Sunday, December 12, 2010

Haste makes waste

"Here you go, way too fast
don't slow down you're gonna crash
you should watch -- watch your stay here
don't look out you're gonna break you neck"
- The Primitives

There are many pieces of advice I could give the average employer when it comes to recruiting and hiring the right way. Make your job ads more attractive and concise. Use realistic job preview technology. Conduct thorough job analyses. Reduce your over-reliance on interviews.

But I'd be hard pressed to come up with a more important piece of advice than this: SLOW DOWN.

Too often organizations rush through the recruitment and selection process, relying on past practice and not giving it the attention it deserves. The result is often poor applicant pools and disappointing final selection choices.

Here are some classic warning signs things are going the wrong way:

"We don't have time to re-do the advertisement"
"Let's just do interviews like we did last time"
"The questions we used last time will be fine"

When you hear these types of comments, your reaction should be: "Because they worked so well last time?" Okay, maybe that's what you think. What you say is: "What information do we have about their prior success?" Hiring decisions are too important to be left to hunches and cognitive laziness--we all know this. Yet it's surprising how often folks fail to put in the effort they should.

Why do people fall into this trap? Mostly because it's easier that way (although naivete and lack of organizational processes play a role). Decision makers naturally gravitate toward the path of least resistance (we do love our heuristics), and it takes resilience to put in the effort each time. But it's not just because humans are lazy. It's because we're busy, and because other factors tend to overshadow sound selection--like organizational politics or feeling that someone is "owed" the job.

Decision making as a field of study tends to be overlooked when it comes to hiring, and that's a shame (ever heard of escalation of commitment?). Fortunately there is a large body of research we can learn from, and this cross-fertilization is the subject of the first focal article by Dalal, et al. in the December 2010 issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. They point out that the field of I/O psychology is hurting itself by not taking advantage of the theories, methods, and findings from the field of judgment and decision-making.

One of their main recommendations is to make "a concerted effort to consider the benefits of adopting courses of action other than the favored one." This could mean things like having devils advocates and group decision making automatically part of your hiring plan. It could even be as simple as a checklist that hiring supervisors fill out to ensure they're not rushing it. Or--heaven forbid--we could hold supervisors accountable for the quality of their hiring decisions.

There are several interesting commentaries following the article, making many different points. One of my favorites is from Kristine Kuhn, who I'll now quote from liberally:

"...evidence-based recommendations to use statistical models to select employees rather than more holistic, subjective assessments meet substantial resistance. The ambiguous criterion of "fit" is advanced by many experienced practitioners as a reason for not relying solely on validated predictive indices."

"Despite considerable evidence that typical interviews do not add predictive validity, managers often resist attempts to impose even minimal structure." (Consider this the next time you follow-up a structured interview with a more casual unstructured one)

"Some managers may be receptive to training and even willing to implement structural changes in selection procedures. But this will only be the case if the primary goal is in fact to hire the people most to likely to perform well and not those with whom they will be most comfortable interacting."


As for me, I'm going to make a New Years resolution to take more deep breaths and slow down. Most involved in hiring would do well to do the same.

I should point out there is another focal article in this issue by Drasgow, et al. that you methodology folks will like. In it, the authors argue that rating scale methods derived from Likert's approach (the 5-point response scale) are inferior to ones that have evolved from the (older) ideas of Thurstone.

In a nutshell, the authors describe how the latter approach focuses on an "ideal point" that describes an individual's standing on a particular trait. It involves, as part of the rating scale design, asking people to provide ratings that might seem unnaturally forced or incongruous (do you like waffles or Toyotas?). But the authors argue strongly that this approach offers tangible improvements for things like personality inventories.

The commentators are...shall we say...skeptical. But the back-and-forth makes for some interesting reading if this is your cup of tea.

1 comment:

sample said...

I totally agree with your post! I have seen this in my own company. They do the recruiting process very fast and in the end they take worthless employees. Again after 3 months of prohibition they are removed and new recruiting starts..this is all a big mess. Hope this recruiting process should be slowed down, else this could effect the company's values! anyways i fell you need to shared this with face book!

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