When I first started managing people, I took a series of short management courses offered by our Human Resources department. One course focused on how to recruit talented, high-potential employees. I knew how to identify specific skills (“Can you program in C++?”) but I didn’t really know how to identify motivation and potential.
A recruiter named Sarah taught the course and told us there were two profiles to look for. (Yes, we were profiling … but for a good cause). She had a name for each which I don’t remember so let’s just call them Profiles Y and Z. Here they are:
Profile Y – someone who attended an elite university, studied relevant topics, and made good grades. You would likely get someone who was smart and motivated. According to Sarah, making good grades was a critical differentiator. Some people qualify for elite universities and then coast – perhaps a sign of a sense of entitlement. The person might not be motivated.
Profile Z – someone who might have qualified for an elite university but couldn’t afford to go. He went to a state university, studied relevant topics, and made very good grades. He’s very confident and believes strongly in his own abilities. At the same time, he believes that other people may not recognize his talents and achievements. He has something to prove. He’s probably not the first-born child.
I thought about these profiles – and especially Profile Z – when I read about Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld’s concept of the Triple Package. Chua and Rubenfeld have studied ethnic cultures within the United States and asked a simple question: why is it that some cultures are more upwardly mobile than others?
According to Chua and Rubenfeld, Americans with different national heritages have markedly different educational and professional success rates. For instance, Cuban-, Lebanese-, and Nigerian-Americans tend to have higher success rates (on the whole) than do groups with similar ethnic or language backgrounds but different national ancestry. What makes them different?
Chua and Rubenfeld argue that the Triple Package makes the difference. There are three elements in the package:
“The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.”
Sound familiar? The first two concepts in the Triple Package correlate with two elements of Profile Z. The person (or the culture) feels exceptional and somewhat superior to other people (or cultures). At the same time, however, the person/culture has some sense of insecurity. They feel exceptional and they also want to be recognized as exceptional. They have something to prove.
The third element of the Triple Package is impulse control. This is what we used to call deferred gratification – the ability to defer short-term rewards for larger rewards in the future. I don’t remember it being part of Profile Z but it should be. Impulse control has been studied in a variety of ways – including the famous marshmallow experiments – and it seems to predict what my dear old Mom used to call “sticktoitiveness”. In other words, you better stick to it if you want to succeed.
What do we learn from all this? If you want to win the war for talent, you’ll need to hire intelligent, motivated people with a high degree of sticktoitiveness. Recruiting people with the Triple Package is a good place to start.