In a world of increasingly complex systems, it is difficult to predict a manager’s future success; however, new findings in psychology and neurobiology may be of use in improving the accuracy of such predictions.

Research by Nobel Laureates Simon, Handel and Kahneman about limited rationality, decision-making processes, the prospect theory and the storage of experience in our brain, point to new possibilities.

Brain research shows that it is neuronal activities that produce psychological experiences, and not the other way around. A manager’s behaviour and decisions are therefore a consequence of the neuronal mechanisms of the brain that immediately precede these actions. The better we understand these mechanisms, the better we can evaluate management qualities and predict a manager’s success.

This thesis is based on the following statements: “Neuronal processes follow the laws of nature”; “All mental processes are based on neuronal mechanisms”; and “The functional structure of the brain is the basis of the above”.

This functional architecture of the brain is determined by genetically caused traditional knowledge (evolution), epigenetically conditioned knowledge (implicit knowledge) and explicit knowledge (life-long learning). Indeed, differently socialised people perceive the same situation in different ways. Perceptions being influenced by implicit knowledge.

When assessing and evaluating a manager, perception is a crucial problem because on a neuronal level there are only minor differences between perception and imagination, as both have very similar activation patterns in the brain. Since spirit/mood and external circumstances can distort our perception, HR managers have to act very carefully when assessing the personality of other people.

There is also agreement that managers are not purely rational benefit-maximisers: there is no superior instance in our brain because conscious and unconscious processes occur in parallel. The neuronal networks enable our brain to evaluate complex situations and to take decisions. Contrary to received wisdom, rational and emotional responses form a single unit.

The effect of unconscious consideration processes is called intuition and is the aggregate of all our practical experience, be it as expert know-how or knowledge gained from experience. Intuition lies dormant in our subconscious mind and emerges suddenly into our conscious, frequently without us knowing why. It is hardly surprising that very experienced managers often rely on intuition and heuristics.
In our view existing tests should be optimised according to neurobiological findings.

Many purely rational tests aim to prove a link between personality characteristics and/ or intelligence and future occupational success. However, when evaluating a candidate it is not only important which personality traits she/he has, but to determine competencies. What does this mean for decision-making in personnel recruitment? HR management and in particular the decision making process in recruiting should be reinforced by neurobiology.

A sustainable path could be an evidence-based selection process that combines valid diagnostic instruments and expertise in the form of heuristics and intuition.

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