Before there was Success Factors, there was Success Factor Systems. We sat down with Richard Mirabile, Ph.D., founder of Success Factor Systems, to discuss key learnings. Early in his career, Richard was struck by how accurate and predictive behavioral assessments were proven to be. Inspired by this, he developed the concept of “success factors”, and since then Richard has had a front row seat to the dramatic innovations in and around the idea of talent assessment and development. 


“Everybody now knows and believes that talent really is the key. The secret sauce of success.” 


So what are key learnings about what gives leading companies their edge? 


1. It’s controversial, but it’s true: a manager’s judgment is not predictive of success


One of the most surprising findings in analyzing data and predicting performance is this: Managers of salespeople are not great predictors of success.


“It’s actually pretty controversial, and I almost hesitate to say it, but I’m going to — the ability of managers to identify high performers was not highly correlated with actual, highly successful salespeople. Which said another way is saying that people are not necessarily that good at just making judgments about other people without data. And that was kind of a shock to me in some sense. But what it said was, it reinforced this idea that we need data driven solutions. We need data driven ways to make decisions about something so important as this.”


Dr. Mirabile went on to explain that it’s not for lack of wanting or trying – it’s because of the extremely limited amount of data front line managers have access to. So what data is required to turn this around?


2. The Holy Grail: Aligning People to Success in A Role


Companies have long been trying to figure out better ways to predict and develop performance. Dr. Mirabile outlined how manual the process used to be – downloading spreadsheets, manually collecting feedback, manually collecting performance data, and manually crunching all of it. The key change in the last decade is the availability of technology to get data and to analyze it faster and cheaper than ever before: 


“It used to be tedious, and it was expensive, and companies didn’t have an appetite, I think, to do that. The technology has all now exploded in the last few years. And I think what we’re onto is a new era of applying what we know about behavior and performance and assessment in a way because of technology that really does make a difference for companies.


I know people hate sports teams metaphors, but this one actually applies pretty well. If you think about the coach of a basketball team, what great coaches learn to do is they match up people on their team with situations that are occurring in real time. And that’s why you see this movement of players in and out of the game. Same thing is happening in other sports as well. So this concept of quickly and rapidly and intelligently deploying people and matching them to the situations that are right in front of them is a way that I think we’re starting to see companies think about talent.


3. Cornerstone Data: Behavior

A key finding from Success Factor Systems was getting to the data that was truly predictive of performance, and being able to gather it consistently and at scale. And the cornerstone data was behavioral data. But Dr. Mirabile highlights that assessing behavior doesn’t have to be an obscure exercise. We can actually define, identify, and measure it, and then use it to make accurate predictions and execute strategies. 


“The more that we could get to the level of actual behaviors, behaviors that could be identified and defined and observed and measured and therefore developed and assessed, I mean, that’s the key. So the more we could translate this into the level of behavior so that when we look at what does it take to be successful as a salesperson or any other job, we put it in the context and in the language of behavior. And now we can look at people and we can make a determination through assessment processes: does this person demonstrate those behaviors that we need for them to be successful? And if they don’t, then there are things that we can do, hopefully to develop them.”


4. Beyond Data: Breaking Silos


Dr. Mirabile’s other key learning was how uneven access to data was across the organization. Sales would have some of the performance data, while talent management would have feedback on interviewing or on performance reviews. However, leaders needed to have a comprehensive view to consistently look at talent across the organization. When you adopt a consistent system, you immediately become more effective and more strategic across your entire org:


“What dawned on me from that point was that our processes were, in my view, very fragmented. People who were responsible for succession planning were using a set of criteria that was different than the people responsible for performance management. And that was different than the people responsible for hiring. That didn’t make any sense to me.


We can look at people and we can make a determination through assessment processes: does this person demonstrate those behaviors that we need for them to be successful? And if they don’t, then there are things that we can do, hopefully to develop them. If not, then those may become hiring criteria that we use to bring people into an organization because we’re now talking in a language that everybody can understand where it’s easy to understand the behavior, so to speak. So I think that’s a real key thing that kind of emerged.”


5. It’s Really About People

One essential item to accelerating your talent strategy is the necessary commitment to priorities:

“This is, in my view, it’s all about the mindset shift that’s occurred.[…] People believe that talent really is the most important asset that a company has. People really believe that we have to pay more attention. To where we place people in organizations, this idea of rapid deployment of people and talent is now enhanced because of technology.


I’m a big believer in this, the mindset shift and the cultural shift that has to occur in a company. So it’s not all just about the technology. Technology is the enabler. But if we don’t have the culture and the mindset, capabilities, norms, et cetera, then these two things can’t merge. But when they do merge the possibility, there’s potential here for enormous strides in increased performance.”

So how can you do this for your organization? Learn more about identifying and developing more excellent people with the Aptology platform.