Board of Management

However, before implementing the adopted tools, the team
had some important considerations to address.
Character and Competence
Many organizations include character language in a
statement of competencies, and CRA was no different.
The agency had adopted KLCs widely accepted in the Federal
Government and used those KLCs to build the agency’s
competence model. As with many organizations, several
of the words and phrases in the competency model include
character language;these terms can co-exist so long as there
is a meaningful understanding of the differences between
the use of a term as applied to character and competence.
For example, a word such as “collaboration” can be used for
both character and competence, but the word means different things depending on how it is used. When referring to
character, collaboration is a “habit of being” as revealed in
the behaviors of being cooperative, collegial, open-minded,
flexible, and interconnected. As defined in Appendix A, a
person with a high degree of collaboration “values and
actively supports development and maintenance of positive
relationships among people. Encourages open dialogue and
does not react defensively when challenged. Is able to
connect with others at a fundamental level, in a way that
fosters the productive sharing of ideas. Recognizes that what
happens to someone, somewhere, can affect all.”
Collaboration, viewed as a competence at CRA, refers to
collaboration with partners and stakeholders and means
“building and maintaining an effective and constructive
network with partners, stakeholders or contacts who may
be helpful in achieving organizational goals.”
Competence is about what someone can do on the job,
whereas character is about who the person is. One of the
reasons that organizations are interested in character is
the recognition that who someone is from a character
perspective influences the expression of what they can
do from a competence standpoint. This is true for
collaboration but also true for other competencies such
as creating vision and strategy. Strategic competence, for
example, will be amplified with strength of character
because individuals who have developed character dimensions such as Courage, Transcendence, Humility, and
Humanity will tackle strategic challenges differently.
Conversely those who have weaker dimensions of character may find their competence limited. For example, many
failures of strategy have been linked to errors of judgment
associated with lack of humility.
At the CRA, one of the competencies was “upholding
integrity and respect,” which can be observed in behaviors
such as exemplifying ethical practices, creating respectful
and trusting work environments, and encouraging the
expression of diverse opinions. However, a person who has
not developed the needed underlying character may have
difficulty expressing this competency. A person with welldeveloped character will be authentic, candid, transparent,
principled, and consistent (behaviors associated with the
character dimension of Integrity), but that person will also
have strength in the other character dimensions, such as
Humility and Humanity, to ensure Integrity does not operate
as a vice. This strength of character provides an important
foundation to manifest the competency of “upholding integrity and respect.”
Character and Values
AttheCRA,Integrity also appearedasa value inthedocuments
and processes: “Integrity is the foundation of our administration. It means treating people fairly and applying the law
fairly.” Thus, integrity, as used by the CRA, is an example of
how organizations might tease apart character and values.
Integrity as a value is the foundation of CRA’s administration;
integrity as character manifests in the behaviors of treating
people fairly and applying the law fairly.
The character is the individual’s habit of behavior that is
revealed in practice, and the CRA was expecting individuals
to have the character strength to treat people and apply
the law fairly. However, by hard-wiring integrity into the
organization without profiling the other dimensions of
character, the CRA was running the risk of integrity manifesting as a vice instead of a virtue.
We did not advise changing any of the values, but
recommended, instead, that CRA (and all organizations)
ensure there is a process for recruiting and developing the
strength of character needed to support the organization’s
stated values.
Elevating leader character alongside competence takes
time. While it is important to embed the language of
leader character into corporate documents such as CRA’s
Corporate Business Plan and the Agency Workforce Plan,
we reinforced that the most important way to elevate
character alongside competence is to activate and
encourage the development of character of the individuals
within the organization. Individuals who are developing
character will begin to identify and change practices that
are not character aligned. Organizational culture is a
reflection of the character of the individuals, and
character leadership will be the driving force behind
organizational transformation.
To start this transformation, we sought ways to encourage
conversations to understand what character is, why it
matters, how to develop it, and how to embed it in the
organization. For most individuals and organizations, elevating character alongside competence is a welcome change.
