The Science of People

Behavior and the $1M Hiring Risk

Behavior and the $1M Hiring Risk

In the highly-regulated nuclear energy sector, it takes many years of rigorous, training to become licensed for the ultimate safety management role of Shift Supervisor. And that training, including simulation exercises to test systems-thinking, problem-solving, team engagement, and decision-making that could impact hundreds of thousands of lives, doesn’t come cheap either. Typically, it is about a million dollars.

So, the scrutiny in selecting and grooming the very best people for this role is literally a bet-your-business choice.

If you are involved in the nuclear energy sector or any highly-regulated industry like aerospace, oil and gas, or pharmaceuticals and healthcare where staff actions can potentially impact lives, you know that staffing and development decisions are increasingly crucial to far more than just your bottom line. Even if you aren’t working in one of these industries, movies like Sully or Deep water Horizon, provide some context on the incredible circumstances that require people in key roles to leverage so much more than experience to deliver a safe outcome.

Business and HR leaders alike are beginning to look a lot further than resumes and references to understand the potential of their hires in high-impact roles — they are also looking at suitability of behavior.

Business leaders are starting to realize that is not just your experience and what you’ve done, but more importantly, your behavior and how you’ve done it that matters — in fact matters more when being considered for a new role.

I’ve built my career in industrial relations, and organizational and leadership development in highly regulated industries like healthcare and nuclear energy, including safety leadership on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). So, I’ve gained tremendous perspective on the risks and rewards of individual selection and development for people in these high-stakes, high-visibility roles whose decisions have serious safety implications.

Creating a Safety Culture

Anything that happens in the nuclear industry —like the March, 2011 Fukushima accident caused by the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan—is felt by everyone in the industry.

The 450 operating nuclear plants around the globe —each with a unique fingerprint via its technology and processes— make a concerted effort to share and cross-pollinate operating experience. The IAEA, along with other organizations like WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators) are focused on helping nuclear plant and regulatory staff have the best up-to-date guidance on operating a safe plant and developing a strong safety culture to do it.

As one might imagine, safety culture encompasses every level of operational safety from: rigorous emergency response planning for events like operating failures, natural disasters, and other threats such as terrorism; to cultivating sound human performance practices; to developing people in key roles who need to be sufficiently ambidextrous to handle day-to-day operations and direct the course of action in unknown and potentially unimaginable situations like Fukushima.

In fact, extensive industry analysis after the Fukushima accident points directly to the significant impact that leadership behaviors had in galvanizing staff actions under extreme circumstances. When people suddenly found themselves without light, power, communications systems, and any means of knowing the status of the reactor core, it took profound people leadership talent to maintain the levels of trust, confidence, and willingness needed to help people focus on what could to be done to manage the situation.

Like other regulated industries, the nuclear energy sector is subject to oodles and oodles of requirements that must be met—and ideally exceeded— to ensure safe operations. These requirements to obtain and maintain an operating license apply as much to plant systems as they do to how the organization is managed, and the talent it has on board to carry out key roles.

In the Hot Seat: The Shift Supervisor and Control Room Operator

In a nuclear power plant, the shift supervisor is the key decision-maker on the site. Over a 12- hour shift, he or she has responsibility to keep the plant in a safe state. Next in line are the control room operators who work with the shift supervisor and a team in the plant who operate physical systems to maintain stable operations. Collectively, they need to fully understand how the plant functions including its many, many systems i.e., mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and control, and have a profound level of respect for the core. Finding the right people for these roles is not easy, and the higher up the chain of command, the rarer and more important right-fit talent becomes. When and extended maintenance outage or an unplanned shutdown can cost the organization upwards of $750k per day, running a safe and reliable plant with a high capacity factor is serious business.

This is where SuccessFinder comes in.

Because of the high visibility of these roles, the time and effort involved in becoming qualified, it is important for individuals considering these roles to know with a good degree of certainty that it is the right fit for them. A 65% failure rate is not great odds, and failure is very hard to swallow.

Similarly, because of the hefty price tag attached to developing a shift supervisor or control room operator, nuclear operators want to know that they are investing in talent that has the potential for high performance under every circumstance.

In addition, the Operations team is the preferred source for talent to fill operations management and station management positions, making the promotability from technical to managerial functionality another important variable in talent selection.

I’ve worked with multiple businesses where we tapped SuccessFinder to assess people in high impact roles like these, and —based on their level of demonstrated performance— isolated the behavioral competencies that signaled the probability of success or failure. When I was at New Brunswick Power, for example, we built this out for shift supervisor and control room personnel, and tested it for number of years to provide scientifically valid proof that the benchmark could predict the probability of high performance, which in this industry— run by some of the brightest engineering minds in the world—was absolutely crucial.

To give an idea of the insights gained, this benchmark development process showed that while analytical reasoning balanced with decisiveness was important for the technical aspects of the role, the crucial skill from a people leadership perspective was being able to engender trust in the team. That requires empathy and intuition.

What is becoming understood: knowledge and skill ride on the back of behavior. You can have an ambition for something, but if you don’t have the behavior, you aren’t a suitable fit. In other industries, there is wiggle room for lacking some behaviors—assuming no one could die as a result. In this industry, it is irresponsible.

SuccessFinder is helpful to find and understand the behavioral strengths of people in pivotal positions now, and to look ahead to prospects for their successors in the future. In addition, it can be applied to the broader teams supporting them to ensure a complement of people to drive the actions and outcomes needed in predicable as well as “perfect storm” scenarios.

About the author: Germaine Watts has over 25 years’ experience working in the areas of organization and leadership development, workforce design, succession planning, and team-based resourcing in the nuclear energy, workers’ compensation, and healthcare sectors. She has devoted the past two decades to developing methods for enhancing individual, team and organizational effectiveness using SuccessFinder talent analytics to understand behavior, potential, and performance impacts at individual and aggregate levels.  Contact:  1-506-333-7093



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