Delivering the Systems and Expertise You Need to Confidently Make Great Hiring Decisions
One of my very favorite songs is called Down Together by the Refreshments. The refrain includes the lyrics, “Cars break down and people break down and other things break down too so let’s go…down together”.
I had the chance to have dinner with Chris Mursau last Tuesday night in Chicago and we were discussing the single, most important reason why companies continue to experience a 50% failure rate when it comes to hiring. His assessment: Communication Breakdown.
How does this manifest itself thousands of times a day in the US alone?
- Hiring Managers understand what their priorities are in their role and they (rarely) include hiring talent to earn their bonus. As a result they email someone in HR that says “write me a job description“
- HR, not quite sure what to put in the job description, references similar jobs the company has filled in the past and creates it to get it off of their To Do list.
- The job is posted on the Internet somewhere and the resumes that come in get screened by the HR associate who wasn’t sure about the role in the first place.
- The resumes that pass the initial muster of the HR associate are forwarded to the Hiring Manager who looks at a few and decides to interview some people (though they’re not even sure what the HR team posted on the web)
- The first candidate comes in and the Hiring Manager asks a couple of associates to interview the person too (though these associates don’t have a clue what they’re even supposed to be interviewing for).
- The Hiring Manager narrows the pool down to 2 and then calls HR to ask them to decide who the best one is (again, without providing the HR team the definition of “best”).
If this sounds remotely similar, you’re not alone!
As you’ve likely read on this blog before, I believe there are 3 reasons why a new hire doesn’t work out:
- You failed to clearly define what you needed someone to do
- You failed to clearly articulate to the new hire what you needed them to do to be successful
- You failed to gain the agreement of the new hire on what it will take to be considered successful
I completely understand if you brush off my counsel but choosing to ignore this when even Chris agrees that it’s true is a true sign of foolishness.
Sure, there are some experts out there who will tell you that you can always hire A-Players, but I’m not one of them. Considering 54% of all hires are mis-hires (according to a 2000 Fortune Study) we clearly have a problem in America.
The content for discussion today comes from Global Learning Resources CEO Kevin Wheeler. He suggests that great performers tend to emerge over time, rather than appear fully formed at the interview. According to Kevin, there are four ways to improve your hiring and development systems.
1. Don’t look for “A” players, because you don’t really know who they are. Those that you think are the best, the brightest, or the smartest may not be. The problem in looking for the best is that you are always using criteria that are suspect. The fatal flaw inherent in all competency systems is change. What has been successful or what is successful in a particular place may not be in another.
2. Provide development opportunities broadly for everyone and reward and promote those who take advantage of the opportunities. If we believe that talent often emerges where we least expect it, we cannot afford to limit development opportunities only to certain levels or types of employees.
3. Have recruiters aggressively monitor and source internally. Most of the very best talent comes from within and from below. We are all enamored with the outside “guru,” and frequently pass on the person right in front of us who is equipped with the skills, the cultural understanding, and the motivation to excel.
4. Look at selecting people for broad-based competencies. We should be looking to hire people with motivation to learn, with team experience and success, with cultural compatibility, and with a basic technical skill set that can be developed by experiential opportunities and good mentoring. We need to move away from rigorous narrow competency definitions and reliance on experience as an indicator of performance.
Do I disagree with anything that Kevin has shared up to this point?
If you’ve read this blog for awhile and have implemented even 10% of what you’ve learned, you SHOULD have an issue with this last statement of his: “A” players are hard to define and impossible to recruit consistently.
In addition to blogging here I also contribute content to Recruiting Blogs. A slightly modified version of my recent post “How to Prepare for a Topgrading Interview” drew quite a few comments but there was one in particular that I felt deserved some additional attention.
I really believe in the principles of Topgrading, and have cited it along with Brad Smart many times in my own writing, but the candidates I’ve seen subjected to CIDS interviews have NOT had wonderful or even fair experiences. I have three issues with CIDS:
1. It doesn’t apply context. The behaviors analyzed in a CIDS interview can be from 20 years ago, and don’t get asked in a way that aligns with the current goals for the position. I advocate performance objective based questions that elicit the specific skills and experience needed today from the candidate, in the context of the specific job, not in a vacuum.
2. CIDS provides too much ammunition by which to DESELECT a candidate. Not every behavior or lack of behavior from someone’s past is relevant to what is needed today.