Therefore, there is no need to force implementation; rather
the transformation can be allowed to emerge through
the conversations and actions that arise from a variety of
interventions, including workshops, seminars, management
briefings, and experiential sessions.
Amendments to Selection Documentation
The primary purpose of inserting character into selection
documentation is to signal to candidates that leader
character matters to the organization. At the CRA, changes
were made to the selection profile and the notices of job
opportunities by inserting the following paragraph under key
leadership competencies:

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    ORGDYN-100752; No. of Pages 14
    Please cite this article in press as: M. Crossan, et al., Elevating leader character alongside competence in selection, Organ Dyn (2020),
    Elevating leader character alongside competence in selection 5
    Canada Revenue Agency seeks to attract candidates who
    demonstrate leadership character. Dimensions of character include courage, drive, accountability, transcendence, humanity, humility, collaboration, temperance,
    integrity, justice, and judgment.
    CRA also provided a link to G. Seijts, J. Gandz, M. Crossan,
    and M. Reno, “Character Matters: Character Dimensions’
    Impact on Leader Performance and Outcomes,” Organizational Dynamics 44 (2015): 65—74 as a reference to what
    character is and why it matters. The article was translated
    into French to ensure the material was available in Canada’s
    two official languages.
    Character could also be incorporated in reference checks
    conducted prior to the interviews. CRA used reference
    checks prior to the interview to assess KLC’s and readiness
    to be an executive, and on occasion reference checks after
    the interview to cross reference the character interview.
    Following the review, analysis, and recommendations in
    Phase 1, CRA’s HR team consulted with senior leaders to
    assess their interest in piloting character leadership at the
    EX entry level. Two key branches and one region
    volunteered. The Agency then brought together a character
    leadership advisory committee composed of senior executives, who represented all branches and regions, and HR
    professionals. All participants had already been exposed to
    character leadership at the EX Forum held the year before. A
    full day was dedicated to discuss the recommendations for
    elevating character alongside competence in candidate
    selection for positions at the EX-01 level.
    In our experience, character leadership is well received
    as part of the fabric of organizations, but people welcome
    character leadership even more so when they have the
    opportunity to engage in it for themselves and personally
    arrive at the conclusion that character deeply matters for
    themselves and the organization. Character selection could
    be initiated through HR, but it benefits from a broader sense
    of considering how it will be infused in the organization.
    Althoughtherearefundamentaldifferences between character and competencies, insights can be derived from the
    research around competence-based selection. For example,
    deviations from rationality thatfoster bias in interviewratings
    need to be avoided. This has largely been achieved in competence-based interviews by using structured interviews based
    on a formal job analysis. Conventional thinking is that intentions predict behavior; asking structured interview questions
    about critical job-related incidents can reveal what a candidate’s intentionsmight be. Ascoring guide allows interviewers
    to evaluate a candidate’s responses.
    The critique of this patterned behavior description interview, which uses past behavior to predict future behavior, is
    that there is no systematic way to assess responses. However,
    in the case of character, which is revealed in habit of behaviors, the character-associated behaviors can be used to
    evaluate the strength of character. For example, a candidate
    who does not demonstrate self-awareness (a behavior associated with Humility), or who becomes agitated and does not
    remaincalm(abehavior associatedwithTemperance),reveals
    deficiencies in character. Thus, a character-based interview
    can be evaluated against the set of behaviors in the Leader
    Character Framework. However, because character and its
    development vary by individual, unstructured questions are
    needed to probe character.
    CRA ran workshops for the interviewers, which included an
    introduction to character leadership along with practice sessions to foster comfort and familiarity with a character interview. Our experience revealed that the primary challenge was
    to help interviewers deconstructtheirrole as an interviewer,to
    help them extend from structuredcompetence-based questions
    to focusonhavingahumantohumanconversation.Unconscious
    bias by interviewers has been identified as a serious issue in
    selection, and an important outcome of focusing on the character development ofinterviewers is thatit helps to expose and
    address unconscious bias. The definition of Humility draws
    attention to the issue of unconscious bias. “Allows accomplishments to speak for themselves, acknowledges limitations,
    understands the importance ofthoughtful examination of one’s
    own opinions andideasandembracesopportunities forpersonal
    growth and development. Does not consider oneselfto be more
    important or special than others, is respectful of others, and
    understands and appreciates others’ strengths and contributions.” Furthermore, developing the character dimension of
    Justice also helps to address unconscious bias:“Strives to ensure
    that individuals are treated fairly and that consequences
    (positive or negative) are commensurate with contributions.
