Dr. Geoff Smart: Chairman and Founder of ghSMART


Geoff’s academic background includes a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University, as well as a PhD in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University. Currently, Geoff is the chairman of ghSMART, a management assessment firm based in the Los Angeles area that he founded in in 1995. His firm consults with fortune 500 CEOs and boards, billionaire entrepreneurs, and heads of state. He is also the author of numerous books including: Who: The A Method for Hiring, Power Score: Your Formula for Leadership Success, and Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government. Geoff’s energy and passion for topics related to talent management made the informational interview stimulating and motivating for those of us who wish to pursue a career in the field.

Your Host,

M. Brandon Angelos


1. Please describe what you do in your current role?

I’m the chairman and founder of ghSMART, a management assessment firm. My primary role for this year is to do a marketing test to see if we should start an events business. Currently, our organization is comprised of two parts: the consulting business and book development and creation. I’ve been thinking of ways to innovate and one way I believe we can accomplish this is by hosting events. Our first event, called Smart Fest, will take place in two weeks and the idea behind these events is to share our knowledge with others. With this being said, one of my primary roles, for this year, is to innovate and promote this event.

I would define my 2nd role as supporting the core which involves hosting quarterly meetings with our managing partner to monitor progress, problem solve, and to examine the financial aspect of our business.

My 3rd role is sales. When a prospective client contacts the office, occasionally I will visit the client with a colleague and help sell the person.

My 4th role is developing my colleagues. This involves conducting career chats with colleagues, providing performance feedback, as well as discussing how they can succeed at the firm.

My final role is brand ambassador which entails giving speeches to promote our brand. Just this week I Skyped in with Professor Yip’s Talent Management course at Claremont Graduate University, I did an in-person meeting with MIT Sloan, and taught at Harvard Business School. The goal of these speeches is to educate the world about our methods and to help individuals become better leaders and to promote our brand. 

2. What are some of the experiences or skills that have prepared you for your current role? How do you draw on these experiences or skills in your work?

In high school I sold newspapers at a grocery store which taught me a lot about sales and rejection. For an individual who has never been in a sales position, dealing with this type of rejection can be very jarring. However, if you have sold something to someone in your past, the fear of rejection is greatly reduced which enhances your selling abilities. I still draw on these sales experiences whenever the job requires it. To prepare myself for my first sales job, I listened to a lot of audio books on different sales tactics. I still use these frameworks to pitch million-dollar consulting projects today. These frameworks help me anticipate clients’ needs, determine potential reasons for rejection, and ways to overcome these rejections.  Furthermore, my experience on the debate team has helped with my public speaking.

I would say my undergraduate and graduate training prepared me for about 1/3rd of my current role. In graduate school I was heavily trained in the scientific method and research methods and this has really helped prepare me for doing research and writing books. I also learned a lot about clinical psychology listening skills which have transferred over to the consulting context. In undergrad I studied economics and I use finance and economics as a business leader every day to evaluate our business performance.

3. What are some innovative practices that you have observed or implemented in the area of talent management?

The innovative practices that we have discovered include the creation of a scorecard which involves creating a set of criteria for hiring, not just on a profile, but on what you want someone to actually accomplish and thinking about those criteria that tend to be pretty “squishy”, such as culture.

Providing people with quantitative feedback is not something that is new to the field of talent management but it’s very unevenly practiced. At ghSMART, all of my employees get at least 20 bits of quantitative data, every 6-12 months, on how they are doing coupled with qualitative data. A lot of employees really enjoy this type of objective/quantitative feedback on their client satisfaction metrics, revenue metrics, goals vs actual results and often have not received this type of feedback at their other jobs. Sure, many managers know that they are supposed to be giving people data to understand how they are performing and to provide talent development information. However, a lot of times this is not always practiced.

Another innovative practice around talent management that is practiced at my firm involves creating a career roadmap for employees. We have a sit down with our employees and help map out their career, not just at our firm, but beyond as well. We will ask questions such as “what do you want to do across your entire career?” and this helps us understand how we can really make their time here count.

4. What kinds of research or data do you use in your talent management practice? What kinds of research or data do you wish you could have – one that would be useful to you but is not currently available?

Most often we collect qualitative data from our clients. For example, when we are doing assessments for candidates, either for hire here or for another firm, we collect 50 pages of notes ina structured way that helps us to map out their whole career chronology. Mapping out someone’s career chronology helps answer questions such as “what was the person hired to do?”, “what did they accomplish?”, “what are the data or facts around their different jobs?”, “what did they not do so well?”, “how highly were they rated by their bosses and peers?”, and “why did they exit the job?”

I would love to have access to ALL data. Data are power and the more data you have, the better. If the cost to acquire data was lower and the ability to analyze it was higher, I think it would make the match making process of talent acquisition and talent development way better. I think in the world of big data that we are entering, the era of big data analytics and predictive analytics, both talent acquisition and talent development will get better and more useful with more data.

5. What advice might you give to an aspiring professional who would like to develop a career as a talent management professional?

I would recommend developing skills in two areas that are not obvious. The first area of skill development would be to add finance and business to your repertoire. Understanding finance and business can really help you to understand the business context in which you operate and can help enhance your ability to be persuasive with decision makers. A lot of times, when one does not have a background in finance or business, people end up saying things such as “we ought to do this or we ought to do that”. Instead, you ought to say something like “I think we should put a million dollars into this and here is the return on the investment that I expect and this is how it will help other business metrics”.

The second area of skill development involves selling, public speaking, and persuasive communication which are really important to many jobs. You can be extremely smart and have the right answer to very complex problems, but if you can’t persuade people to act, whether you are a recruiting professional, a consultant, or an internal HR person, you’re not adding as much value to the world as if you were able to persuade people to take action. I would recommend reading books and taking classes on sales and take classes on persuasive speaking and writing.