3. CIDS interviewers are often inexperienced, and don’t know how to really use the tool to best advantage.
Here are my thoughts in response to Mark:
1. The behaviors analyzed in a CIDS interview may be from 20 years ago but it’s the interviewer’s fault if they allow the discussion to drift into conversations that don’t necessarily align with the current position. On top of that, the basic questions that are used in every position are critical information that you’d want to know about someone – regardless of if the experiences are 20 years old. Example: What was the #1 thing you regret about not accomplishing in that role?
2. At HireBetter this is a discussion that we have a lot. Recommending someone for hire takes courage. It’s nearly always easier for a Hiring Manager or outside consultant suggest that inaction is better than action. Roosevelt nailed it in 1910 when he said [paraphrasing] “It is not the critic that counts. The true credit belongs to the man in the arena.” With that said, if a Hiring Manager has done their homework, they’re clear on what they need someone to do and they conduct a proper CIDS interview, they’re going to be more prepared to make a hiring decision than with any other kind of interview that I’ve seen conducted.
3. It doesn’t take much for someone to learn how to conduct a CIDS interview. However, as I shared in my response to #2, from what I’ve witnessed a poorly conducted CIDS interview is still significantly better than an “on the fly” interview that doesn’t have a structure, purpose or plan.
Bottom line: Mark brings up some good questions and CIDS interviews do have some shortcomings but, in my opinion, there’s not much else out there that will give you a better understanding of if the person you’re interviewing is right for the role you’re looking to fill.
Those who have heard me speak publicly or have been clients of HireBetter are very familiar with my insistence that Job Descriptions are largely worthless when written by starting at the beginning. What I encourage people to do instead is to consider the Outcomes first.
The exercise goes a bit like this: at this time next year, what will this person have accomplished that will make you consider them “successful“. To drive the point home further I like to use this example:
You’re going to take this new employee out to dinner at either (a) the nicest restaurant in town or (b) Applebee’s. How will you decide the right destination when looking back on their performance?
The running joke that I’ve always chuckled about in my head is, “Does Applebee’s even exist any more?” As it turns out, it does. I found myself in Wal-Mart earlier this week with my kids redeeming gift cards from Grandma and I snapped this picture while checking out.
Food for thought:
- How would a superstar feel about you giving them an Applebee’s/Outback Gift Card as a Holiday Bonus?
- Would a bureaucrat and time-waster feel the same way or would they be thrilled at the gesture because it meant you knew their name?
P.S. If you’re remotely interested, here’s a link to download Applebee’s Nutritional Information – ouch!
I found this interesting: in the past couple of months the top keyword search strings that lead people to this blog were often about preparing for a Topgrading Interview. The irony is that you can’t really “prepare” for a Topgrading interview. Yes, journaling about your career history, reflecting back on the praise you received or the criticism that challenged you, thinking about your Boss and what you liked or disliked about them – these are all good ideas.
Author’s Note: A couple of months ago I blogged on the dumbest interview questions that people ask and pointed to some of the websites where you can review those questions (and read the canned answers that make candidates sound really sincere).
What’s so different about the Topgrading interview is, from my experience, that it not only inspires candidates to be honest but forces them. My mother taught me that lying is really tough because you have to always remember what all of your previous lies were. As those lies pile up you really end up in a tough place.
That early lesson has proven itself to be very helpful. When I’ve worked with some clients directly and helped them conduct a 4 Hour Interview, I’ve picked up a few things that seem to apply across all industries:
- Executives can easily dupe you in a 30 minute interview
- They can often lie their way through a 1 or 2 hour interview because they’ve likely been on the hot seat before
- In hour 3 it’s fairly easy for the Interviewer to recognize if the Candidate is lying or has a track record of blaming others, not delivering on commitments, etc.
- By hour 4, the Candidate is “naked”. They’re either (a) being honest and feel more trusting of the non-judgemental atmosphere or (b) they’ve lost track of the fabrications they made up 2 hours prior and are wrapped up in a web of lies so large that they’re exhausted from trying to keep up with themselves.
With all this said, the Topgrading Interview is also the fairest and most objective interview I’ve ever conducted or observed. Its structure (Comprehensive, In-Depth, Structured or CIDS) is straightforward, no questions come out of left field (“Why are manhole covers round?”) and it gives the Candidate the chance to brag about themselves as equally as they reveal their mistakes or times of regret.
Wrap Up: If you’re being asked to take part in a Topgrading Interview, go in with a clear conscience and a willingness to show vulnerability. But above all: BE HONEST.
