hiring management

COMPETE: What's Your Problem with Hiring?

Your job posting is a rough sketch of the candidate you want. But what you need is someone with skills that impact teamwork, efficiency, trust and ultimately, the bottom line.

Is the following story familiar to you?   After an extensive and thorough search for a manager, one candidate stands out. This candidate has the right experience, solid qualifications and a relevant work history. She gave an impressive performance during the interview process, said all the right things, put forward some great ideas and generally presented very well. You decide to hire her. Filling this position with the right person is vital because the department has been under-functioning for quite some time and morale has been low.

Three months later, you question your decision. Your new hire's team is disgruntled, morale is at an all-time low, and output and productivity are well behind the figures from the previous quarter.   After investigating further, and speaking with a few key team members, you realize there's a disconnect—a mismatch. While she looked impressive on paper and presented well during interviews, your new hire's style, approach, and behavior on the job are simply inconsistent with the values and expectations of your organization. Her modus operandi is completely out of sync with the culture of your organization. The perfect candidate, who looked like a princess, turned out to be a frog. The End.

This all too familiar scenario points to some broad and troubling facts:  

 • 85% of applicants are unfit  for the job;    

55% of employees are  dissatisfied with their jobs;    

46-49% of new hires leave  within 18 months;    

30% of business failures  are due to poor hiring  decisions;  

 • 80% of partnerships end  due to personality or style  of influence differences.  

These hiring mistakes are costly. If you make a mistake in hiring, and recognize and rectify the mistake within six months, the cost of replacing that employee is two and one-half times the person's annual salary. Put another way, the wrong person earning $50,000 will cost your company $125,000. The wrong executive making $150,000 will cost $375,000…if you rectify the mistake within six months.

What's the Problem with Hiring?

In preparation for this article, I asked a group of my hiring-consultant colleagues to come by the office one Friday after work. I promised them adult beverages in return for their ideas. Even though I've been involved in the candidate selection business for a long time now, I thought it would be fun to hear what they had to say about hiring. I did not prompt them regarding what would be discussed, only that they had to "pay for their supper.” Only after everyone had settled in did I throw out my first question.   

"What's the problem with hiring?”  

I expected a lengthy silence but was surprised with both the immediacy and ferocity of the responses.   

"It's just like dating!” huffed the lone single female and the youngest of the group. "They look good, they smell good, they say all the right things and frankly they seem both interested and interesting. But they are never the same six months later.”   

"Am I right to guess that you've had some recent personal experience with this?” I asked her—a self-described serial dater. "Let me tell you about it,” she began while presenting me with her glass for a refill. Twenty minutes later, I managed to get the group back on track.   

"It's more like using a piece of raw meat to coax a stray dog to come closer,” said my elder colleague. "They might just take you up on the offer…and your hand along with it.

”I wasn't exactly sure what Senior meant although something strangely rang true with his country metaphor. I have a good guess that he was referring to bad hires that end up biting off more than their fair share and doing significant damage to morale, customer relations, budgets, and plain old mental energy for the effort surrounding the seemingly never ending hiring and rehiring cycle.   

After thirty minutes of verbally milling about, I decided to throw out a radical statement to further focus the discussion and see what kind of dust I could stir up: "The problem has nothing to do with applicants. It has to do with the hiring practices—or lack thereof—of the hiring organization.”   

And dust it did stir.

"You cannot be serious,” said Senior. "My guess is that some of these material handling organizations are, or have been, family owned and operated for many years. Am I right?”

"Yes, that's right.”   "Then that means that some of these founders are older baby-boomers and are now in the process of hiring twenty-somethings. I guarantee you that one of their major complaints is that a chasm exists between ‘boomers' and twenty-somethings in both work ethic and loyalty.  Do you not agree that generational differences are both real and potentially problematic?”

"I do.”

"Then how can you say that the problem does not partially exist with the applicants?” "Wait just a minute,” retorted Serial Dater, just emerging from her previous rant. "Not all of us twenty-somethings are slackers, but it's ridiculous to believe that responsibility for hiring problems don't also exist with the applicants.  They come to the interview with all sorts of problems.”   

"Yes, but…”  

"What our young friend is trying to say is that mommy and daddy have been at their beck and call since day one!” scowled Senior. "Social networks have given them immediate access to information and have, in turn, limited their already impeded attention span. Sure, they can multi-task, but can they finish anything that resembles quality service or a first-rate product? No, and the reason why is because they have been given blue ribbons and gold trophies all their lives for just showing up. Heck, I saw a kid on my daughter's third grade soccer team kick a ball into her team's own goal—scoring for the other team—and received accolades from the coach for making contact with the ball! That teaches ‘em that they are valuable regardless of what they produce!”    

Strangely, Serial Dater was nodding her head in total agreement. Seeing these two in agreement over anything was odd.  

Round Peg for Round Hole

In the background, and relatively quiet to this point, was another young colleague and devotee of Good to Great. For those of you who have never read the classic organizational development book by Jim Collins, I cannot say enough good things about it. It's basically where the phrase "put the right people on the bus” came from. It's about how to overcome the curse inherent to good companies: those who are good but not great.    "It seems to me that the proper discussion is not where the problem exists, but where the responsibility lies,” said Good to Great.

"Ooooh, that sounds prophetic,” said Serial Dater. "Do tell!”    Flirtation was in the offing.

"Well…we are talking about job selection here, are we not? The objective for each vacant position then is to choose the type of person who fits the desired culture or who possesses the values of the organization. It seems that hiring someone who "fits” would go a long way toward diminishing problems down the road. Companies have to move away from hiring a square peg for a round hole and then trying to change them. In fact, I suggest that if you select the right person in the beginning, less money will need to be spent on development training down the road.”  

