Saturday, September 03, 2016

How to create the ultimate hiring system

Unless your organization is primarily composed of robots (which is becoming more of a reality for some*), arguably the most important thing you need to get right is hiring.  To restate the obvious, without the right people, in the right places, at the right time, your organization hampers its ability to innovate, collaborate, deliver, and fulfill your mission.

So how do you ensure that your organization consistently makes great hires?  Before I get into the steps, let's talk a little bit about culture.  None of the steps below will reliably deliver results unless you first get serious about two things: (1) disciplined processes and procedures, and (2) a clear understanding of the roles of HR versus hiring supervisors.

In order to make great hires time and time again, you have to document your practices and put them in place across the organization.  Everyone needs to understand that this is the way things are done here, not simply an initiative.  Supervisors and HR need to be trained--and reinforced--for how successful they implement these steps.

Speaking of these players, both hiring supervisors and HR need to be very clear about what their roles are.  Hiring supervisors are expected to know the job they're hiring for and what it takes to succeed in it.  HR is expected to have expertise in job analysis, recruiting, assessment, onboarding, and other aspects of talent management.  This should be part of their job descriptions, and their performance should be in part based on how successful they are at serving in these roles.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's talk about the steps your organization needs to have in place to ensure repeatable success in hiring.

Step 1: Know your Organizational Reputation.  Before you even think about hiring for a specific job, you need to think about the reputation of your organization.  Is it a destination employer, or an employer of last resort?  What do people say about your workplace?  This is important because it drives the pipeline of talent.  If you're a destination, the pump is primed and "hard to recruit jobs" becomes less of an issue, making the steps below that much easier.  Find out what the word on the street is about your organization--how do your employees feel? Your customers? Prospective applicants?

Step 2. Analyze the job.  Yes, many jobs are becoming more fluid, but even narrowing the job to its occupational category helps.  Think about the most important tasks the person will perform on a day-to-day basis and what competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities are required to perform them.  Sites like O*NET are a huge resource so you don't reinvent the wheel.  Without knowing the job, hiring is a roll of the dice.

Step 3. Develop a recruitment/assessment strategy.  Ya gotta have a plan.  It doesn't have to be a 20-page missive, but you need to document what your plan is, otherwise you're unlikely to cover all the bases.  Honestly here's where a lot of hiring processes fall apart--people have the best intentions but they forget about certain key steps.  Hey, here's an idea: use the same document that you used to document the job in Step 2!  The way the key competencies will be linked to how you plan to recruit and assess for each of them.

Step 4. Use multiple and creative recruitment strategies.  The only time "post and pray" is acceptable (and even then I'd argue against it) is if you've nailed your reputation as described in Step 1.  Recruiting is sales, plain and simple--you're selling the job, the organization, and the people.  Use the web, but also think about physical interactions, including open houses.  Reach out to schools.  Develop realistic job previews.  Hire recruiters that have a marketing and sales background.  Don't be afraid to push the envelope if you need to stand out from the crowd.  Honestly, the sky is the limit.

Step 5. Use multiple high-quality assessments, internet and mobile whenever possible.  In-person interviews aren't going away any time soon (although many of those are migrating online), but they should be only one tool  in your belt--not the only tool.  Assessment starts with how you recruit, because you allow applicants to self-select in and out.  It continues with assessments embedded in the application process, whether that's a statement of qualifications, an online survey, or a set of online skills assessments.  And don't forget to make any "minimum qualifications" truly minimum--please don't rely on hard-and-fast "X years of experience" or "Y degree"--those should be suggestions.  The important thing isn't the type of assessment, it's that you're using several and they're tied to those important competencies you identified in Step 2.  In short, using a single assessment is like buying a house based on what it looks like from the outside.

Step 6: Don't forget about them once you make the offer.  Again, this is pretty obvious, but once you've made the offer, don't breath a sigh of relief and get back to your Inbox--your job isn't over yet, not by a long shot.  Your new employee needs to feel welcomed to the organization, have the tools they need, understand what the expectations are, and get continual feedback--in other words, feel like they made the right choice and have a successful future with you.

Get these simple steps right, make them part of your organizational DNA, and you will ensure that not only do you get hiring right--you'll get performance right.

* Stay tuned for my signature article of 2018, "How to hire the right robot for the job"

p.s. this post marks 10 years for my blog!  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Welcome to Sacramento, IPAC'ers!

This year, IPAC's annual conference is here in my home of Sacramento from July 31 - August 3.  I'll be there Monday afternoon for a session titled "Fits and Starts: The Evolution of Testing for the State of California (Special Invited Session)", where I'll be interviewing my good friend, Adria Jenkins-Jones.  Here's the description:

In this lively discussion, the presenters will discuss the current state of employment testing for the state of California, including significant recent and upcoming changes to our examination software. Using an interview format, the presenters will discuss the massive changes envisioned for statewide testing, and how the California Department of Human Resources is attempting to collaborate with stakeholders to change the traditional paradigm, and significantly improve automation, while maintaining the commitment to merit. The presenters will engage in open dialogue and there will be time for audience members to ask questions about current and future directions of testing for the state.