P.S. Just in case you have ever been asked the question “Why are manhole covers round?” and you want to be argumentative, you might use this picture below to build your case. — JD
I’m on vacation with my family in Boston this weekend (Go Jets!) and so I thought I’d go digging for some “old fashioned” blog posts that might still have a lot of validity in today’s market.
-The World Trade Center in NYC had its 2 towers
-We didn’t need to take out/off our laptops, belts, hats or shoes at the airport
-George Bush was sworn in as President
The year? 2001
What I found truly remarkable about this one, single post was how applicable it was back then (when no one had really heard of Topgrading®) and how it is even MORE applicable today. Enjoy!
Over the course of the past 20 years, I’ve been searching for — among other things — the single best question to ask in an interview. What I wanted to create was a One-Question Interview, a stand-alone query that would pierce through the veneer of generalizations, overcome typical candidate nervousness, minimize the impact of the candidate’s personality on the interviewer, eliminate the exaggeration which many candidates adopt as an interviewing ploy and actually determine if the candidate is competent and motivated to do the work required.
Through years of trial and error, I finally hit upon one question that did it all. If you were allowed to ask only one question during the course of the interview, this would be it: Please think about your most significant accomplishment. Now, could you tell me all about it? Imagine you’re the candidate and I’ve just asked you this question. What accomplishment would you select? Then imagine over the course of the next 5-20 minutes that I obtained the following information from you about this accomplishment:
- A complete description of the accomplishment
- The company you worked for and what it did
- The actual results achieved: numbers, facts, changes made, details, amounts
- When it took place
- How long it took
- The importance of this accomplishment to the company
- Your title and role
- Why you were chosen
- The 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how you dealt with them
- A few examples of leadership and initiative
- Some of the major decisions made
- The environment and resources available
- How you made more resources available
- The technical skills needed to accomplish the objective
- The technical skills learned and how long it took to learn them
- The actual role you played
- The team involved and all of the reporting relationships
- Some of the biggest mistakes you made
- How you changed and grew as a person
- What you would do differently if you could do it again
- Aspects of the project you truly enjoyed
- Aspects you didn’t especially care about
- The budget available and your role in preparing it and managing it
- How you did on the project vs. the plan
- How you developed the plan
- How you motivated and influenced others, with specific examples to prove your claims
- How you dealt with conflict with specific examples
- Anything else you felt was important to the success of the project
Just about everything you need to know about a person’s competency can be extracted from this type of question. Most people would agree this type of question is very revealing. But the real issue is not the question: it’s the information that’s given in response that’s most important. Few people are able to give this type of information without additional prompting from the interviewer. This is what real interviewing is about: getting the answer to this very simple but very powerful question. Don’t spend time learning a lot of clever questions to ask during the interview: spend time learning to get the answer to just this one question. The key: understand the accomplishment, the process used to achieve the accomplishment, the environment in which the accomplishment took place and the candidate’s role.
In an ongoing effort to Add Value for you as a Leader, I’ve been seeking out Experts who have unique talents to ask them for their experiences. This week Doug Wick, a Professional Coach and Business Advisor, shares some of his thoughts on how you can improve your hiring.
[JDavis] What do you see as the biggest challenge your clients face when they make hiring decisions?
In most cases they’re shooting from the hip. Most of them have, at best, a 50/50 chance of someone they hire being the right fit. Not only that, they often don’t have any clue to figure out or determine if someone is a solid candidate when they make their final decision. They’re simply not confident in their “system” for hiring and, even those companies who who have taken the time to build a “system” aren’t sure whether or not it’s telling them the right things about people that they’re interviewing.
[JDavis] What are the top 2 or 3 recommendations you’ve made in the past year to your clients on how to improve hiring effectiveness?
1. Embrace and utilize Topgrading. The methodology is terrific.
2. I’ve built a process to measure and review my clients’ hiring “batting average.” Through this I’ve learned to encourage people to look back and reflect on their recent hires and rank “good” and “bad”. I had a client who used the Topgrading Methodology but they still missed on a key hire and this reflective activity that I took them through following that mis-hire helped them get a better grasp on what their culture is and how to screen more for cultural fit during the interview process. If you don’t evaluate why you’ve been making mistakes you are bound to repeat the same mistake in the future. The hiring process is often very subjective. Recognizing your mistakes moves you from making a largely emotional decision to a decision steeped in objectivity with a seasoning of emotion which provides the best hiring outcome.
