Sunday, June 23, 2013

Should We Bring Reality TV Into The Workplace?

Should companies actually bring reality television techniques into the workplace?  Does creating your own version of Shark Tank or the Apprentice serve a useful role in the selection process for an attractive new assignment?   Fortune reports that some firms are using these types of competitions, modeled after reality television, to do everything from fun team-building to actually trying to select people for an important new role.  Jennifer Alsever writes,

When insurance executives at Aflac sought employees for plum assignments last year, they abandoned the traditional resumes and job interview routine.  Instead, they found inspiration from reality TV competitions like American Idol.  Aflac employees in search of promotions became "contestants" who would walk into a room inside the company's Columbus, Ga., headquarters and stand before a panel of five Aflac "judges." While cameras rolled, they could do whatever they wanted to sell themselves as the best one for the job. The idea? Get candidates to think on their feet and show a side not seen in a formal interview. Performances ran the gamut -- from the ill-prepared one-minute speech to shticks with personal slogans, PowerPoint presentations, and props. "It was kind of like American Idol in corporate America -- except we didn't ridicule them," says Blake Voltz, Aflac vice president of claims and a judge. "It puts them under the heat, much like they would face if they got the job."

I'm skeptical - very skeptical.   I'm not speaking to this particular situation at Aflac, since we don't know the full details of this selection process.  I'd like to address the broader issue of using this type of competition in this manner.   I acknowledge that we have to see how candidates think on their feet, particularly for certain types of roles.   We do want to see how articulate candidates are, and how well they can present their ideas and proposals.  However, I fear that such competitions can put too much emphasis on how well someone can pitch their ideas, persuade others, and respond smoothly to questions.  Some people can make a great 2 minute pitch, but beyond that, the substance is very thin.  Some people are incredibly intelligent, but they tend to prefer thinking a bit more about questions before providing a response.   I can definitely recall students and classmates who are terrific at offering the 90 second sound bite in response to a professor's question...but beyond that, there wasn't much there.  They could sound incredibly smart and persuasive in those sound bites, but they didn't have the depth of knowledge we would want.  Such competitions described in this Fortune article can give too much credit to those who are very good at sounding smart in small doses.    

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