Have you ever made a bad hiring decision? Enthusiastically selected someone to a responsible position, only to watch the decision cascade into a disaster? Appointed someone as a leader, discovering later the person’s intention was to undermine your leadership? Placed an upbeat person in a role on your ministry team, finding out it was all hype as the individual did not deliver as expected? In the parlance of personnel selection, these all-to-common decisions are false positives— predictions of success that result in failure.

I once challenged a district superintendent about his decision to hire a candidate I assessed for church planting. Because the DS already sort of promised to hire the person, he went ahead with that decision. Initially, his hope was that my assessment would support the decision he already had made. It didn’t. Over a year later, I never will forget the day the DS called. He was in disbelief. After growing the church to about 100, the church planter ship wrecked the ministry. The seeds of destruction, however, had been noted in the assessment.

Do you have an equally painful story? How can we make sound selection decisions and avoid the false positives? Let’s look at a biblical example for guidance.

Gideon’s warriors were put to the test—two rounds of testing to be exact (Judges 7:1-8). Of the 32,000 warriors available to fight the Midian army, Gideon finally selected 300 of them. That’s right. Only 300 passed.  In the first round, God allowed the men who were afraid to go home. These 22,000 warriors failed the courageous round of the test, leaving 10,000 men for further testing. In the second round, the warriors who let down their guards were sent home. These 9,700 warriors failed the vigilance round of the test. Courage and vigilance in the face of dangerous, fear-inducing situations are predictive of the same behaviors in similar situations. Both rounds of testing were behaviorally oriented—based on an assessment of what the men actually did.

Now let’s do the math.

The selection ratio of .0093, by any standard, reflects a rigorous selection process. The ratio is the number of candidates actually selected divided by the total number of candidates who are under consideration. Imagine 1 out of every 106.6 warriors was selected. In the tradition of personnel psychology, a .25 (1 out of 4 candidates) selection ratio is desirable. This story supports the thesis that discrimination (fair discrimination as opposed to unfair discrimination) is biblical (see my blog of October 14, 2011). Obviously, Gideon’s decisions were sound. His valiant warriors resoundingly defeated the Midianites who greatly outnumbered the Gideonites, casting no doubt about the soundness of his personnel selections and resulting in 300 true positives—predictions of success that result in success.

Assessing candidates for ministry, as in the case of assessing Gideon’s warriors, is analogous to taking pictures.

The purpose is to make informed personnel decisions. Pictures of candidates should consist of relevant strengths, weaknesses, and mixed features relative to their suitability for a particular job or ministry. In my blog on March 14, 2012, I commented as follows about assessment:

The qualifier relevant is instructive.

Not all strengths, weaknesses, and mixed features of a candidate are critical to making an informed decision—only those that have a demonstrated relationship to performance on the job. Furthermore, a picture is most useful when it is brought into sharp focus. Sharply-focused pictures of candidates contain accurate, impartial, and comprehensive information. Obviously, the sharper the picture of candidates, the less chance there is for poor selection decisions.

How does one take a sharp picture? Of the many strategies used to make personnel decisions, behavioral assessment has the best predictive validity. It is based on an established social science principle: behavioral consistency. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The key first is to identify the behaviors that are most relevant to successful performance on a job or in an area of ministry and second carefully observe these behaviors in candidates who are assessed. Under God’s direction, Gideon knew what behaviors to observe, and he established a process for testing the behaviors.

Today we can conduct behavioral assessments as well. The two primary strategies are assessment centers and behavioral interviewing.

Assessment centers permit the direct observation of behavior by using situation exercises. The exercises should be designed as reasonable facsimiles of real life situations and create a context for candidates to display their behavior in relevant categories. Behavioral interviewing involves the indirect observation of behavior by means of questions and inquiries. The questions and inquiries should be carefully crafted, open-ended, and behaviorally-focused, guiding candidates to accurately describe their behavior in relevant categories.

The effective use of behavioral assessment as a venue for selection lies in the competence of the assessors. In future blogs, we will examine various aspects of behavioral assessment. Of course, our goal is to help assessors improve their selection decisions by skillfully putting candidates to the behavioral test.