3. When hiring salespeople, I encourage our clients to use the Objective Management Group’s sales screening test. The outcomes [according to OMG research] produce a 96% effective sales hire. From what I’ve seen, the results do actually match up with those claims. They’re very thorough and accurate. Despite their effectiveness we still recommend doing the Topgrading interview with the candidates the test recommends to make sure their test results and track record match.
[JDavis] How instrumental do you feel regular Strategic Planning is to making the right hiring decisions?
It’s important. While it’s not as important as employing Topgrading, if a company is doing Strategic Planning they’re likely to be more aware of where they are going (and from what I’ve seen, most companies plan to improve and grow). With that sense of awareness, they are more cognizant of the need to upgrade their existing staff or add additional staff to achieve their vision. Strategic planning helps companies better understand how important it is to get the right people on the bus because they spend the time understanding their business and its trajectory.
[JDavis] Who are the companies that you’ve witnessed that have done a great job of hiring the right talent and why?
Ideal Computer Systems (Cedar Rapids, IA) – they have a really solid interviewing process that is based on a step-based interview process that makes people who are candidates go through stages that include really tough interview questions that require someone to prove that they’re an “achiever”. They also consistently do great reference checks and also ensure that they’re always doing background checks on everyone.
Meta Law (Ventura, CA) they had a very long and disappointing process of spending more than 18 months searching for a “successor” to the President of the company. They interviewed local talent and they got discouraged when they didn’t find the right person for the role. On my suggestion they went out and ran ads in places like their association newsletter that resulted in them getting introduced to a great candidate who was moving back to the city/location they are based in. Then utilizing Topgrading and not “settling” for someone just because they were tired of looking or because they didn’t want to expand their geographic reach, they made a great hiring decision. I always find it so rewarding as an outside consultant when a company can really use Topgrading and it results in an exceptional hire.
Doug Wick is a certified Gazelles Coach with 12 years of coaching experience and 9+ years as an E-Myth Certified Consultant. Doug coaches his clients on how to develop Strategic Discipline. He focuses on small to midsize business owner/CEO with a ravenous appetite to improve their leadership skills and business results. Positioning Systems provides unrelenting personal commitment combined with foundational and dynamic best practice tools that enhance management proficiency and produce measurable performance.
In the Davis Household, the start of the NFL Season is always a momentous time for our family. As we’ve been watching HBO’s Hard Knocks (I’m a huge Jets Fan) and reading about the players’ reactions to having the coaches’ critiques of them being aired for everyone to see as well as how hard the coaches push the players to perform, it got me thinking about how this kind of situation applies to businesses that don’t employ professional athletes.
Specifically, a few months ago, in advance of the NFL Draft, there was a situation where a Wide Receiver from Oklahoma State was being interviewed by the Miami Dolphins and a General Manager stepped over the line. While interviews with management are very common before these Teams make their decision to spend millions of dollars, the reason this particular interview received so much press was because the GM asked Mr. Bryant, “Is your mother a prostitute?”
I’m not interested in debating whether or not this was a fair question.
Rather, I’d like to offer the following thoughts for you to ponder as a Business Leader:
One of the common complaints I hear from Business Leaders is that the process of Topgrading is too arduous to implement or, even more common, they question why an A-Player would allow someone to put them through filling out a Career History Form or go through a 4 Hour Interview. They challenge me by saying, “Other companies that want that person won’t ask them to go through all of these steps – won’t we lose the best talent if we ask them to do so much more than our competition?”
My belief is that this a simpler situation than many would make it out to be: it’s Economics 101 where you learn about Supply and Demand. However, it’s not supply and demand from the perspective that these aforementioned Leaders would think [that A-Players are in short supply and thus have high demand]. Rather, it’s whether or not your COMPANY is in demand and the SUPPLY of positions available are limited.
Everyone is aware of those companies that have such a great culture and reputation that they have thousands of people who want to get considered for each role – Companies like Google, Oracle and DELL back in the 90′s, Bazaarvoice here in Austin a couple of years ago.
With the NFL, so many young Athletes want to have a shot at “working” for a professional team that they are more than willing to subject themselves to the Combines where they are poked and prodded and then stripped down to their underwear and asked to sprint and lift weights. They take mental acuity tests (remember Vince Young 3 years ago?). Even in the college ranks, there are young men across the country who pay hundreds of dollars to attend “camps” at major universities where the instruction that they receive is secondary to their dream of getting “noticed”.