Feel free to use the comments section below to post the sessions you plan on attending, or anything about your experience!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Hiring for goodwill (not Goodwill)

Those of us that write, teach, and consult on personnel assessment usually paint the process as a very rational process broken into several steps:

Step 1) Study the job to identify the critical tasks

Step 2) Identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities (or competencies) required day one to perform those tasks

Step 3) Create selection systems that accurately measure candidates' levels of #2

Step 4) Hire the person(s) who demonstrate the highest scores on #3

But as you know, hiring is rarely so logical.  In some cases this is due to organizations not having the expertise, or making the time, to follow the steps above.

But in other cases, there are simply other factors at play--factors that can't be ignored by the decision makers because they exert such a significant influence on the process.  And these factors are largely intangible, meaning they're more difficult to quantify and therefore not typically included explicitly in a standard assessment process.

For the purposes of discussion, I'm not talking about negative factors, such as illegal discrimination or selections based purely on politics.  Instead, let's think of potentially useful constructs.

For example:

1) Physical presence related to professionalism.  Let's be honest, looks matter when it comes to interviews.  In general, polished shoes beat flip flops.  Suits beat sweats.  No scent beats heavy cologne/perfume.  But this may not be given a formal rating during the process--for several reasons, including the difficulty of rating and the potential overlap with discriminatory considerations.  But again, that doesn't mean it's not a factor.

2) Honesty.  How many times have you been on an interview panel and perceived a candidate more positively because he/she was honest--about a weakness, for example, or about what they need to be successful in the position.  It matters, and one reason it matters is because so many candidates hide behind a veneer of perfection.  But are you giving them a formal rating on honesty?

3) Potential.  The applicant may not have demonstrated the KSAs that are key for the job, and thus may score poorly on assessments that measure past performance.  But that doesn't mean they aren't capable of learning those KSAs, and even exceeding the performance of those that have already mastered them.  Why?  Because individual performance is more than just the KSAs someone brings to the job--it's also about the organizational environment, onboarding, development opportunities, the supervisor, and other factors that often go unmeasured during the hiring process (e.g., personality).

4) Preexisting relationships.  It's quite common for organizations to seek out individuals who have existing relationships that can be capitalized on.  For example, someone may have relationships with potential customers, or may be able to access a market in a different way.  If an organization is trying to enhance its relationship with certain key stakeholders, they may seek out someone who already has established connections.  Sales professions immediately comes to mind, but other types, such as consultants or leadership positions, may also benefit greatly from these connections.

In many ways these factors can be thought of as individual goodwill, similar to the accounting principle.  In this context, an organization's brand is an example of an intangible asset that nonetheless has great value.  And in a similar way, individual goodwill is difficult to quantify.

So what is someone that cares deeply about hiring right to do about all this?

First of all, acknowledge that these factors play a role.  Any attempts to link your assessments to outcomes that don't take these factors into account is missing a huge potential explanatory factor.  You may draw conclusions regarding your assessments that are simply false because of the nature of the selection decision.

Second, attempt whenever possible to build these intangibles into the hiring process.  For example, preexisting relationships could be considered part of a communication competency.  If hiring for potential, break down what the core abilities are that you're considering for potential--chances are you can measure those.  There are both overt and covert measures of honesty and integrity--that work.

Third, as an assessment community, we should all recognize that these factors play a role.  When we research, teach, and consult on hiring, acknowledge these factors, and help others understand how to take them into consideration when designing a successful selection system.

In the end, it's a relatively simple prescription: let's make the intangible, tangible.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

One way to reduce interviewer leniency/severity

A persistent challenge in interviews is that certain interviewers tend to be lenient (i.e., score candidates highly) while others are consistently more severe (i.e., score candidates lower).  This of course is not ideal as it introduces measurement bias as well as reduces the defensibly of the process.

One way to reduce these tendencies discussed by Hartwell and Campion in the June 2016 issue of Journal of Applied Psychology is to provide interviewers with what they call "normative feedback interventions."  Basically what this means is giving interviewers data on how they rate candidates over time compared to how other interviewers rated.  It can reveal to interviewers that they tend to rate candidates more harshly, or more easily, than others.

What Hartwell and Campion found in their study (of over 20,000 interviews using more than 100 interviewers) is that by providing this feedback to interviewers, it minimized interviewer differences and increased interview reliability--both obviously good things in terms of quality of the process.  Interestingly, it did not seem to impact the validity of the interviews, but it did impact which particular candidates were hired.

Up until now, one of the most often recommended practices for reducing rating errors has been pre-interview instructions and guidance regarding these errors.  What this study suggests is we can do even better by providing interviewers with objective data about their ratings over time.  Listening to someone talking about rating bias probably feels a lot different than actually seeing how you do compared to your peers!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Some easy tests to improve your hiring success

The interview is such a commonly used hiring assessment that it's hardly worth mentioning (although there is always room for improvement).

