Interviewing Adaptive Employees with the ACE Model

Unearthing the Gem of Adaptability

In the constantly evolving corporate landscape, where constant change brings perpetual uncertainty, managers are increasingly seeking candidates who aren’t just resilient and gritty but supremely adaptable. Enter the Adaptability Quotient (AQ), a metric that’s becoming as crucial as IQ and EQ in the quest for extraordinary talent. How, then, can managers pivot their interview strategies to uncover this gem in order to hire more adaptive employees? The ACE model—comprising Ability, Character, and Environment—serves as a powerful framework for this mission.

Abilities: Beyond Grit and Resilience

In the Abilities domain, we explore beyond the conventional markers of grit and resilience to incorporate a quintet of dimensions that define AQ Abilities: mindset, mental flexibility, the art of unlearning, grit, and resilience. Each of these dimensions stands as a skill in its own right, learnable and developable, collectively forming the backbone of adaptability. This suite of AQ Abilities equips individuals to adeptly adjust their perspectives, overcome challenges, and seamlessly adapt to novel scenarios, reflecting the essence of dynamic capability in an ever-shifting global landscape.

Interview Tip: Probe for examples of when candidates had to discard old paradigms in favor of new understanding. Questions like, “Can you share a time when letting go of a previously successful strategy led to greater success?” illuminate a candidate’s adaptability and willingness to evolve beyond past successes.

Character: The Personal Palette

Character delves into the vibrant spectrum of personal attributes that influence an individual’s approach to interacting with challenges and opportunities. It’s an intricate tapestry woven from threads of extraversion, emotional range, hope, motivating style (play to win vs. play to protect), and thinking style (big picture vs. details). Unlike abilities, managers, as well as employees, should not try to change one’s character but approach it as recommended by emotional intelligence (EQ) thought leaders. It all begins with greater self-awareness, then self-management.

Interview Tip: To gauge character, consider asking, “Describe a situation where your approach (either play to win or play to protect) significantly influenced the outcome of a project. What, if anything, might you do differently next time.” This sheds light on how a candidate’s inherent traits and perspectives shape their approach to work and collaboration, and how well they can use or adapt their character traits for better results.

Environment: The Crucible of Success

The Environment component casts a spotlight on the critical influence of both the tangible and intangible elements of the workplace on an individual’s capacity for adaptability and growth. This encompasses not only the foundational support provided by the company and team but also delves into the nuances of the work environment, including the practices, policies, and processes that champion or challenge change. Additionally, it considers the vital role of emotional health and the impact of job stress on performance and well-being.

Interview Tip: Encourage candidates to discuss how they’ve thrived or struggled in various work environments with questions like, “How has a supportive or challenging work environment influenced your professional growth?” This helps understand if they can thrive in your organization’s unique ecosystem.

Implementing the Refined ACE Model in Interviews

This enriched approach to interviewing with the ACE model encourages a comprehensive evaluation that goes beyond assessing individual prowess to understanding how a candidate interacts with, influences, and is influenced by their surroundings.

A Deeper Dive

Employing the ACE model means engaging candidates in a more profound exploration of their experiences, encouraging them to share stories that reveal the depth of their adaptive abilities, self-awareness of their character, and their navigation through different environments.

Holistic Candidate Evaluation

This model moves us away from viewing candidates as sums of their parts towards appreciating them as complete narratives, encompassing their potential for growth, their resilience, and their capacity to adapt and thrive in your specific workplace environment and a constantly evolving marketplace.

Mutual Discovery

Remember, the interview is a dance of mutual discovery. As you seek to uncover the essence of a candidate’s adaptability, they gauge the potential for growth and fulfillment within your organization. Demonstrating your commitment to understanding and nurturing these facets through the interview process itself conveys a powerful message about your organization’s values.

Conclusion: The Evolutionary Edge

In today’s fast-paced and increasingly unpredictable business environment, the ACE model offers a robust framework for identifying adaptive candidates who are not only equipped to handle today’s challenges but are also prepared to evolve with tomorrow’s demands. By focusing on Abilities, Character, and Environment, managers can uncover individuals who bring not just skills and experiences but a harmonious blend of adaptability, resilience, and compatibility with the organizational culture and ethos. This is the evolutionary edge organizations need to not just survive but thrive in the ever-changing landscape of work.

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First things first: what does grit even mean? You’ve probably heard the advice “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” attributed to coach Kunte Rockne. That quote captures the essence of grit.  The character trait of grit often refers to passion, the consistency of interest, and perseverance, the ability to endure tough times.

For instance, we’ve all experienced setbacks. They could range from struggling to learn a new skill, recovering from an injury, losing a job, or even bankruptcy.

What Does Grit Look Like?

People with high levels of Grit are confident in achieving long-term goals. They are often described as ‘determined’ and ‘hard workers’. No-pain-no-gain might be the grit motto. Gritty people tend to keep going until the work is done. They take pride in finishing what they start. Their mental focus and emotional stamina are very high. They don’t let short-term gains, negative feedback, or hectic schedules deter them. People with high grit are not discouraged easily; they see setbacks and obstacles as challenges that can be overcome with commitment and hard work. Grit, however, is not always a good thing. Gritty people are often so focused on their goals that they get blinded-sided by outside influences and have blind spots when it comes to alternative ideas. 

People with low levels of grit give up quickly. Setbacks and obstacles easily discourage them. When change happens they can find it difficult to stay on course with long-term goals. They flee at the first sign of trouble and often blame others. They start a lot of projects but get discouraged easily. 

How Grit Can Help Your Business

Why is grit something you need to look for when hiring and developing employees? The future of work is full of opportunity but the journey will be anything but certain. Perseverance and passion will be needed in abundance. These are some scenarios where employees with grit become a beneficial trait for your company.

They Understand That Good Things Take Time

Millennials have often been criticized for their need for instant gratification. While it might be true for some of them, grit had to be part of this generation’s makeup. Now in their 30s and 40s, they have endured school shootings, 9/11 terrorism, and the Great Recession…and they are now growing and thriving. It’s only human to get frustrated when we don’t see the instant rewards from our work. Contributing to a project day in and day out, and not getting recognition or confronting bureaucratic idiocy, is disheartening. Many employees may be tempted to just quit.

If your employee has grit, however, they know good things take time. Setbacks are not failures, but part of the journey.  When personal interests align with goals, it’s easier to persevere and feel that your efforts will be rewarded. People with grit stay and push through.