Serial Dater was transfixed and I was getting exactly what I had hoped for: the very type of discussion that you owners and managers of material handling and logistics  organizations need to have about the problem with hiring. As we discussed the topic throughout the evening, we came to the not-so-brilliant conclusion that hiring is fraught with pitfalls from both sides of the table. But perhaps the most useful outcome we discussed involved the number of hiring solutions available on the market today. First, let's briefly discuss those pitfalls because then the solutions will make perfect sense.  

Hiring Pitfalls

It is a given that potential employers want to know whether the person sitting in front of them will do a good job. To make this determination, interviewers attempt to gauge a candidate's knowledge, skills and experience. Utilizing interview questions, the candidate's resume and then previous employer recommendations tease out these traditional hiring criteria. But a King Kong-sized problem exists with this approach. Knowledge, skills and experience do not predict future performance.   

How will someone perform under both predictable and not-so-predictable situations? What will they do if their job changes to include supervision or leadership or strict deadlines? To make these determinations you need data that reveals:     

Cognitive style;    

Emotional intelligence and relational style;    

Goal forcefulness;    

Detail order;    

Personality style    

Interests & motivation;     

Job fit (the intersection between job requirements and candidate qualities);    

Company culture.  

Too many employers make the mistake of extrapolating a candidate's future performance from a brief interview. The mistake is to assume that an individual's interview behavior will naturally transfer to the work environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.   

Interviews are very poor predictors of what candidates-turned-employees will do. The culprit is oftentimes something called confirmation bias. This type of bias—or preconceived notion—means that despite our belief that we are very objective creatures, we actually see the world through a filter that causes us to think selectively. We see what we want to see (positively or negatively) and reject what we don't want to see. All sports fans are familiar with this. That interference call against our home team's defensive back was wrong! Conservative radio talk stimulates all sorts of confirmation bias. If you are a political conservative you probably support Rush Limbaugh. If you are a political liberal, you probably believe that Limbaugh is full of bull and that little he says makes sense. We tend to confirm what we already believe. We tend to reject what we do not believe.   

Confirmation bias—influenced largely by age, race, private biases, background and upbringing, and personality style, to name just a few, prevents the active pursuit of facts and causes interviewers to make uninformed and too quick decisions.    

On the flip side, applicants need a job and understand all too well that first impressions go far in securing employment. We've all been there. We've all done our utmost to influence the perceptions of other people by regulating and controlling what they see in us by revealing our strengths and hiding our weaknesses.  The result, of course, is that interviewers do not see the real person and make decisions without regard to more important data than what an interview can reveal. 

What Lies Beneath

Assessment technology can measure a range of qualities, traits and abilities that only a few years ago were completely inaccessible. A few of these assessable qualities are listed in alphabetical order below:    

Accountability – the ability to hold others  accountable to produce what is required;    

Assertiveness;    

Cognitive ability – how one absorbs, processes  and expresses information;    

Detail focus – the degree of routine or focus orientation;    

Emotional expression;    

Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand one's own and other's emotions and to use this  knowledge to develop and maintain relationships    

Emotional self-awareness;    

Empathy – the ability to understand what another  person is experiencing;    

Flexibility – the ability to pursue vision while being  able to shift goal pursuit;    

Focus and urgency – the ability to concentrate and  work at a rapid pace when necessary;    

Goal attainment style – how assertive or  accommodating the person is while engaged in  work activities;    

Integrity – the consistent display of honesty  including truthfulness;    

Loyalty – as opposed to working only for one's  personal agenda;    

Networking – the ability to generate business  (not social networking);    

Optimism;    

Relational Style – how empathic or insulated one's  emotional responses and expressions are;    

Reliability – doing what is required and what  is promised;    

Resilience – called the "bounce-back” factor; it's how  rapidly someone gets back in the "saddle” after getting  knocked off;    

Responsibility – taking responsibility rather  than blaming;    

Social responsibility;    

Stress tolerance;    

Vision – seeing potentials and possibilities.

The Right Stuff

This data provides you with the information you need to predict both short-term and long-term performance. The only remaining question then is which of these elements does the job require? This is a very important facet in the hiring process because those factors required by one job may not be the ones necessary for success in another job. For example, responsibility and organization are vital for many jobs but may not be good for jobs requiring artistic ability and may, in fact, be a liability. Thus, job fit—the intersection between the qualities an individual possesses and what a given job requires—is the methodology for building a dynamic and high performance work force.   

How do you know what a job really requires?   

What we think a job requires of the employee may not always be what really works for achieving success. One effective way is to simply identify who the very best employees are— in a given position—and test them. This creates a job pattern or benchmark which is then used to compare incoming job candidates. You will literally see how candidates stack up against your best.   

Another method is to fill out a job analysis survey. This survey is then plugged into the assessment center to establish the job pattern that determines what ideal employee characteristics are required. These surveys are available from reputable hiring consultants.   

A third method—and one sometimes used for creating real culture change—is to manually create your own benchmarks to target the type of ideal candidate you want. This works well for those jobs requiring specific attitudinal qualities often associated with flight attendants, customer service representatives and retail employees including food servers.   

We've long heard the phrase: people are hired for skill, but fired for attitude. Yet many organizations continue to base their hiring decisions on traditional criteria. Those who seek information on traditional criteria—like technical skills and work experience—will easily miss 50% of what actually determines success in an employee.   

Riley Harvill, Ph.D. is president of The HarBeck Company, Inc. (www.harbeck.com), a learning firm devoted to leadership development, employee development and employee hiring.    

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