, depending on the nature of the change, there may be a need for three or 300,000 people to change the way they do things.

Where does training fit in?

Training can be both fantastic and useless. Training, “the teaching of a skill or behaviour” is great at showing me how to do something, for example how to use a new piece of equipment. But training does not guarantee that when the time comes to use the equipment, I make any of the critical choices that make the difference. Choices like:

  • Using the new equipment over what I usually do
  • Following my training to use the equipment properly
  • When I hit an obstacle, choosing not to give up
  • Choosing to encourage others to use this equipment and be positive about trying something new

All of these steps require a positive attitude to change and a subsequent change in behaviour – which training alone can only slightly influence.

Line of isolated jelly bean figures with shadows

The challenge is not that learning how to do something is useless; it’s that it’s just not enough. We need to know why we should bother doing something different, what the obstacles might be, how we can avoid them and how we stay positive through that learning curve.

So how do we change behaviour?

Whether you want people to use new equipment, try a new approach to performance management, be more innovative or deliver a specific objective – the same rules apply. To change individual behaviour, you need to:

  • Find out what motivates your people
  • Identify the potential barriers and obstacles to your specific change
  • Identify the benefits to each individual of the change you want to embed, and align these to individual motives
  • Communicate the change, the benefits, the obstacles and what you’re doing about them, then provide training where required
  • Demonstrate that senior leaders are really behind this (usually by doing it themselves)
  • Engage each individual to consider their attitude to the change, their motives, their barriers to change and what they will do about them

All of the above works most effectively when you have a project manager leading champions around the business to engage individuals, knock down barriers and take the whole organisation through the change. And once this initial engagement has occurred, you will need to maintain momentum by measuring the change activity, communicating progress and celebrating success.

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Engage for Sustainability

Sustainability-TotemIntroducing the triple bottom line.

With increasing pressure from government targets, a growing sustainability agenda and many businesses just keen to survive, what do we need to know about sustainability and engaging our people to deliver it?

What are sustainable businesses?

Quite simply: Businesses that last and can do so without damaging others, the environment or their profits. Great businesses achieve this by focusing on the triple bottom line or three P’s – people, planet, profit.

Where does engagement come in?

The common assumption is that engagement fits in the people section. But to be successful in all three P’s businesses need engagement in all areas – so that people through every level of the organisation are driving success for the triple bottom line.

People – Successful organisations work to engage people, respect, reward and develop them to deliver high performance. But what is often missed is that every individual needs to take accountability for this. Engagement doesn’t just happen through some kind of event or initiative run by HR or senior management – it is the outcome of people offering respect, reward and development to each other.

Planet – Sustainable businesses endeavour to reduce their impact upon the natural world. They consider ways of reducing waste or even better, using waste as a resource to boost profits. Whether you believe climate change is an issue or not, it’s a no-brainer to make more profit rather than more waste. And as the consumer increasingly chooses more environmentally-friendly suppliers, we need to keep up, or lose out.

Far from just asking people to save electricity which is often the extent of a business’ sustainability campaign, this is about having your people so engaged that they are creatively finding ways to better use resources

Profit – In an age where costs are constantly rising, we have to be pretty creative to grow profits. Whether the focus is on increasing the profit margin or increasing sales to boost overall revenue, we constantly need more ideas on how to attract buyers, increase their average spend and keep them coming back. Once again it is your people who know how to do this. They see the new customers, they see the wasted products, they see the marketing material that does and does not work. Engage your people to come up with the ideas that will sustainably grow profit.

How can we engage our people?

Here are some top tips from the companies that are doing this well:

  • Find out what motivates your people – at an individual level, why do they come to work?
  • Have a senior leader explain the corporate vision and how it splits into objectives for the three P’s – linking this in to what motivates your audience.
  • Find out who the trend-setters are in each location or department. Not eco-warriers but influencers, the ones people listen to.
  • Ask each trend-setter to lead a group on a specific objective, linking your request to their motives.
  • Communicate plans to generate ideas for success – linking the goals to individual motives.
  • Set up events at each location, lead by the trend-setters, to get people involved and generate ideas.
  • Deliver the good ideas, measure the effects, celebrate success and keep going!
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Engaging Engagement

Concept of people as cogwheels representing communities & teamsEngagement and the Goldilocks principle

We send thanks through cyber space to the twitter user who posted: “Just completed the survey, is that my employee engagement activity done for the year?”

