Do Your Star Employees have the Right Stuff? Do they have True Grit?


Are you selecting the right people?
Are you selecting the right people?

We have just had The Academy Awards presented. (You will have to pay attention to the news or watched the show to know the winners.) The Oscars are all about talent, recognizing people who are good at what they do. Some of these people are recognized for work done early in their careers, but most of these people have been at their craft for quite a while. Whether it is acting, directing, camera work, costume design, writing or music most of the nominees have been around working on their fields for years. They have what is now being called “grit” and research has found that in many cases grit is more important than talent.
Finding employees is generally known as recruiting. More recently that term has morphed in to “talent acquisition.” Companies strive to get the best talent for their companies. So they look for people who are smart, have the right degrees, and have relevant experience; in other words people with the most talent. I am not sure, however, that talent is necessarily the right measure that should be used in looking for employees who will help our companies be successful. Research has shown that there is another factor which is much more indicative of an employee’s ability to be successful in a position.
TruegritposterResearcher Angela Lee Duckworth, from the University of Pennsylvania, has spent a number of years studying people who are successful. What she found was that the common denominator of successful people was not talent and not IQ it is what she called “grit”. She and her colleagues defined grit as:

“…as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.”

Duckworth and her colleagues have been able to measure grit and have shown that people with the highest level of grit were:

  • Most successful in surviving their introduction to West Point;
  • Had the highest level of sale commissions and retention;
  • Higher academic performance at Wharton.

My guess is that Navy Seals would probably score very high on grit.
Duckworth has developed an assessment tool to determine grit which can be found at  The academic paper that describes her research can be found here.
There is no doubt that being selective and careful in finding your next employee is important, nay critical, to the success of a company. No one should rely solely on the interview. It is a fallible instrument. There are numerous assessments that can bolster the decision-making process. The grit measure one more additional assessment, albeit a very interesting one. You may want to take a look at it.
However, there are important considerations in using any assessment tool in the hiring process. Number one is DO NOT use any assessment as your sole decision-making tool. Make sure you use a combination of tools that include the interview, a background check, and an assessment.
Number two, realize the assessment you are using may not actually be related the job you are trying to fill. I would suggest if you are going to try out the Grit measure, administer it first to your employees, and look at the results against your assessment of the performance of those employees. Only then can you use it as a predictive tool.
Number three, make sure with any assessment you are using that you are aware of any adverse impact you may be having on protected category groups.
Here is a short video of Angela Lee Duckworth talking about her research. It is a very interesting video.

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