    Remains objective and keeps personal biases to a minimum
    when making decisions. Provides others with the opportunity to
    voice their opinions on processes and procedures. Provides
    timely, specific, and candid explanations for decisions. Seeks
    to redress wrongdoings inside and outside the organization.”
    Indeed, reading through all the definitions reveals that
    developing character is a significant way to reduce the
    unwanted effects of unconscious bias in the selection process.
    To prepare candidates, they were invited to a voluntary
    workshop to introduce them to character leadership and help
    them understand that the selection process would be different
    from the competence-based interviews the candidates had
    experienced in the past. In contrast to the typical questions
    that candidateswouldhavepreparedinadvanceofaninterview
    in a formal board setting with little interaction between candidate and interviewer, the character-based assessment was
    designed as a conversation around a coffee table with comfortable chairs and couches. There were no papers or writing
    instruments in evidence during the conversation, although
    notes were made directly after the candidate left the room.
    It was important to reinforce these differences for the
    candidates and ensure they understood that they were being
    invited to be themselves. A candidate who was hired after
    the firsttwo pilots described his experience ofthe interview:
    “This was the first interview experience where I felt at ease,
    to share who I am, provide context to my answers, and have
    an actual conversation with the person for whom I could end
    up working. It was refreshing.”
    When it comes to selecting for character, many people are
    interested in the interview itself and the questions to be
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    6 M. Crossan et al.
    used; however, the focus is on having a high quality,
    candid, and authentic conversation rather than conduct
    an “interview.” A character interview is as much a reflection
    ofthe interviewer as the interviewee. Interviewers who have
    spent time reflecting on their own character will be in a
    better position to set the trusting conditions for a character
    interview and identify character in others. Character
    dimensions such as Humanity and Collaboration are particularly important because if the interviewers are not genuinely
    interested in the candidate, the process becomes an
    exercise of “ticking the box.” There will be little of
    substance the candidate will share or reveal, or that the
    interviewer will detect.
    Conversations that reveal aspects of character are basic
    life conversations that have a quality of probing. It is not the
    first exchange that matters; rather, it is a conversation that
    is like peeling an onion that gets to the essence of who
    someone is and why they are that way. It is less relevant
    where the interviewer starts and more important that the
    conversation probes with Who, What, When, Where, Why,
    and How types of questions, such as Why do you think that
    happened? What did you learn from that? How did that affect
    you? It is important to keep in mind that questions which are
    “off limits” in a competence interview are also inappropriate in character based interviewing such as asking someone
    about marital status or age.
    The focus is on an authentic conversation, not one that is
    so programed that the candidate is merely telling the interviewer what they think is expected. Authenticity is revealed
    largely in stories and situations that are coherent and deep.
    The more the interviewers probe, the more likely they will
    get to levels of detail and insight that reveal whether the
    story is real or something that is programed or fabricated.
    Programed stories do not have a richness to them because
    they are not lived, and the stories tend to break down
    when probed. However, it is important to note that the
    conversation is not about testing whether someone is telling
    the truth; rather, the conversation is meant to provide
    an authentic opportunity to learn about the candidate’s
    Questions can be provided to launch and support the
    process, but the questions rarely guide the conversation,
    which tends to be more organic in nature. For one of the
    staffing processes at CRA, all candidates were required to
    submit a video about why they wanted to work for CRA, then
    something from the video was often the launch point for the
    conversation. In one instance, a candidate mentioned
    innovation and so there was an opportunity to engage the
    candidate in a discussion about why innovation was
    important and reveal how their life experiences shaped
    who they are with respect to innovation.
