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Bill Allen January 20 2021 11 min read

Talent Selection 3.0: Data-Driven Decisions Drive Value Faster


By Bill Allen and Dhaval Bhagat

Heading into this next decade, all eyes are on HR to navigate us through the complexities of our post-pandemic reality.

If anything good can be said about COVID-19, it might be that the crisis it spawned threw the human resources function into the spotlight. As businesses have flexed and adapted, we at CEO Works have been involved with helping hiring managers rapidly select qualified talent to do the work most critical to their organizations. Yes, we could have run with generic job descriptions, relied on general “good guy” assessments, and played the old game of interview roulette. But that approach to talent selection all too often produces unpredictable results. Instead, we have been producing home runs with an innovative talent selection process birthed several years ago by Sandy Ogg and Dan Nickel.

Originally branded as “/decide”, this evidence-based, risk-seeking approach to talent selection has become a fundamental part of the firm’s larger Talent to Value methodology for driving value creation. The /decide process not only ensures we find people with the precise capabilities to deliver on the critical work to be done at the enterprise’s value hotspots. It also helps us be cognizant of the role risks, risks which often lead to a significant percentage of the talent derailments we see. Once we have evidence and risks in hand, we then design a set of mitigating actions to ensure the selected talent gets precisely the support they need from day one.

In Search of Evidence

“Who is the best person for this critical role?”

In today’s world, the answer to that question depends on exactly what an organization needs someone in the role to deliver, by when, and under what set of complicated circumstances. That’s why with /decide, we collaborate with the hiring manager to assemble a set of specific data points about the role itself before we look at evidence to prove a candidate’s ability and readiness to do the work.

  • Value

What value is expected of or associated with the role?
Jobs To Be Done ™  

What three to five key actions and outcomes must be achieved by the role to deliver that value?
Superpower(s)  What superhuman ability/abilities will be necessary to deliver that value, given the design of the role and the context of the work?

This role data gets converted into a more traditional list of job requirements and handed over to the search firm, which then uses it to source a pool of candidates.

Go slow to go fast. Do this clarifying work up front. Then there will be no confusion or disagreement among stakeholders about the role’s responsibilities, accountabilities, or decision making when you start selecting talent.

Next, we at CEO Works shortlist the candidates in the pool. For talents who appear to have the right capabilities to perform the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD), we begin assembling a comprehensive “evidence mosaic” using multiple data points. We conduct a structured initial screening interview, a psychometric assessment, a background check, and a forensic reference check. This initial interview is not your traditional "tell me all about yourself" conversation: we focus instead on probing into the person's experience to find evidence that they have the right capabilities to deliver this specific set of JTBDs. And with the help of an external research firm, we contact a wide variety “off list” references from people who have worked with the candidate, in addition to the references the candidate has provided.



The line manager and/or hiring manager at the company interviews all finalists who pass our shortlisting stage. Top finalists may also be required to present their responses to a real-world problem the company has had to face or is currently facing, along with a plan for their first 100 days in their new role. These interviews and tests inevitably reveal each person’s strengths in terms of their leadership, inclusivity, role-specific knowledge, and skills (especially critical thinking, prioritization and communication).

Seeking Risks

“Can we improve the odds that this person will deliver the value in time?”

Yes, we can. This is what I like best about /decide.

All this data on the role and evidence about the talent gets captured in a one-page tool we call the RoleTalent Card. Using the finalists’ RoleTalent Cards, we very precisely seek out the risks to execution, both on the role side and the talent side of these top roletalent combinations. We identify which of these risks should be addressed and how they could best be mitigated during onboarding or within the first year.

Ideally, the talent’s superpower matches the risks associated with the role’s most important and valuable Jobs To Be Done.

Other potential derailers, such as knowledge and experience gaps associated with less important JTBDs, can sometimes be addressed by surrounding the role with the right combination of direct reports, mentors and advisors. Fundamental problems with the design of the role, on the other hand, such as inappropriate decision rights or lack of sufficient authority and resources, must be addressed at the level of the organization. Otherwise, it won’t matter if a superhero takes the role: it, and they, have been set up to fail.

In our final report, each finalist receives a risk score and a detailed risk profile, compiled from what we can deduce in four areas of role risk and four areas of talent risk. The report also highlights the reasons to hire, as well as the reasons NOT to hire, each person and makes one recommendation as to which roletalent combination would be best for the enterprise.

When it comes to talent selection, I personally prefer the /decide process. It offers companies a more value-focused and inclusive way to connect talent to value where and when it matters most. Since the process involves many stakeholders, misunderstandings or a lack of alignment with even one party can slow everything down. I have found that being transparent, rigorous and disciplined about the tasks, decision rights and delivery timelines with everyone involved in the /decide process can keep all activities—from role clarification to talent search and selection—within a 90-day timeframe.


Bill Allen

Bill Allen, Senior Partner with, has spent 20 years in CHRO roles with three listed companies (AP Moller-Maersk, Macy’s Inc., Atlas Air Holdings). This Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources has lived nearly one-third of his career outside the United States and counts his corporate “hometown” as PepsiCo.