The surprising hiring lesson revealed in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

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You probably know the story of Charlie and the chocolate factorybut did you know that it also offers an important lesson in hiring?

For those who need a refresher, Charlie and the chocolate factory, a book that has been turned into a movie more than once, follows an eccentric and reclusive chocolatier who creates a “golden ticket” contest, offering five lucky winners a tour of his factory. What the winners of the golden ticket contest don’t know is that he plans to use the contest to find a successor to take over his chocolate empire. Five children end up getting the tickets: Charlie Bucket, a generous and selfless boy of modest means; Augustus Gloop, a gluttonous and greedy young man; Varuca Salt, a spoiled and demanding young woman; Mike Teavee, a boy addicted to television; and Violet Beauregarde, a skilled, outspoken, gum-obsessed girl.

In a viral Tumblr post a few years ago, a user made the case for Violet Beauregarde’s position as the winner. And it got me thinking about what the research and science on selection and hiring would really say about Willy Wonka’s succession planning decisions.

Related: If You’re Not Hiring Ahead, You’ve Already Fallen Behind

Suppose for a moment that the premise of Charlie and the chocolate factory makes business sense (i.e. passing an entire business to a child of around 11 years old is a reasonable succession plan). Once we get past that, we can consider what the research indicates is the most effective way to select the best candidate.

Assuming the “suitable culture” will make the best successor

Willy Wonka’s goal with the Golden Ticket contest is to find a successor to run the factory. At the end of the film, his decision is based on which of the children he “likes best” and who he thinks will run the Chocolate Factory in the same or similar way to him.

This is a rookie mistake that many organizations and hiring managers believe will get them the best candidate. While many believe that hiring for culture is the key to organizational success, very little research confirms this.

First, it is linked to biased hiring practices that reduce diversity within organizations. While there may be little conflict since so many similar people work together, a lack of diversity leads to poorer organizational results. For example, diversified companies outperform less diversified companies by 36%. Second, hiring great minds who all think alike will put the company at risk for groupthink, which is bad news for organizations that have to adapt to change. Finally, cultural fit has very little to do with actual performance. In terms of predicting a person’s performance at work, this is one of the worst.

In the book, Violet is shown to not conform to the way Wonka runs the factory a few times. Often it is in a way that would have improved the organization. For example, she brings up a safety issue for the Oompa Loompas as they navigate a dark tunnel on a boat. When Wonka confirms that they can’t see where they are going, Charlie’s grandfather is the only adult who supports Wonka’s clearly dangerous working conditions. Instead of seeing her objection as a form of constructive criticism that could improve the factory’s operations, he sees her as an example of Charlie’s cultural appropriateness and Violet’s cultural incongruity.

Related: 4 Ways to Test “Cultural Fit” During the Hiring Process

Testing candidates in a way that does not match the actual job

At no point does Wonka test his potential successors realistically for someone running a chocolate factory.

Testing candidates with a realistic work sample is a good way to predict performance (2.5 times better than cultural fit). This interview technique consists of a task where the candidates carry out activities similar to those related to the job. Mimicking the work environment as much as possible can help increase the predictive validity of this hiring practice. Typically, there is also a limited bias based on gender or race for realistic job samples. However, this can be time-consuming and expensive to implement. It can also be difficult to simulate a work situation.

Ironically, what disqualifies Violet from the contest mimics the circumstances closest to a realistic job sample. Violet, a gum expert, tries out a piece of gum that Wonka himself calls one of his greatest inventions – a gum that acts like a three-course meal and leaves the chewer feeling full. Unlike Augustus Gloop, who was specifically told not to drink chocolate river because it requires sterile conditions, Wonka simply tells him that the gum isn’t perfect yet – not that it isn’t ready. to be tested. Assuming that part of a candy maker’s job is to test products that are about to be released to the public, Violet is ready to show off her gumball expertise. Instead, she is tricked into trying a dangerous chewing gum that turns her into a blueberry.

Hold each candidate to different standards

Each factory child is tested differently. Wonka seems to have set up different rooms to test different kids based on their backgrounds and preferences. Thinking that each person should be asked a unique set of questions in an interview based on their resume or interests might seem like a good idea when hiring, but it won’t get you the best job. candidate.

In fact, a structured interview is one of the best ways to predict performance. Structured interviews involve a process in which each candidate is asked the same set of questions modeled after the job requirements, in the same exact order, by the exact same people. Then they are scored on a standardized scale and the candidates are compared. It predicts performance about four times better than cultural fit and is the best way to find a good candidate aside from personality. While some may describe the process as cold or dry, there are several benefits. Specifically, it has been shown to reduce bias in hiring and is also a legally defensible hiring process.

If Violet had been asked about the position, chances are she would have done better than any other candidate. Of all the golden ticket winners, she is the only one to have had a career in a candy-adjacent field: working to break records for chewing gum.

Related: The Key to Hiring the Best Employees

Hiring is hard, and there’s no magic way to do it. However, some tactics are better than others, both for predicting performance and for reducing bias. While Willy Wonka may not have chosen the best hiring practice, we can all learn from his example – and find ourselves Violet.

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