    Through the probing conversation, interviewers become
    aware of strengths and deficiencies around character. The
    questions tend to shift toward understanding whether what
    might be a virtue, such as strong Drive, was accompanied by
    the strength of Humility or Temperance so that the character
    dimension was not operating as a vice. The behaviors that
    embody the dimensions are the mostrevealing in this regard.
    For example, with respect to Humility, a person’s level of
    self-awareness, reflection, curiosity, openness to learning,
    and vulnerability are revealed. Candidates clearly differ
    on these behaviors: some will exhibit a great deal of
    self-awareness and reflection when asked to unpack an idea;
    others will struggle because they have not spent time
    exercising that element of character.
    Because character functions in an integrated way, the
    dimensions of character must not only be assessed
    individually but also examined holistically, to assess how
    the dimensions appear as a whole –— whether as a strong,
    well-developed, moderate, or weak character. Strong means
    that no character deficiencies were revealed; welldeveloped means that no major deficiencies were revealed;
    moderate means that some deficiencies were revealed; and
    weak means that many deficiencies were revealed. CRA’s
    screening board made a final assessment of each individual’s
    strength of character and the individual’s readiness for an
    executive role.
    At the time of writing, CRA had conducted 65 interviews
    with three different business lines. Of the 65 persons interviewed, 30 were deemed well-developed. In virtually all
    cases, there was unanimity on how interviewers observed
    the dimensions of character. In a few cases, there was
    discussion about some subtle differences that did not change
    the overall assessment but served to enhance the feedback
    to the candidate. The discussion about the candidate was
    captured by the HR professional sitting on the screening
    board and served as the feedback that the board chair
    provided to the candidate. CRA viewed this interview
    process as an important development opportunity for
    candidates. Having a clear understanding of what character
    is, why it matters, and how it can be developed provides
    insight that few, if any, candidates would have received
    given that character itself has been neglected in education
    and practice.
    All candidates were encouraged to seek one-on-one,
    face-to-face feedback from the chair of the screening board
    after the character conversation interview. This was a
    unique opportunity because, successful or not, the feedback
    meeting could be the first occasion for a discussion
    prompting self-reflection. Character is revealed in behaviors, and often, people are not aware of the gap between
    their intentions and behaviors. The debrief following the
    interview can therefore be a point of departure for personal
    leadership development.
    The debrief followed a similar orientation to the interview –— a candid conversation that respected the candidate.
    Both strengths and weaknesses associated with the dimensions of character were discussed, and, more specifically,the
    elements and behaviors that support the dimensions were
    discussed. For example, it was common for the debrief to
    encourage candidates to strengthen their authenticity (an
    element of Integrity) because candidates often struggle with
    displaying their authentic selves when they are preoccupied
    with what others think of them. This is particularly acute in
    interview settings. The following is a quote from a candidate
    who was not successful. “The interview really was a
    conversation; the interview board was able to use information from earlier steps in the process to formulate meaningful questions that were specific to me as a candidate. I
    had the opportunity to be myself and the final feedback was
    very useful focussing on both my strengths and areas that I
    should consider for my leadership development. The
    character interview is a positive departure from the normal
    hiring approach and I look forward to the next executive
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    Elevating leader character alongside competence in selection 7
    competition where I intend to apply again and pursue my
    goal of becoming an executive leader in the CRA”.
    The initial success of the staffing pilots led to the creation of
    a new position within CRA –— Director of Character Leadership, currently held by Stephen Virgin –— and two assistant
    director positions that report directly to Virgin. The team
    seeks to establish the predictive validity of the character
    interview by tracking the effectiveness of leaders selected
    through this process. A deliberate approach will examine
    several areas of evaluation and analysis, collaborating with
    partners on tools to explore character leadership in the
    While there are many studies that have guided best
    practices in competence selection, few organizations have
    examined the effectiveness of competence-based selection
    in their own practices and whether their specific competencies are predictive of leader effectiveness. Yet, we maintain,
    organizations should ideally examine the effectiveness of
    both competence-based and character-based selection
    within the organization. Measurement of the effectiveness
    of the character leadership approach at CRA was identified
    as a key component at the outset of this process. While
    recognizing that implementation of a character approach to
    selection is a work in progress,three evaluation criteria were
    Efficiency of Staffing Processes
    The first remit was the creation of the processes, tools,
    and supporting framework to implement the character
    interview, which could draw out who the candidates were
    authentically. Executive staffing, similar to other hiring
    processes, is under constant pressure to streamline. The
    team at CRA used innovative approaches, such as the video
    submission, to evaluate the experience, knowledge, and
    competencies of candidates to ensure a comprehensive
    assessment, allowing the one in-person interview to be used
    solely for the character conversation.
