BOLD: Reinventing Hiring
Hiring is a process that creates too much risk. It needs a bold makeover. As practiced by most companies, hiring is illogical. We are encouraged to evaluate a candidate’s fitness for duty with no real data. Why is it considered normal to make a hasty decision about a long-term commitment? That’s not merely illogical, it’s stupid. It is easy to hire someone and radically difficult to fire someone. Nonetheless, we hire as if we’re afraid to truly know and test the person.
For the large, financially healthy, and smart companies (that’s a small group) there are answers to this conundrum. They use longer interviewing processes, extensive testing, and finely tuned assessment centers combined with real applied work to evaluate potential new hires. This substantially increases the odds they will find good talent that will mesh with the organization’s culture. Very cool – and ridiculously expensive.
So what’s the answer for the rest of us? Consider these five bold ideas that decrease the risk of hiring by increasing the odds that the person will make a lasting contribution to the organization.
First, stop pushing out a bunch of bull and start using realistic job previews. Think brutal honestly. You want people to begin with their eyes wide open. My favorite example was from an internship I found as an MBA student. I was interviewing with the president of a small software firm. He was refreshingly blunt about life at the firm. He ended the meeting with a tour, and started with the bathroom. I was nervous as I followed him through the door of the men’s room. He turned to me and said, “Son, look around. The floors are dirty and the urinals stink. Are you sure you want to work here?” His description was accurate, and it was an awesome place to work.
You can teach them even more skills. You cannot, however, teach personality or attitude.
Next, in the interview, don’t discuss resumes. Resumes are fake places to take refuge. Ignore them after initial vetting when you get to the small pile of candidates. Instead, have real conversations and make them do real work. They can’t prepare for conversations not directly tied to their resume and they can’t fake tackling real work with their potential colleagues. Follow the lead of Nucor Steel, BMW, and many others by putting them to work discussing real issues or tinkering with real products. If you can’t afford expensive assessment centers like BMW, so what. Just sit around a table with a candidate and throw some of your work at them. See how fast they start to get it. Hire the one that gets it the fastest.
If you follow this advice, you will also have the opportunity to hire on attitude and personality, not skill. Skill is absolutely vital, but after candidates make the short stack, they all have great skill. You can teach them even more skills. You cannot, however, teach personality or attitude. That’s why discussions should be topical if not controversial. That’s why questions should test attitude as much as competence. That’s why you have them do applied work. It forces the real them to emerge quickly. Belief in attitude over skill is the backbone of the hiring philosophy that has propelled Southwest Airlines for years.
Next, use non-permanent initial employment. It’s often called probation, but I’m sure we can come up with a better label. In the US it’s fairly rare for professional roles, though more common in other countries, for example, the UK. Zappos is really onto something in this regard by paying people to quit, but I think they could save their money by simply initiating a 6-12 month try-out period. Nobody can hide real deficiencies or fool you by managing impressions for that long. Over this period, you honestly get to know someone and can then make an informed decision since you’ve observed them produce work and collaborate with the team.
You truly are what you hire, so maybe it’s time to consider a bolder approach to building your team.
Finally, defer premium pay. Instead, go market or submarket. Are you willing to pay top wages for top talent? Yes. Should you pay it before seeing what they can do? No. A better alternative is to agree on a much-improved second year compensation package that kicks in after they survive the probation period. If you’re a destination employer due to overall culture, opportunity, and pay, this will work. You’ll find the talent who really wants to build something meaningful with you over time and you’ll weed out the mercenaries who are always looking for the next jump.
If you don’t like the results of your hiring process, take a long sobering look at your approach. The approach I advocate might not be for everyone, but it will certainly help those who aspire to create and maintain high performing teams. You truly are what you hire, so maybe it’s time to consider a bolder approach to building your team.
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