JMT Certified

If it looks like a duck

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

One of the most useful lessons I remember as a newly appointed project manager was known as “The Duck Test” as quoted above.  It was shared with me by a more experienced project manager in the context of assessing the output of a project team, and not to be taken in by the fact that it has passed an “acceptance test”, if their output didn’t seem to function as expected.  

The same test can also be applied to all sorts of other situations too.  One such situation I encountered was that of candidates applying for a new job vacancy; I had that situation some years ago when I was serving on the board of a local organisation, and we had a job vacancy to fill.

Now, in every farmyard, there is a valid position for ducks; they are a valuable asset to any duckpond, and I’m not suggesting they’re not a really useful resource elsewhere too, where appropriate.  However, if you need an eagle, don’t accept an application from a duck.  Let me explain.

One of my colleagues on the board was experienced in preparing to interview prospective candidates from a previous job role, and in particular had experience of making sure that we complied with all of the relevant legislation relating to inclusiveness, and avoided event hint of inappropriate bias in the interview process.  

We had all of the candidate application forms circulated with no reference to age, gender, ethnic background etc, and the top candidates were duly selected for interview.  We had a set of questions relating to the job we wanted to ask of the clients, and we made sure to ask all of the clients the same questions, and note their answers on a suitable form for collection and filing with the rest of the paperwork.  

At the end of this process we were all satisfied that the most appropriate candidate he’d been selected for the role according to the criteria that had been laid out, and the job offer was made.

This new recruit started as planned and had started to settle into the job when some difficulties started to emerge, and It’s neither helpful nor necessary to go into the details here.  Suffice to say that after a very difficult few initial weeks the applicant decided, with the full agreement of their line manager, that the best course of action was to terminate the appointment, so they resigned.

That left a challenge, since there was now quite a large backlog to get through, and a temporary candidate was appointed for a short term temporary contract.  This candidate turned out to be a perfect match for the role and was offered a permanent contract.  

“Leadership is all about placing people in the right place so they can be successful.”

~ John Maxwell

I guess there are many lessons that we learned collectively through this process, and many that I found really helpful in my formation as a manager and particularly with regard to recruitment that I have found helpful to this day.  

One was to take account of the “knower”.  That’s the place where you ”know” stuff; you know it in your knower.  It turned out that I was not alone in “knowing” that the candidate that we had chosen was not going to fit in with the organisation in its culture, and probably wouldn’t fit in easily with the chemistry of the existing team.  We couldn’t put our finger on the reason, but there was something about the person that just didn’t seem right, despite all the objective evidence to the contrary.  

The lesson here is that where something has all the characteristics of a thing, it probably is that thing, never mind what it is called or presented as, and despite the objective evidence to the contrary.

In his book “Leadership Gold” the author John Maxwell puts it this way: he tells us not to send our ducks to eagle school, because if you send your ducks to eagle school then:

“The people we interviewed from the good-to-great companies clearly loved what they did, largely because they loved who they did it with.”

~ Jim Collins

Jim Collins says a similar thing in his book “Good to Great” where he talks about getting the right people on the bus.  He says of great companies that they got ”the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”.  

So, we need to start paying attention to the “knower”, get the ducks settled in at the duckpond, and give room for the eagles to go off and soar in the mountain tops.  What that means for every organisation is different, and may prove to be pretty challenging along the way, but one thing is for sure: if you don’t, the ducks will get frustrated trying to reach the mountain tops, the eagles will get frustrated in the duckpond, and you will get frustrated trying to make them both fit in to the wrong place.

“As a leader, you should always challenge people to move out of their comfort zone, but never out of their strength zone.”

~ John Maxwell

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.