The ultimate question I would pose to you is: What are you doing to make your Culture and your Organization one where people people WANT to get in and they’re more than happy to go through an extensive Assessment Process (like Topgrading) with a smile on their face because they know that there’s a brilliant career opportunity waiting for them on the other end if they make it through?
In observing an interview on-site with a client earlier this month I recognized a disturbing trend across everyone in the organization that, upon further research, is happening in nearly every company and in every interview. When asking someone a tough question, instead of waiting for a response, the interviewer is rescuing them.
We’ve modeled our interview process on the best practices of Topgrading® and they all start with:
- In your most recent role, what was the situation when you accepted the position with respect to talent, resources, systems and efficiency?
- What were your top 2 or 3 responsibilities?
- What were your top 1 or 2 accomplishments?
- What are the 2 mistakes that you made in the role or what would you do differently if you were starting that role again today?
What we’ve witnessed is that nearly everyone is more than willing to answer the first three questions – and when asked in this order, they feel more and more confident as you give them permission “brag” about themselves. However, when you get to the 4th question, a significant number of candidates (whether for fear of appearing weak or not wanting to have to talk about the tough parts) will respond with, “You know, I can’t think of anything.”
Because interviews are often scheduled for 30 or 60 minutes at most companies, hiring managers and interviewers often feel like there’s a ticking clock that doesn’t allow them to stop and wait and (this is the hard part) endure the awkwardness of silence. Yet throughout history, the top business leaders are in agreement that our greatest learning opportunities happen when we are making mistakes – not when things are going really well.
To learn more about the skill of the skill of purposely allowing candidates to struggle, I interviewed Christopher Mursau, the Vice President of Smart & Associates in Chicago, IL.
JDavis: What’s the benefit of letting someone struggle through a tough question?
CMursau: It sets the stage early on that you’re going to ask the questions that allow them to give positives but you also need to know about the negatives and you’re not going to let them off the hook. It’s important that they understand that when you ask them a question they need to answer it honestly and if they need some time to think – that’s ok!
JDavis: How have you learned to be patient during these difficult stretches of an interview?
CMursau: It depends on where we are in an interview – if I’m talking about someone’s career when they were just coming out of college and they can’t think of a mistake that they made (in a position from 20 years ago) I’ll often use the opportunity to let it slide to get to know them a little better. I’m also starting to “train” them about what’s coming up in future questioning – that’s why it’s called a CIDS Interview (Author’s Note: CIDS = Comprehensive, In-Depth, Structured)
There’s a difference between pushing and building rapport. Ultimately, I want the candidate to give me their best and honest answers about their most recent positions. If they’ve had 5 jobs in their career, I might let them off the hook on the 1st one but the next 4 jobs (leading up to the present day) I’m going to be more patient and more insistent on them answering the tough questions. Because I’ll ask the questions in the format you mentioned above about every position, the person I’m interviewing realizes quickly that it’s going to be awkward for them and unacceptable to me when they say, “I don’t remember” twice in a row about the same difficult question.
JDavis: How much significance do you give to the questions around admitting weakness or owning up to mistakes?
CMursau: Incredibly significant – it’s possibly the earliest warning sign for me of an interview that won’t end well. When someone is unwilling to talk about weaknesses or mistakes, it’s been my experience that they won’t respond to constructive criticism, they’ll be hard to coach and more often than not they’ll be prone to blaming others when something goes wrong. When someone has shallow insights into their strengths and weaknesses I seldom advise a company to hire that person.
JDavis: What counsel would you give to an interviewer to help them deal with the candidate who can’t find it within themselves to share the mistakes that they made?
CMursau: Give the candidate opportunities. Ask the question around the mistakes about 3 straight jobs (if they struggle twice in a row, try asking it in a slightly different way the 3rd time). Employ the “pregnant pause”. If, after the third time they can’t think of anything, it’s likely they have low self-awareness. When this is present, I’ve found it to be a leading indicator of a lot of other red flags and the likelihood of that person being a fit for your company is very, very low. I’d strongly encourage someone to end the interview if the candidate shows lack of awareness about 3 consecutive roles in their career.
Chris completed his undergraduate degree in psychology at The University of Wisconsin, and his MBA at St. Thomas University. He joined Smart & Associates, Inc. in 2001 and provides the full range of professional services.