Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior
The saying, “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior,” is often used in the context of hiring. The best way to predict how someone will perform in a job is to look at their past performance. This is because people tend to be consistent in their behavior over time.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Sometimes people’s life circumstances cause them to change their behavior, or they may behave differently in very different situations. But for the most part, taken at a high level, past behavior really is a good indicator of future behavior. While “skills” are the current thing (certainly the way LinkedIn is trending), and there’s a lot to be said for skills as a key factor in hiring, that’s really only half the story.
This is why it is so important to do your homework in asking probing questions when hiring new employees. You can use behavioral interview questions to get a better sense of how they have handled certain situations in the past that they may encounter in your company. Ask specific questions about their past work experience and get references from their previous employers if possible. Despite the general view that references are useless, I’ve found great value in them if the reference worked closely with the individual and you can really get them to open up. That’s not always possible, as some companies’ policies prohibit asking anything other than employment verification, but it is nevertheless worth finding out what you can.
Of course, past behavior is not the only factor to consider when hiring. But it is a valuable piece of the puzzle, and it can help you make a more informed hiring decision.
How to Use Past Behavior to Improve Employee Performance
The same principle can also be applied to working with employees. If you want to improve an employee’s performance, you need to look at their past behavior. What have they been consistently doing well? What are they not doing so well?
Once you have a better understanding of their past behavior, you can start to identify areas where they need improvement. You can then provide them with the properly-focused training, coaching, or other resources to help them improve their performance. This is much more effective than a blanket “training” program that doesn’t take an individual employee’s unique strengths and weaknesses into account. In fact, as a manager you will do well to be acquainted with your employees’ strengths and weaknesses as part of the overall relationship you have with them, in order to provide more authentic and valuable feedback and development. For a relatively small time investment this is a huge ROI.
For example, if an employee has historically struggled to meet deadlines, you need to first understand why they are late. Are they having trouble understanding what’s being asked of them and just not speaking up to ask questions to clarify? Are they not prioritizing their work or managing their time? Once you understand the root cause of the problem, you can start to develop an effective solution.
In this case, you might provide the employee with personal productivity training, or develop a feedback framework for them to clarify expectations and ensure they feel confident they know what is actually being asked of them. Whatever the solution, it is important to be specific in order to provide the employee with the support they need to succeed.