The last major step before an offer is made to a new salesperson is to bring together the team who was involved in the process and gather consensus. This is unfortunately how it often plays out–
The first person to offer an opinion on the candidate sets the tone for the meeting. The first opinion is almost always the final opinion. Why? Groupthink and our inability to screen and interview candidates properly.
Groupthink is defined as “When individual thinking or individual creativity is lost or subverted to stay within the comfort zone of the consensus view”.
The reasons are pretty straightforward. The first person to offer an opinion is usually confident in their opinion. They might be the office narcissist, the boss in the room (both?), or have a strong opinion in either direction. The people without a strong opinion then follow through and support the first speaker because they don’t really know what else to say.
Why do people follow the first opinion? We are really bad at determining if someone will be good at a job based on our current methods of selecting candidates. Bias, flawed interviewing and lack of understanding of what makes a successful rep all factor into our willingness to cede the hiring decision to the strongest opinion.
Subconscious bias enters at every part of the process from screening to interviewing. Is the name on the resume like ours or is it so different that we don’t even know how to pronounce it? Was this the guy that wore that purple suit or was that the woman we interviewed right after getting reamed out by the boss? Bias in the negative will make us less likely to “take the risk” of standing up for what we think is the right decision (in the rare case when we know it).
A recruiter typically spends less than 6 seconds on a resume review and the interviewer decides before the handshake is complete whether or not they (subconsciously at least) “like” the candidate. In the interview, we look at factors that have very little impact on the ability to do the job (like University, GPA, and the applicant’s claim that they’ve never missed President’s Club). We hold a nice conversation, but the resume we are looking at might be spot-on or filled with half-truths. If the person is a good talker but unmotivated to do the foundation work required for sales, we will likely miss that. Most importantly, after an interview, people are rarely sure that this person will be a great candidate or a terrible one. Everyone who gets to the interview process is similarly qualified but we don’t know how to evaluate their skills, so again, we’re too willing to abandon our shaky opinion because someone else is sure of theirs.
Role-Playing, or lack thereof.
Role-playing is extremely critical to determining the preparation skills, selling style, and coachability of a candidate, yet in the rare cases we do it, we say “sell me this pencil” or give me a three-minute pitch on your last product. Real role-plays give us something to actually evaluate and experience, but since we don’t do them they are hard to use in the final decision.
How do we avoid Groupthink and get to a better decision?
There are several things we can do, but most of them are hard. The easy one is that each member of the group needs to send their individual decision with a paragraph or two on why to an impartial member of the team (Typically HR). HR can them run the conversation, question people on their thoughts and help the team engage in a conversation. The hiring manager and the top person in the room should speak last.
Adding items like structured team interviews, well defined role-plays, appropriate assessments, and scorecards are also ways to beat groupthink out of this critical process. (These are much harder).
A company that encourages people to take risks is much better positioned to avoid groupthink because people are encouraged to offer differing or even shaky opinions.