It’s such a great point to raise when for so many people, this is all they see of engagement every year.  But there are also many organisations who go too far the other way.  Do we overload our people with survey after survey, KPI after KPI?  Or not engage with them at all?

It’s easy for us to become disillusioned with the idea and at the mere sound of  ‘employee engagement’.  It’s important to find just the right blend of processes and action to best suit the business.  Not too much, but not too little.  The Goldilocks zone.

So how can we respond to that?  What choice do we have when, for example engagement surveys have become a process ignored by many?

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We may question the point in continuing them – but the conversations behind the survey must live on.  The action we take in response to the survey must continue.  It is these things that lead to employee engagement, not the survey itself.

The most powerful thing we can do is take action.  It’s action that makes the difference, not the processes, things we say, promises we make or strategies we sign up to.

So forget when the survey’s due for now, ignore the processes just for the moment, and choose to ask some big questions.  Ask yourself and then your team:

  • What’s important to you?
  • What can we do together to ensure you get more of that from your work?
  • What can I do to support you in achieving your best performance?

We may well get more out of these three questions than pages and pages of survey results.

The evidence of the links between highly engaged employees and high performance is increasing and gaining credibility, to the point where most large corporates are now desperate seeking to engage their employees.

As the old saying goes, if you can’t define it, you can’t measure it.  So it is critical for each business to understand what engagement looks like, then measure it.  Once we know what the engagement levels are, where there are fluctuations and what employees are asking for to raise those levels, we can take action.

And just the right amount of action…

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Assessment by Design

Totem-AC 400x265How do we go about designing an Assessment Centre?

It’s probably best to clarify what we mean by Assessment Centre – because others may describe them as development centres, others still as screening days.  What we’re talking about here is taking a group of people and assessing their skills and behaviour against certain criteria.

It could be that you’re recruiting for hundreds of store managers, or you’re looking at the development needs of two or three senior law firm partners – the premise is the same (the execution is obviously different!)

So what does make a great performer in certain roles?  Does ‘good performance’ mean the same thing if the role is say, externally or internally facing?  How does geographic location effect performance – and the assessment?

And let’s make it super interesting, are there differences across the brands being represented if you’re working in a multi-brand organisation?

In order to better plan recruitment and development activity across your organisation, you’re going to have questions similar to these.  You’ll probably have some baseline performance measures in place already – think competency framework here, but is that framework up to the job?

The outcome you’re looking for here is a clear understanding of the consistent and individual behaviours that differentiate high performance – leading on to a better selection or development process for every role under the microscope.

Jelly Bean Diversity

So where to start? 

First up is understanding what good performance actually looks like in your organisation or a specific role.  Start by reviewing any key metrics you use across the roles and then sense check them with a few key stakeholders.  Take the time here to conduct a few exploratory interviews with line managers, regional managers etc – the feedback from these sessions will give you a deeper and more realistic understanding of where your exiting metrics are and aren’t working.

From this you will have a clear sense of how to identify the measures of great performance and where to explore specific behaviours and contexts.  This will enable you to invite the right people to focus groups.

Which leads us on to step two, focus groups.  Having identified high performers using the metrics from step one, you’ll need to run focus groups with these people to understand what they’re doing in more detail.

It’s a great idea to include high performers across brands, roles and locations (if applicable) in order to understand where there are consistencies and where there are important differences.  It would also be ideal to meet with line managers of high performers to understand their perspective too.

Your role in these groups is to use a range of job analysis techniques to understand the what and how of high performance.  What are people doing that’s delivering the strong metrics?  How are they going about it?  What are the behaviours that make a difference?

Totem Gummi Bears

Now you’ve done the hard work, it’s time for step three and the design work itself.  A good place to start is with a little job analysis.

Think of this analysis like a funnelling exercise.  You need to filter through all the talk about what good looks like to find the highest differentiating characteristics that are consistent across roles, locations and brands.

Once you’re clear on these differentiators, you can begin choosing exercises that give the candidate or attendee the best opportunity to show the desired skills or behaviours.  For example – if charming and disarming customer service is a key requirement for a role, give the candidate a role play exercise with a potentially awkward customer.

You could also choose from a more formal face-to-face assessment, an actual staff interaction or possibly some form of desk analysis if that is relevant.

Particularly in assessment centres, it’s vital to give individuals two opportunities to show the behaviour that you’re after.  Sticking with the customer service role example – some individuals may perform poorly in a face to face environment, but excel in a contact centre environment so build this flexibility into your assessment centre.

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