Grit is the secret weapon of high achievers but what exactly is it? And how do you spot if candidates have it?
Do you ever find yourself watching the Olympics and wondering: ‘How do they do it?’ Their secret to success is probably grit – the combination of passion and persistence that helps people achieve their long term goals. Psychologist and academic Angela Duckworth popularised the term in her TED talk in 2013.
When Duckworth later pursued a PhD in psychology, she decided to put her theory to the test by examining high achievers in various settings, including private organisations, the military and even at national spelling bees.
Grit, she noticed, was present in every high achiever no matter the setting.
Jay Munro, head of career insights at Indeed, thinks of grit as tenacity and perseverance.
In the workplace, he says, grit not only helps someone reach their own goals, but employees with grit are usually the ones also driving their team to succeed.
“This is someone who’s going to continually try to strive to do better, to identify the things that we often miss,” says Munro.
“And that’s going to grow the business and make us more competitive.”
Grit might make you think of a ‘go getter’, such as the salesperson who is always chasing a new lead. But grit can be applied to all goals whether they be a sales target or a creative project.
“Many types of jobs go through the test, fail, learn cycle. You test something new, it fails and you try to learn from that so the next time, it is successful,” says Munro.
“Employees with grit aren’t deterred by those failures. They’re constantly finding the learning opportunities and pushing themselves to succeed.”
While some jobs may require an innate talent to succeed (no matter how hard I try, I am never going to sing as well as Beyonce), most success comes down to hard work. From successful athletes to famous artists, the ability to bounce back from failure is what sets them apart.
Spotting grit in recruiting
If you know that grit can be a boon for your workplace, how do you then spot it in a potential employee?
“It can actually be tough because everyone is on edge and a bit more vulnerable in interviews,” says Murno.
“So the best thing you can do is give the candidate a bit of leeway.”
Munro suggests guiding candidates in how to answer the questions you’re asking. This isn’t about giving them the answers, but breaking questions down to be more digestible, which will probably help to give you a more indepth answer.
“An example might be: ‘Tell me about a project you’ve worked on that involved multiple stakeholders and what you did that made it successful?’” he says.
“Typically you’d sit back and wait for the candidate to step you through the process. But you’ll learn more if you break [it down] into multiple questions. ‘Tell me how you engaged stakeholders? What steps did you take?’”
Don’t be afraid to ask candidates about their failures in a way that they’ll provide an honest answer. Most candidates would be hesitant to speak about a time they messed up but if you frame it correctly, they will feel more comfortable doing so.
“If we take the project example, you could ask, ‘What approach didn’t work?’ ‘How did you handle the set back?’” says Munro.
As the interviewer, you should be looking for two things in their response:
- Do they accept responsibility for failure?
- Can they demonstrate they’ve reflected on, and learnt from, the experience?
Another approach could be to incorporate Duckworth’s ‘Grit Scale’ into your interview. This is the questionnaire she used in her own research. The scale asks users to what extent they agree with 10 different statements. With a bit of rejigging, these could easily be turned into questions.
For example the statement, ‘I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete’ can become, ‘How do you maintain focus and interest when working on long-term projects?’
Fostering employees with grit
Once an employee with grit joins your workplace, you want to provide an environment in which grit is appreciated and fostered.
“Create a culture where you are transparent about failure and you celebrate that transparency,” says Munro.
“Take time to reflect on when things didn’t work so well and acknowledge when employees come forward with ideas to change or improve the outcome.”
Reflecting on missteps is probably already happening in your organisation if debriefing after a project involves looking back on what did and didn’t work. The difference between an organisation that fosters grit and one that doesn’t is that the former will reward staff when they take ownership, and they won’t let a setback stop them.
“Some people are born with grit but the more you do to create opportunities to encourage git, you’re going to build a really positive work environment.”
Australian of the Year Grace Tame definitely has grit. Hear her speak at AHRI convention Transform 2021. Last chance to register!