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.
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.