    Effective Processes and Tools
    Initial feedback on the processes and tools used was very
    positive. A survey of both successful and unsuccessful
    candidates, screening board members, and HR professionals
    showed strong support for the process and tools used to
    evaluate candidates. The setting for the interview, the quick
    and almost unanimous consensus of the screening board
    members, and the confidence in determining a candidate’s
    readiness to lead as an executive all revealed the approach
    to be effective. In short, there was strong face validity.
    Mark Richer, Director General of CRA and chair of the
    screening board for the first character leadership executive
    staffing process, described the process:
    Appointing the right people to entry level EX jobs is
    crucial to the success of our organization. The use of
    character-based interviews left me with unwavering
    confidence that we had identified people who possessed
    well-balanced character dimensions to be effective
    leaders. In comparison to the traditional process, I felt
    less confined in getting to know the candidates and who
    they are as leaders. I am more than satisfied with the
    performance of the individual that I hired based on
    character leadership. What was observed during the
    interview proved to be accurate. The process also identified minor gaps that were integrated into an effective
    development plan.
    Hiring EXs with the Potential to Grow
    CRA is too early in the process to assess whether the candidates they hired have grown. We have cause to be optimistic
    but at the same time, recognize that a longer time horizon is
    needed to track results. The Director of Character
    Leadership stated:
    We are optimistic on the new cohort of Executives hired
    using the character approach. They were assessed on
    competence, experience, and knowledge prior to the
    character interview. In the character interview, the candidates demonstrated well-developed character virtues
    and behaviors, and they showed the habit of being that
    will complement their competencies. There is a second
    order impact here as well: collectively, this approach has
    the workforce now keenly interested in developing and
    activating character.
    It will take time to infuse character from an institutional
    aspect, but it is a very positive first step. By getting to
    know these new Executives, the screening board chairs
    report a much stronger sense of selecting leaders.
    However, it is recognized that an evaluation framework
    is needed, and the domain of the qualitative measurement field is going to be a key component.
    In addition,aframeworkwasdevelopedto followcandidates
    as they grow in their leadership roles into the future.
    Our case study can be summarized with four key insights:
    1 Character-based selection starts with, and is dependent
    on, understanding and developing one’s own character.
    The process of selection requires elevating character
    alongside competence throughout the process and placing in the foreground who people are in terms of character, focusing less on what the process looks like. The who
    will continue to guide the what with respect to key
    choices. For example, the who means that the interviewer will be having a conversation with candidates as opposed to treating the engagement as an interview. The
    focus is less on being an interviewer than a person having
    an in-depth conversation with another person.
    2 The more character leadership cascades throughout the
    organization, the easier it is to select on character.
    Individuals who embody and demonstrate character leadership have a better sense of seeing it in the behaviors of
    others. The more individuals embrace character leadership, the more they understand its importance for well-
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    8 M. Crossan et al.
    being and sustained excellence in organizations. Character leadership is not an afterthought but rather the main
    thought. In the early stages of character-based selection,
    there is a need to educate both interviewers and interviewees on character leadership prior to the interview.
    3 There are paradigm shifts in thinking about leadership
    style and personality traits toward understanding people
    in a more holistic way and with a deeper sense of who they
    are, why they are the persons they have become, and
    what their aspirations are. One important facet of this
    shift is that all character dimensions matter for all
    individuals regardless of position or sector.
