Foundations of Performance – Restaurant Front-of-House: Cognitive Ability

How can you confidently hire people who will meet your performance expectations?  The first step is defining performance and the qualities you need in your team to be successful.  In our Foundations for Performance series, we highlight essential performance drivers within and across industries.  Hiring for these characteristics will increase quality of hire, fit, and retention.

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What is Cognitive Ability?

We do things every day that requires some level of cognitive ability, both at work and in our personal lives. We pay attention to learn and process new information, we communicate with each other, we think through problems and make decisions, and we adjust to daily demands by multi-tasking and prioritizing.  Whether it’s organizing a work project, making financial decisions, or coming up with a creative solution, we rely on our cognitive ability to make choices that will help us navigate through our experiences and accomplish work and personal tasks.

The scientific definition of cognitive ability is the mental processes and mechanisms of how we use our brain-based skills. Functions like mem­ory and attention play a critical role in cognitive ability.

When we use our cognitive processes to pay attention, memorize, reason, or learn by verbal and visual information, we then have to decide what to do with that information. This results in how we make decisions, solve problems, manage our time, set goals, and adapt to new information. Cognitive ability is not just about how smart you are, and it’s not just about acquired knowledge, (the what of what we know). It’s also about using our brains to do something with that information; (the how) to comprehend and apply that information to our daily work and personal lives.

Why Should You Hire for It?

Cognitive ability has a direct impact on job performance for a large variety of positions. Cognitive ability assessments are consistently shown to be some of the strongest predictors of job performance. Why? Because each time we use our brain-based skills there is an outcome, and that outcome (the decisions we make with the information we are given) has a direct link to how well we perform in our jobs. Cognitive ability assessments help predict not only what someone will do, but their likelihood of success.

Cognitive Ability in Front-of-the-House

Let’s apply the use of cognitive ability skills to a practical everyday example. An applicant is hired as a server at a restaurant. They have the knowledge of what it takes to serve customers (based on the application information that tells us they have worked in several restaurants as a server). It’s safe to assume they know they need to greet the customer, get their drinks and appetizers, take their dinner order, check on them regularly, and bring them the bill when they are done. But do you know how they would do if they had to complete those varying tasks at your restaurant with your expectations (competency: coordinating multiple activities simultaneously and managing time)? What if their customer’s food was delivered to the table and the plate was missing the coveted cheesy broccoli that was suggested (competency: attention to detail and monitoring to ensure standards are met)? What if they were asked by the manager to shift gears and help the busser during the dinner rush (competency: adjusting to multiple demands)? How quickly they adapt to new environments, analyze and evaluate surrounding information, and determine appropriate actions are examples of cognitive ability skills. The quicker they are able to learn and respond, the shorter the training time, and the greater the accuracy they will have in performing job tasks. Don’t we all want employees who learn quickly and adapt to new situations without instruction?

Your front-of-house employees typically have high customer contact and selecting candidates with greater cognitive ability will help ensure consistent execution of your intended customer experience, and your ability to reach critical business and financial results.

Which Cognitive Ability Skills Are the Most Important?

Through our experience, research, and validation studies, we’ve identified three components of cognitive ability that are important for predicting performance:

Fluid Intelligence: Ability to process and learn new information

Verbal Ability: Vocabulary and verbal reasoning

Mathematical Ability: Basic numerical calculations, percentages, and ability to think logically

Candidates who score higher on these components are able to adjust easier to multiple demands and sudden change, use logic and reasoning to consider the long-term impact of actions, and use their critical thinking skills and logic to solve problems. Don’t we all want employees who can multi-task, adapt to new challenges, and use critical thinking to work through daily matters at work?

In addition, it has been found that those who scored higher are:

15X more effective at managing his or her time

10X more conscientious in fulfilling work obligations

14X more professional and takes a “no excuses” approach to his or her attitude and performance

Measuring cognitive ability

So how can you best measure cognitive ability in your applicants? While resumes and interviews can be helpful for identifying if an applicant possesses the necessary technical skills, the best way to measure cognitive ability skills are through assessments. Measuring these skills early on in the hiring process will weed out applicants that may look promising on paper, but don’t have the necessary skills to advocate for your brand. By hiring employees who demonstrate higher levels of cognitive ability you can increase performance, fit with your culture, and retention.

What's Next?

Let’s apply the use of cognitive ability skills to a practical everyday example. An applicant is hired as a server at a restaurant. They have the knowledge of what it takes to serve customers (based on the application information that tells us they have worked in several restaurants as a server). It’s safe to assume they know they need to greet the customer, get their drinks and appetizers, take their dinner order, check on them regularly, and bring them the bill when they are done. But do you know how they would do if they had to complete those varying tasks at your restaurant with your expectations (competency: coordinating multiple activities simultaneously and managing time)? What if their customer’s food was delivered to the table and the plate was missing the coveted cheesy broccoli that was suggested (competency: attention to detail and monitoring to ensure standards are met)? What if they were asked by the manager to shift gears and help the busser during the dinner rush (competency: adjusting to multiple demands)? How quickly they adapt to new environments, analyze and evaluate surrounding information, and determine appropriate actions are examples of cognitive ability skills. The quicker they are able to learn and respond, the shorter the training time, and the greater the accuracy they will have in performing job tasks. Don’t we all want employees who learn quickly and adapt to new situations without instruction?

Your front-of-house employees typically have high customer contact and selecting candidates with greater cognitive ability will help ensure consistent execution of your intended customer experience, and your ability to reach critical business and financial results.

Considering Adding Assessments to Your Hiring Process?

Assessments are powerful tools that increase your accuracy in selecting quality hires: those who perform, fit, and stay. To help you evaluate assessment providers, read our whitepaper, 10 Considerations for Selecting an Assessment Provider, which includes an evaluation checklist.

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