The most important value for start-up employees? Locus of control

    If hiring A-players is important to your company's growth, this article is simply not to be missed. We discuss one of the most important traits of an A-player, why it matters and importantly, how to discover a candidate's locus of control.

    If you already have a company full of A-players, this article isn't worth reading!


    The Parable


    Anna seems to get life just right. She's a joy to work with and completely dependable. If you need important things done, you usually ask her for help. You know that when a piece of work is in her hands, it's going to get done or she'll come back to you with questions if she's struggling.

    What's better, she usually sees things that you don't and brings a level of proactivity that pushes your team forward.


    Then there's Bert, he's a nice guy but every time you give him a piece of work, it never seems to come on time. There's always an excuse, the data team didn't give him the information on time, the timelines that were set weren't enough, and the client was difficult. Each time there's an excuse, and that excuse is kind of believable.

    Every time, you sit down and have a talk, relay the importance and he gets it. But nothing changes.

    The story paints locus of control at two extremes. Anna has an internal locus of control, and Bert has an external locus of control.

    Curious as to where you stand? Take the test


    What Does Locus of Control Mean?

    Locus of control is a psychological concept introduced by Julian Rotter in the 1950s. It assesses an individual's perception of control over their actions and the consequences of those actions.

    • People with an internal locus of control believe that they can influence their fate through their decisions and efforts
    • Individuals with an external locus of control tend to see their lives as being controlled by fate, luck, or powerful others.


    With almost seventy years of study, the results are robust...and surprising.


    1. Live 5 years less
    2. Are more likely to bankrupt a company if they are in charge
    3. Are less likely to succeed as a manager
    4. Will have higher blood pressure and a greater chance of obesity
    5. Are more likely to become depressed, and suffer from severe anxiety disorders.
    6. A study by Vance Caesar showed that they will have less wealth!
    7. Are more likely to have children with behavioural problems


    Fear not! Locus of control is not a fixed trait and is influenced by experience, upbringing, environment and of course, your own personal desire to be the best version of yourself.


    Why the best start-up talent is internally locussed

    Growth-stage businesses are in much greater need of the best talent than large enterprises. Hire too many B/C players and your fledgling company won't just stumble, it will evaporate.

    • Individuals with an internal locus of control actively seek solutions to challenges, believing they can influence outcomes through their efforts. Without the belief you can influence outcomes, start-ups wouldn't exist.
    • Internal locussed individuals bounce back from setbacks more effectively. They view failures as learning opportunities and persist in the face of adversity. As those within startups can attest, failure is common!
    • Internals are more persistent in their efforts to solve problems because they believe that their actions lead to outcomes and if they don't push to get something done, nothing will get done
    • As they believe in their ability to make a difference, individuals with an internal locus are more motivated to set ambitious goals and work diligently to achieve them.
    • An internal locus of control is linked to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. These individuals experience fewer feelings of helplessness and are more likely to seek social support.
    • Internals are usually information junkies and make more logical decisions because they feel that more and better inputs create better outcomes.
    • Research in organizational settings has shown that employees with an internal locus of control perform better, show greater job satisfaction, and have higher levels of career advancement.


    Why growth companies need internally locussed colleagues

    In the early years, you don't have that many people and you are battling on a number of fronts; you aren't well capitalized, you aren't well known and everyone's innovating (even the big ones).

    Ideas alone can't propel companies forward but great people can.

    Start-ups are, by definition, small. A small collective of ambitious people who can fight their way through to scaled enterprise. You can't hide and it becomes very clear to everyone if somebody doesn't pull their weight.

    At its most fundamental, you must hire people who believe the effort they put in will impact your company's success. Internally locussed people believe that more effort leads to greater outcomes - how about that for alignment?

    As a start-up, you are learning. You will make constant mistakes but it is the company that learns from mistakes the fastest that wins. Internally locussed people learn from mistakes.


    How do I find them?

    At the Berg Group we specialize in hiring A-players for growth companies and our entire process is based on making that happen.

    Each question we ask at the interview is designed to discover something specific and Locus of Control is something we specifically test for.

    We use two approaches to discover locus of control. First, as we deep dive into each of the candidate's previous experiences, we ask 'What were the highlights' and 'What didn't go to plan'. 

    The beauty of this question is that those with an internal locus of control will natural drift towards their own mistakes whereas those with an external locus will provide answers that indirectly (or directly) blame others.

    If we need further clarification we may ask the following directed question "What was your biggest professional mistake? What did you learn to ensure it doesn't repeat?"

    Even when you ask what YOUR biggest PROFESSIONAL MISTAKE is, an externally locussed person will relay a story where they didn't make a mistake at all, "I wasn't listened to enough", "I had a difficult teammate".

    An internally locussed person will answer the question as you asked. They will outline their biggest mistake because they know people make mistakes and they make a clear effort to grow from them. They aren't ashamed when things go wrong.

    The answer to the question is rarely black and white. We've heard both internals and externals discuss a weak teammate but the key is in how they structure the story.


    Key takeaways

    Hiring people with an internal locus of control will lead to better performance.

    Use our question set in an interview to help discover those candidates.

    If you don't feel confident and don't have 70 hours of free time to make a single hire, feel free to get in touch