But what if you're already doing interviews and you want some easy to implement add-ons?  No problem.  Here are some ways to improve quality of hire for knowledge worker positions that don't take a long time, an automated solution, or a PhD to develop:

1. Pre-screening questionnaire.  Whether you use something quick and cheap like SurveyMonkey or your own proprietary assessment system, it's easy to create open- and closed-ended items that serve to screen out the uninterested, allow you to get some more detail from candidates, and even help you solve problems you've been struggling with!  Keep it relatively short so you don't dissuade the most in-demand candidates.

2. Targeted cover letter.  Don't just ask for a generic cover letter, ask applicants to describe in their letter how their background syncs with the core competencies you're looking for.  Remember: limit the length; two pages is generally sufficient.

3. Research project.  As part of the application process, as candidates to look into an issue that's relevant for the job.  How do they think the new overtime regulations will impact the industry?  What new technologies are on the horizon that will change the way this job is done?  Have them briefly write up their results, and/or ask about it during your interview.

4. Writing exercise.  There's no substitute for live demonstrations of writing ability.  Have them correct a document you've messed up, ask them to write a quick memo to a customer--just something related to the core duties of the job that you would expect them to be able to do day one.

5. Rule/procedure application.  Knowledge worker jobs are characterized by frequent application of laws, rules, and procedures to specific situations.  Either provide them with the rules ahead of time or give them the short version, then give them a specific fact pattern and have them come up with a solution or options.

6. Oral presentation.  Have you ever been on a hiring panel where there's an oral presentation?  If not, you're missing out.  Presentations are a great way to mix things up and see those different skillsets that a candidate brings.  Of course realize that you're adding a presentation to an interview, which I'm pretty sure are both in the top five of most stressful events.

Notice that you can mix and match theses approaches: have them do a rule/procedure application and then write a memo.  Have them do an oral presentation on a topic they researched ahead of time.  Of course, the tests you use should be based on the requirements of the job; start with entry level KSAs needed and let the assessments flow from that.  Beyond that, be creative!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

First, get the people basics right

Competencies, talent, gamification... there's no doubt about it, we like us some buzzwords.  Like bright shiny objects, these ideas entice--and largely detract.

Sometimes new ideas and ways of thinking can lead to significant improvements in the way organizations manage their people. But here's the truth that no one seems to want to talk about: many organizations fail to get the basics right.  So while leaders may be leaping headlong into the nanofied virtual talent management sunset, the foundation of HR is lacking.

What are these basics of which I speak?

1. Adequately defining jobs--based on subject matter expert data.   Every single job should be defined and documented in terms of key tasks, requirements, and expectations.  The form this takes is less important than the quality of the data. This is the bedrock that helps you recruit, select, reward, and manage effectively.

2. Recruiting like you're selling, not like you're being forced to.   Writing attractive job ads is so easy, why aren't we swimming in them?  The same reason many organizations fail to accurately describe the job: laziness and lack of discipline.

3. Using valid hiring measures.  Speed of hire is important, but not even remotely as important as quality.   I can make you a sandwich really quickly if it's just bread.   Do you think Google gets millions of resumes each year because candidates are hoping for a quick hire?  Importantly, the higher in the organization, the more time should be spent on valid assessment.

4. Holding leaders accountable for being leaders. This really should be #1 except I was trying to go chronologically (and will fail miserably).  All too often, it's the line staff who are quickly called to the carpet when they make mistakes.   But holding leaders accountable for their behavior (hint: ask their subordinates) is exponentially more powerful.

5.  Listening to each other.  Many if not most good ideas for improving your organization are in the heads of your line staff.   Do you ask them regularly and implement their ideas?  Is listening skill considered critical for all employees?

6.  Saying thank you.  It's easy, it's cheap.   Do it more, and mean it.  

7.  Dealing firmly with poor performance.  This is top to bottom, from not being helpful on the phone to running productive meetings.  Again, the higher in the organization, the more important this is.

8.  Growing your people--forever.  Sure,  they may leave, but they'll leave sooner if you don't invest in them.  And like everything else on this list, it grows your reputation. 

9. Treating people with respect and fundamental human decency.   If you have this as a backbone, many other things simply follow.  There's a reason why one of the most popular business books recently is The No Asshole Rule.

None of this is incredibly difficult, it just takes the most precious resource of any organization: time.   And it takes commitment and discipline.  But these aren't initiatives.   They're part of an organization's DNA--or not.  They're how people respond when asked what it's like to work there.   And who is responsible for ensuring they happen ?  The people at the top. 

So before your organization jumps on to the latest buzzword bandwagon, make sure it's getting these basics right (by, I dunno, measuring them). Just promise me this, if you pick just one thing on this list:

Select.  Good.  Leaders.