water babies

Some years back Colin, our intrepid consultant, needed to recruit a coach to help with the transformation at a customer site. On this particular day, he was interviewing what he thought would be an excellent prospect and had booked an interview room for the day so he could have some privacy.

The candidate entered and Colin spent a little time chatting with him to put him at his ease. Once he felt the candidate had settled down he said, “Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself and what you’re looking for in this engagement.”

“Well,” said the candidate, “If you’ve read my CV, you’ll know I’ve been a coach for many years and have worked for many blue-chip companies. I’ve thought of myself as successful but, to be honest, I’ve always been a bit disappointed, too”

Colin was curious and wanted to hear more about this. “So, tell me what you’ve been disappointed about.” he said.

“The one thing that’s really disappointed me as a coach,” replied the candidate, “Is that so far, all of my customers have been idiots. None of them has had a proper understanding of software development techniques and they’ve all been slow to learn. Sometimes they’ve even been foolish enough to reject my proposals. How daft can you get?” He paused for breath, “It’s got to the point now that I don’t want to work with idiots any more, I only want to work with bright people who are willing to accept my recommendations and have the intelligence to action them.”

“Oh dear,” said Colin in response, “I’m afraid you’ve just described this customer to a tee. They are idiots and not very clever either. They are always questioning what we do and are very slow at picking things up. You wouldn’t like it here at all.”

The candidate was quick to respond, “Oh no! Just what I didn’t want to hear. I’m so glad we found out now, before I took the job. Looks like I’ll have to pass on this opportunity and continue my search elsewhere.” With that, he thanked Colin for his time and left.

After the candidate had closed the door behind him, Colin’s thoughts went back to his days at school studying English. He’d been fond of George Bernard Shaw’s book, Pygmalion. From it, he remembered Eliza Doolittle’s conversation with Colonel Pickering, in which she says, “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady”

This is the origin of the term ‘Pygmalion Effect.’ People will always behave the way you expect them to behave. Treat them as if they are idiots and they will behave like idiots, treat them as if they are intelligent human beings and they will behave like intelligent human beings.

Of course, Colin’s customers weren’t idiots but he knew if the candidate had joined them, they would soon start behaving that way, which is why he’d been quick to put him off. He knew the candidate had a long way to go in his search for his ideal customer.

Since the interview had finished early, Colin had plenty of time to sit and think, wondering if he should send the candidate a copy of Pygmalion. Better still, maybe he should send him a copy of Charles Kingley’s, ‘Tom and the Water Babies’

Perhaps he could learn something from Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby?

Tags: coaching, recruitment, Stories
Date: Tuesday, October 13, 2009