How one of Africa’s leading banks hires only for culture fit


Use the term psychometric testing in the hallways at Investec and you’ll be met with withering disdain. The specialist bank doesn’t use it; doesn’t even believe in that or any other form of psychological assessment. Its hiring methodology is entirely based on creating teams of people who have chosen one another through a process of multiple interviews. For that matter, Investec doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing professional competence in hiring interviews because its recruiters have gathered the references and conducted the educational checks necessary to ensure a candidate can do what they say they can. “What the interview is trying to establish more than anything else is the degree of fit that the person will have with the organisational culture,” says Marc S. Kahn, head of Human Resources & Organisation Development at Investec.

It’s clear even through superficial observation that Investec thinks strategically about hiring and the effect it has on culture, and it’s unsurprising that it is broadly known for that. Its process depends entirely on the wisdom of the collective, which isn’t unique, but the scale of it does make it very unusual.

According to Kahn, the only way to ascertain cultural fit is to have a candidate interact with the existing people in the culture of the team where they will work.

A common mistake, he says is to imagine that there is some sort of objective measure of cultural fit, but Investec believes instead that it requires a subjective view of a candidate from various individuals. Candidates are therefore interviewed several times by different people rather than all at once in a group, and afterwards those people will sit together and compare their experiences of the candidate.

“That inter-subjective discussion is very important because in their comparison of how they perceive [the candidate], a very complex appreciation of them emerges. And if they do that with several people, the probability of that person succeeding is maximised because they will fit in better. We prefer this as opposed to a test which so-called objectively tests if they fit in or not because, quite frankly, it’s highly unlikely that a test can manage that number of moving variables,” says Kahn.

There are three specific results to Investec’s hiring process. The first is a deeper understanding of the candidate; the second is that because team members have the power to choose their next colleague, when that person arrives on their first day of work, it isn’t really their first day of work at all. The third is that because the new arrival has already engaged with the people they’re going to work with, they arrive on the first day having already begun a relationship and knowing that they have been hand-picked by the people who surround them.

That explanation doesn’t fully clarify Investec’s allergy to testing, however. Many organisations use psychometric testing to what they claim to be great effect. Investec doesn’t support that view as an organisation and Kahn uses words like counterproductive in reference to psychological testing and says such instruments are absolutely banned. “If the test says [a candidate] is a fit but the interviewer just doesn’t get that feeling … what are they going to do? What they end up doing, like all human beings, is they discount their own intuitiveness and their own sensitivity because they can’t explain it logically, in favour of what seems to be the authority of an objective test made by a professor somewhere. So they kill off what actually is the real antenna. Or the reverse is true: they love the [candidate], but the test says [the candidate is] not a good fit so they don’t select them. It only works when the test and the interviewer agree and if that’s true, then you don’t need the test.”

Investec’s point of view is innovative, but the hiring methodology practiced there has roots in a very real challenge. Back in 1983, when the now mighty organisation consisted of three people working around a dining room table in an apartment in the Johannesburg suburb of Orange Grove, they realised they had no idea how to hire a fourth. Their solution, that any hiring decision would have to involve them all and would have to be unanimous, has stuck to this day, albeit in a substantially expanded format.

By COLIN J BROWNE

Organisational culture and employee engagement expert

Colin J Browne is the author of How to build a Happy Sandpit (www.happysandpit.com), a book based on research into how Southern African organisations create high levels of employee engagement through the medium of organizational culture.

Colin J Browne One Page Bio (.pdf)

Colin heads up Happy Sandpit, a South African organisational culture consultancy, which helps organisations of all sizes to increase employee engagement, performance and loyalty. He is the author of How to Build a Happy Sandpit, a ground-breaking book based on research conducted with more than 60 South African businesses over several years, on how their cultures drive success. He has lectured at GIBS, Wits Business School, Regenesys Business School and Unisa and has worked with hundreds of South African businesses to understand and implement better engagement techniques. He will demonstrate that by changing the context of the work they do, your employees will deliver performance that will help you soar to success.

Colin has appeared on: SABC2 Morning Live, SABC3 Expresso, 702’s The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield, Metro FM, Kaya FM, Two Oceans Vibe, Cliff Central, Radio Junto, and Ballz Radio.


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