Judging Talent by What You See, Hear, and Understand

Rich Cho

Rich Cho is one of a new breed of general managers in the NBA. With a background in engineering as well as law, Cho is regarded an executive who can balance the need for talent on the basketball court with a need to balance the books. Tighter economic times have hit professional sports with a vengeance so club owners need executives with an eye for talent as well as the bottom line.

As the chief executive for talent for the Portland Trailblazers, Cho integrates a balanced approach to his own player evaluations, which he told The New York Times requires him to use his “eyes, ears [and] mind.” Cho explains, “The eyes are the in-person scouting, the ears are all the background work you do on a guy and trying to get intel about his work ethic and what’s he like as a person, and a numbers approach is the analytical portion.”

Cho’s talent assessment technique is applicable outside the world of professional sports. Too often recruits are hired, or employees and managers, promoted because they either present well in an interview or make the numbers at work. Creating a favorable impression is critical so that is why Cho’s more holistic approach works. Let’s break it down:

Eyes. Consider how the job candidate comports himself. Watch how he or she treats other interviewers, as well as administrative staff. A candidate who schmoozes with a big wig but blows off a secretary shows a lack of courtesy. For internal candidates look at how others treat him or her. As a teammate or as an obstacle.

Ears. Listening to stories about potential candidate is not the same as indulging in gossip. You are looking for insights, as Cho does, about work ethic as well as ability to get along with others. Ask the candidate about accomplishments. If the words “I did” appear more than “we did,” it may be an indication of someone who likes to play along or believes he deserves special consideration. So find out from others how well the candidates gets along with others.

Numbers. It is perfectly acceptable to judge a potential employee or manager by what her or she has accomplished. Managers are measured by what they accomplish so you want to quantify the returns. This is easy when judging sales talent or even line managers but more dicey when hiring someone in design or even human resources. You need to develop metrics germane to the function that make sense. Look at what the individual contributed in terms of contributions that were implemented and succeeded.

The beauty of such an approach to talent evaluation is that it seeks to place the person in context, that his how he or she is performing in current and previous situations. It is by no means perfect. Hiring from the outside may be more risky than promoting from within but both have their drawbacks. New hires must adapt to your culture–an may butt heads with others; managers in an organization may be trapped by their culture–afraid to do new things.

Savvy executives are astute to know that recruiting and promoting is not an easy proposition. They also now it is an investment of time and resources. Over time they have learned that if they want an employee to succeed it requires an investment not just in salary and training but in teaching the employee the ropes. Even managers promoted from within need such coaching.

That’s why thinking of a job candidate as a total person, one with his own eyes, ears and mind, is a good way of helping that person to integrate into a new organization or a new role.

John Baldoni is an
internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is
12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. Readers are welcome to visit John’s Web site,