    4 Character is a habit of being that is observed in behaviors.
    By behaviors, we mean a holistic way in which a person
    engages other people and the world. It is not simply about
    what people say, but about a broader set of cues, whether
    that is a look in someone’s eye, a person’s capacity to
    listen, how they lean into a conversation, or the
    animation or lack of animation about the ideas a person
    is conveying. There is an authenticity to a person’s way
    of being that is revealed in a character conversation
    that, while not immune to the gaming that arises in a
    competence-based interview, is more resistant to it.
    We have described what amounts to a case study of the
    character selection process at CRA. This is a new frontier for
    selection, and while there are lessons that can be taken from
    competence-based selection, there is a need for further
    research to examine the best approach to character
    selection. We note some promising areas for future research
    including addressing whether developing character helps to
    address the issues of unconscious bias. This would not only
    apply to character selection, but also selection more generally, as well as many organizational practices that require
    some form of assessment. We also see potential for further
    research that address the differences between character
    and competence. Such research would not only serve the
    domain of selection, but also leadership development and
    performance management. Finally, in the 65 interviews
    conducted with CRA and over 200 interviews with another
    organization, there has been strong agreement on observations about strength of character. There are opportunities
    for future research to unpack how people observe character,
    and importantly where there may be misconceptions. For
    example, without understanding what character is and how
    it is revealed, interviewers may be misguided in their
    approach to assessing character.
    Embedding leadership character alongside competence is
    at the essence of great leadership. CRA is at the forefront of
    organizations on a global basis in undertaking this initiative.
    The organization is now formulating advice for the most
    senior bodies in the Agency to carry the enduring model
    forward. The EX staffing processes noted in this article are
    being fully evaluated along with feedback, consultation, and
    consideration of what the team learned and heard over the
    past years. Whatis clearis thatthere is a pent-up demand for
    this approach. This demand extends well beyond the CRA,
    who are regularly and actively sought out by other organizations to describe their experience with character leadership.
    HR has made recommendations to their senior officials in
    the CRA for the implementation of an enduring approach.
    The plan is founded on a deliberate, purposeful, and
    progressive approach. The next steps are broken into four
    broad areas. First, the CRA will examine the development of
    characterleadership in the workforce. This is consistent with
    understanding that developing leader character is more
    about the disposition to lead than the position to lead.
    The Agency recognizes that from entry level to senior EXs,
    this initiative is about more than selection and assessment.
    To inculcate character leadership in the organization, deliberate efforts will be needed. Over the next year, the CRA will
    examine options, work with partners in other government
    departments, experiment, and begin this focused effort.
    Second, the CRA will examine the opportunities for
    extending selection for character to other hiring processes.
    Given the positive experience with the staffing pilots, all EX
    appointments at the EX-01/02 level will be conducted over
    the fiscal year 2019/2020 using the framework and interview
    identified in this article. Over that same time period, the
    team will examine options for using character leadership
    assessment when selecting for higherlevel EXs and leaders of
    leaders, and they will consider how the Agency might
    conduct those interviews with specific reference to the
    contextual aspects of Judgment at higher levels. The Agency
    will also examine options and the feasibility of using the
    character leadership assessment for non-EX ranks. At CRA
    and other organizations, the volume of candidates may
    preclude character based interviews and therefore there
    is a need to examine alternative approaches to assessing
    Third, the Agency will continue to embed character
    leadership in performance management, talent management, and succession planning.
    Fourth, additional focus will be applied to long term
    effectiveness evaluation and an examination of the links
    between the character leadership approach and other key
    workforce aspects such as well-being, respect, and civility. It
    is an exciting time and elevating character leadership to an
    institutional approach is now the focus.
    HR will continue to rely on a characterleadership advisory
    group in the CRA. Senior officials and stakeholders across all
    branches and regions will convene to share awareness and
    take a collective view to steward the program and ensure a
    pan-CRA approach. Although HR is the steward of the initiative, the strategy to infuse character throughout the Agency
    focuses on a shared responsibility with business lines. Managers are accountable for the leadership agenda; therefore,
    a collective approach to implementation is a key to success.

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