How to Assess Human Capability

Find the right people for the right seats with these tips from Brian Gifford

Brian Gifford | Vice President of Human Resources | Lufkin Industries | HR Credentials: When General Electric acquired Lufkin Industries in the spring of last year, it was Gifford’s role to seamlessly combine the companies’ cultures and to ensure the right employees were in the right roles, ready to work at their highest levels.

1. Create a Framework for Success

Being able to assess the potential in any employee means first having a solid way of putting your ideal dream employee down on paper. In his work with Lufkin Industries, Gifford adopts Gerald Kraines’s principles for assessing human potential, which are in turn based on the work of Canadian social scientist Elliott Jaques. This framework evaluates each individual on four qualities: smarts, having the right skills for the roll, understanding the committed value of the position, and determining whether the individual is free of dysfunctional behavior.

2. Gauge the Capacity for Vision

Based on his framework, Gifford first evaluates whether or not the person is smart enough to understand and execute a complex, far-reaching vision for the future. This doesn’t mean having a five-year plan or a 10-year plan, but rather that a candidate is able to identify generational issues and already has a set of processes in mind as to how to solve upcoming problems.

3. Weigh Skills and Commitment

It’s clear that a candidate needs to have the right skills for the role, but many attribute these “skills” to education level. Gifford believes the truer measure of ability is 80 percent hands-on experience and 20 percent education. Even when someone meets these needs, they also have to understand the committed value of their current position, notably that their work is directly linked to the larger success of the company and that they are committed to, and value, that role.

4. Draft Proactive Individuals

Gifford believes the right person for the right role must be free of dysfunctional behavior, which essentially means free of dysfunctional thinking. Those guilty of dysfunctional behavior are often big fans of pity parties or seeing injustices—as it benefits them—where none exist. Gifford has no time for that, and weeding out such individuals from the start ensures you will set up your work environment for success.

5. Teach Managers to Identify Leaders

When it comes to assessing human capability, Gifford needs all hands on deck. His biggest challenge has been to get managers to see potential leaders in their ranks. “It’s about teaching managers the framework for success,” he says. “It’s about giving them the tools they need to identify future leaders and then stepping out of the way and letting them do their jobs.”

Gifford has seen traction on this at Lufkin. “What I’m most proud of Lufkin for is its open, honest environment and company culture. Our employees know that here, it’s not about who you know; it’s about who’s best for the job. That understanding leads to more loyal, responsible employees, and it inspires them to truly own their work because that’s what will get them seen.”

6. Have a Plan in Place Prior to a Vacancy

“The biggest mistake companies make is with their succession planning,” Gifford says. “Often, it’s basically a replacement plan, and it’s not forward thinking in any sense.”

Gifford’s approach to succession planning comes from the framework for success: it has to be generational. “If you’re looking for a replacement for a key role in your company and your standards are based on your company’s most immediate needs, you’re going to hire the wrong person,” Gifford says. “When planning the structure for five years from now, how can you develop people if you don’t plan in advance?”

7. Have the Right Talent Pool

Being a good judge of human capability means thinking far enough in advance to have your sights set on the people who will move future goals forward, not those who simply meet current requirements. “You need to make sure you have a talent pool for where you’re going to be, not where you are,” Gifford says.