Saturday, March 14, 2015

The secret to successful organizations: Let HR drive hiring

Why do organizations make bad hires?  Because they rely too much on supervisors to do the hiring.

Imagine this scenario.  You take your car into the shop because it's making a strange sound.  The mechanic fixes it, you pay, and you're about to leave.  But on your way out, the mechanic stops you.  She* notices that you're frustrated with your iPad because it's being sluggish.  She offers to fix it for you, reasoning that cars and iPads can't be all that different.

Would you take the mechanic up on her offer?

Of course not.  But handing over important decisions--arguably the most important decisions--to the wrong people is something organizations do every day.

Auto mechanics are trained to deal with a specific situation, and to do it successfully: fix cars.  Their education and experience prepares them to do so.

Similarly, supervisors are trained to do primarily one thing: supervise the day-to-day work.  They're usually promoted because they excelled at the line level (i.e., they understand the work) and they show aptitude for leadership (hopefully).  They are not, generally speaking, schooled or experienced with the professional side of personnel selection.

Am I suggesting supervisors NOT be involved?  Absolutely not.  Am I suggesting that all HR shops are staffed with experts in personnel assessment and measurement?  Nope.

What I am suggesting is organizations get serious about this issue and stop treating supervisors as if they are people measurement professionals.

In the modern workplace with information overload and time at a premium, it's tough enough to ensure that hiring and promotion decisions get made in a thoughtful fashion.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most supervisors overestimate their hiring ability.  After all, how hard can it be to interview someone?

Not hard, if you don't care about getting it right.  But getting it right requires careful thought and planning; hiring right is not something done at the last minute without regard to competencies that drive success in the specific position.  It's not something that looks exactly the same time.  It's tailored to the position, the culture, and the particular needs at the time.

Great hires happen systematically for one reason: a tight partnership between line supervisors and talented HR consultants.  The supervisor knows the job. They often know best what competencies are needed to perform the job successfully (although a good internal HR consultant will have a pretty good idea).  HR professionals are trained in the professional side of selection, recognizing the pitfalls and identifying those measures most likely to predict success.

"But our HR shop doesn't know what it's doing.  They don't have the expertise!" some might say.

Perhaps.  If so, you've just identified your second strategic problem.  And it should be fixed.  That's like having people in your budget office that are bad at math.

But consider this: you may be surprised to learn that many hiring supervisors welcome being removed as the primary driver of hiring.  Good supervisors recognize that this isn't their greatest strength, and they will be happy to have HR assist them in identifying the most qualified applicants.  Particularly in this age of online questionnaires and massive candidate lists for many jobs.

So who is responsible for ensuring this supervisor-HR partnership happens systematically and is built into the organizational culture?  The leaders at the top.  Director.  CEOs.  They're the ones minding the store, and they're ultimately responsible for organizational success.  They should be instituting policies, procedures, and cultural norms that emphasize how important and critical hiring is--so critical that it requires a team approach to get it right.

Anything else is simply not taking the success of the enterprise seriously.

* Did I throw you with a female mechanic?  Now might be a good time to take the implicit association test for gender and careers.


Jordan said...

Very insightful post here! I do definitely agree that HR should be in charge of hiring, with supervisors providing assistance rather than "driving" it.

Sarah Mercier said...

I am not sure this is the right approach. I believe a case could be made for the opposite too. Instead of taking absolute positions, maybe we should involve both of them.