Jane Armytage –  Former Lumina Learning Practitioner & Director at Athena Professional


Solving a Selection Dilemma for a Premier Property Developer

City & Country (C&C) are a development company who reimagine listed buildings to create exceptional places to live and work. Second generation builders, the Sargeant family own and run the company and combine fierce commercial sense with expertise in the building process. Their passion for craftmanship is evidenced by their multiple award-winning developments.


The company expanded from its Essex base to own sites nationally, including Donaldson’s Playfair in Edinburgh.  Originally a hospital and later a school for the deaf, Donaldson’s was designed by the eminent Edinburgh architect William Henry Playfair and was built between 1842-51.  It is an outstanding building of palatial elegance with many architectural features.  It is located on the western boundary of the Edinburgh World Heritage Site and is recognised as one of the most important landmark buildings in the city.


City & Country acquired this site in 2014 with the support of Joint Venture Capital investors and achieved planning permission for 112 residential units at Donaldson’s.  The design for the development won multiple awards for innovation and in 2018 the site launched for sale “off plan”, with a small sales team of three supported by Head Office in Essex.  Despite the build challenges involved in re-developing heritage sites, there remains intense commercial pressure to produce units and achieve sales in order to create a return.  The sales team play a crucial role in the financial success of the project.



Business Need 

City & Country had difficulties recruiting a third sales executive to the sales team at Donaldson’s. The Sales Director had initially recruited three staff. Two of the team had settled well; the third person had not. Several new sales execs came and went, but a good “fit” to complete the team was not found. Turn-over in personnel was having a negative impact on the morale and motivation of both the team and the Sales Director; everyone had to deal with an increased in workload in the absence of a permanent colleague, and this at a time when Donaldson’s was attracting significant interest from potential buyers.


In October 2018 Athena Professional, an award-winning learning and development consultancy, who support City & Country Group, were approached to help with the challenge of recruiting the right person into the vacant sales role.


City & Country were already using Lumina Spark, Emotion and Leader as part of their learning and development programmes, so the language and principles of the Lumina product range were already familiar. When Athena Professional suggested they use Lumina Select, the Sales Director was willing to give it a go. Three unsuccessful attempts to fill the role had proved expensive in terms of management time, training time and recruitment cost, and the lack of a new recruit was threatening to derail achieving the aggressive sales targets set for the Donaldson’s site.



Lumina Learning Solution

Digital Select launch logo

What was unusual or different about this issue?

Sales staff are highly skilled at presenting whatever they are selling in the most positive light. This makes interviewing them a real challenge, because they use the same skills to sell themselves! Commonly, they are good at masking any challenges or difficulties they have experienced in previous work situations, presenting only their best side.


Lumina Select enabled the Sales Director to get behind candidates’ “interview mask”, to ask challenging questions based on the underlying qualities identified in the portrait, and to explore how these would play out with the existing team.



What outcomes did you want to achieve?

The challenge was to find a candidate who would not only be skilled in selling high end properties but would work effectively with the existing team members and Head Office sales team.  The right person would be able to plan and organise leads, think on their feet and respond well with minimal supervision on a day-to-day basis, without making rash decisions.


What did you do?

The starting point was to understand which behaviours were of primary importance for the role to enable Lumina Select to weave its magic to compare each candidate’s competency potential to the highlighted competencies.


After discussion with the Sales Director we agreed on the seven competencies starred in the table to the right.


Once the shortlist of candidates was identified Lumina Select portraits and Interview Guides were completed for each candidate and the interviews took place.  After the interviews were completed each candidate also received their Lumina Spark Intro Portrait.


The first interview produced a clear favourite (Candidate A) who had excellent experience and sales skills and very strong potential in the yellow red competencies, albeit lower in the blue green.


However, there was a second candidate (Candidate B) who had slightly less experience and skills in relevant sales roles but showed significant potential across all four colours.


Before the second interviews the Sales Director was favouring Candidate A, as he had made such a positive impression at first interview.  However, with the Select Explainer to help, she examined the effective, blocking and overextended qualities and probed these in depth.


Candidate A

The Select portrait showed that Candidate A had the Qualities which drive the first four competencies together with excellent sales experience in relevant roles.  However, it also showed a distinct lack of the Qualities which drive the last three competencies:


  • Planning and organising
  • Being personally astute
  • Working together


These were combined with some concerning blockers which would make it more difficult to be able to “dial up” the relevant competencies. These competencies were explored in depth at the second interview using the Select interview guide.


No evidence was given that Candidate A was able to overcome these blockers, in fact quite the opposite.


Candidate B

Candidate B did not have the same level of experience in relevant sales roles but did appear to have the driving Qualities across all of the effective competencies.


However, the last 3 competencies gave cause for concern that, although showing clear potential for these competencies, there was a tendency to overextend, or overplay them.


In the interview, these tendencies were explored.  Candidate B demonstrated a high level of self-awareness combined with evidence of the ability to curb overextensions.  Candidate B’s answers at interview provided reassurance that overextensions would be kept in check.


As the recruitment process went on, the Sales Director realised that Planning and Organising, Working Together and Being Interpersonally Astute were the most critical competencies to enable the candidate to work effectively with the team with minimal supervision.



Candidate B was appointed, has integrated extremely well into the team and proved to be a very effective appointment.




“I do not ever want to recruit into a key position without this tool.  It helps to clarify the important competencies for the role and to look beyond the sales persona presented.  Being a good sales person is a given; it is the other qualities that make them into a truly successful recruit” – Suzanne Aplin, Sales Director



An Award Winning Project

We’re delighted that Athena Professional won the Excellence in coaching and training award from the ABP in 2017.


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