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Don't judge a penguin by its waddle

Posted by: sabine-robinson


I was recently introduced to a wonderful You Tube video (in German) called ‘Das Penguin Prinzip’ (The Penguin Principle). It provides a charming but very poignant reminder that we really shouldn’t judge the character or worth of someone at first sight.

Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen is a German television host, doctor, magician, comedian, cabaret artist, and author. In this extract, he recounts an anecdote from his time as an entertainer on a cruise ship, and a visit to a Norwegian zoo.

In one of the zoo enclosures, he saw a little penguin sitting on a rock. He looked at the creature and thought: “Look at this poor thing. A flightless bird. Stocky and totally out of proportion. Definitely one of nature’s misconstructions!”

The Penguin Principle

Then the penguin jumped into the water and, through the glass, Hirschhausen watched him swim in the water, nimbly twisting and turning. The onlooker’s jaw dropped, and he was forced to rethink his original assessment of the little creature’s suitability and talents.

While penguins can look clumsy on land, they are in fact amazing swimmers. Unlike other seabirds, they use their specially-designed flippers to propel themselves through the water. Depending on their size, they can cover a distance of about 15 miles an hour. If they want to go faster, they can porpoise, or leap out of the water as they swim along.

The comedian had to admit that this design was better than anything that humans could have constructed. And he had instantly labelled the poor penguin as a freak of nature!

Hirschhausen was reminded of two things:

  • How quickly we can jump to conclusions about someone and how wrong we can be, particularly if we don’t know the person very well, and
  • How important the environment is to bring out our strengths

Good managers know what drives their people

When we invite a candidate to interview, it is very easy to let our first impressions influence our judgement. You might have some reservations, but you decide to give them a chance anyway. This could be a great hiring decision, or it could turn out to be a costly hiring mistake. For the sake of all parties concerned, wouldn’t it be better to be sure that the behavioural traits you observe at interview are what you are likely to see a few months down the line?

Gut feeling introduces unconscious bias into the recruitment process. To make an objective assessment of someone’s likely workplace behaviour, you need to understand what really drives and motivates them. In the words of Dr. Hirschhausen: ‘People’s basic core drives and needs do not change. If you are born a penguin, seven years of coaching and training cannot turn you into a giraffe’. Equally, if the job needs a penguin, you are setting a talented giraffe up to fail.

Talent metrics can help to remove bias

Finding the right person starts with setting out the job requirements. The job description – based on the team and company objectives – needs to be crafted carefully to attract the right candidates. The PI Job AssessmentTM , for instance, helps you to reliably and objectively outline the behavioural traits and cognitive ability that a person needs to be successful in any role.

The PI Behavioral AssessmentTM then provides a scientifically-validated process to determine any candidate’s core behavioural traits and needs, and match them to the requirements of the job.

This vital knowledge about your new employee’s behavioural make-up – and job fit – will help you to decide how best to use their strengths, to keep them motivated and to get the job done efficiently. A penguin in water is in its element. That’s where its talents shine. Its apparent flaws are only visible when it is on dry land. So, if you intend to station your penguin in the desert, it’s unlikely that they will perform as you’d want them to.

So, what can we take away from Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen’s musings?

  • Don’t judge a penguin by its waddle
  • Give your penguin the right environment to thrive and show off their talents
  • Find out exactly what their inner penguin wants and needs to be happy and successful…and remember, not all penguins are the same!
  • Don’t try to turn them into giraffes

We would love to show you how RPX2 Ltd and The Predictive Index assessments can help you streamline your hiring process and find your people’s inner penguin. Why not Request a Demo or email us today?

Photo by RocketFuel Collective on Unsplash