Change is occurring at a pace and complexity that we have never experienced throughout the history of civilisation. Recently, Prime Minister Turnbull used his maiden speech as Prime Minister to speak of the opportunities created by disruptive technologies. The “threat” of robotic innovations means that a number of jobs will be obsolete within the next decade leading to a structural economic change greater than the industrial revolution. So, what will the employee of the future look like? What is the one thing that is going to set employees apart and make them “in demand”?

I think about this issue quite regularly. In my role at Optimum Consulting, I am regularly asked to provide counsel on what attributes will be most important in hiring for the next decade.  An interview I listened to this weekend on ABC radio crystalised my thoughts on this topic and highlighted the importance of one specific attribute.

The sports journalists were conducting an interview with a gentleman called Dr John Sullivan. Dr Sullivan is an American expert in talent attraction in American sports. He works extensively through the NFL and NBA and was offered the opportunity to observe the recruitment practices of the AFL with regards to the upcoming draft. His insights were very interesting.

Dr Sullivan spoke about the obvious tangible characteristics used when attracting sporting talent. You have years of videos to examine. You have beep tests and athletic examinations. You have scouts being employed globally to uncover the next gem and they are gathering data all of the time and working out whether people will fit into certain rosters. However, even with so much time and money being spent on talent acquisition, large organisations continue to miss the very best talent.underpressure

Dr Sullivan gave the example of Tom Brady, the famed quarterback of the New England Patriots. Brady was not picked up until round six of the draft as pick 199 in the 2000 NFL draft. The scouts of the NFL clubs decided that there were 198 better equipped draftees and Brady was repeatedly overlooked. The rest, as they say, is history as Brady has gone on to establish a career and become one of the best quarterbacks of all time. The thing that stood Brady apart and that was not identified by any of the scouts was his unique ability to make the right decisions under pressure. He wasn’t the most athletic draftee; he didn’t have the strongest arm. He was, however, the most clear thinker under pressure and this attribute was not examined thoroughly and as such, Brady slipped through the net. It would be accurate to say the same applied in Australia with Jonathan Thurston, widely recognised as the best player in the NRL today. Thurston could not get a contract when he was young; he was too small and too slow, yet he has grown to become a dominant force in the game today. Like Brady, Thurston has a unique ability to always make the right decision under extreme pressure and this is what sets him apart.

Pressure comes in many different shapes and sizes and I think about the most common forms of workplace pressures and how they impact people. The pace of change causes stress and pressure that people regularly struggle with. Technological advancements have challenged business paradigms and people struggle to adapt. People regularly choose the “turtle” strategy of hiding from the changes instead of seeing the opportunities. This causes stress and uncertainty. Fatigue is another massive issue in workplaces today. Tiredness is a factor in causing irritability and irritability leads to disengagement and team issues. People who cannot cope with fatigue are often people who can bully at work. Time pressures are more pronounced now than ever before. We live in what is commonly referred to as the “have now” generation where patience is no longer commonplace. Deadlines are now far shorter and information is at your figure tips. Competition is everywhere and job security is not what it once was. This time pressure causes stress and people commonly make poor decisions due a lack of time to properly consider the facts. Finally, there are the external factors that you cannot avoid. Families, relationship issues and work/life balance issues are hard to manage and difficult to please all parties. External factors sometimes lead to extremely poor decisions and heighten stresses.

As a person charged with the responsibility to hire staff, I intend to listen closely to the lessons from Dr John Sullivan. I will always be asking for specific examples of decision making under pressure. I will probe how technological changes have led to changes in work practices; I will be asking about fatigue and asking how they manage work in a professional manner when they are tired or hung over.; I will be asking about time management and the ability to plan to meet tight and often unrealistic deadlines; Finally, I will be asking about external issues, trying to highlight whether they can successfully compartmentalise their personal lives so that it does not negatively impact their ability to make the right work decisions.

As I highlighted earlier, the pace of change is higher than it has ever been. Things are moving at pace and people are scared and feeling pressure. It is more paramount than ever that time is invested in recruiting the people with the best coping mechanisms to deal with change and pressure. Take the time to examine this in detail and get specific examples. After your recruitment process, before you make the final decision to hire, ask yourself; can they stand the heat?

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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