A Tale of Two Candidates (Pick the Worse Scenario)

Here is an all too realistic failed recruiting situation … actually two of them and I am curious to see which one you think is worse.

New Hire #1

John is a top performer at your biggest competitor and, by all accounts, was a big success. You’ve been working him for a while and finally you land him. High fives all around and he starts. Unfortunately, after a couple months the rumbling starts. Then the rumbling turns into a rant … a loud, in your face, how could you hire this a-hole screech. John is struggling to reach the expectations goal-wise and he is just a complete dumba&* socially. He turns into an outcast and a couple months later eventually goes back to his original company, your competitor, with everything he just learned about you.

New Hire #2

Susan is a bit of an unknown in your industry but no matter. She has proven herself in sales roles outside your space and you think she will bring a fresh perspective. She starts and immediately clicks with the team. She falls into the social scene fast and gets along with everyone. But, she routinely fails to even come close to performance expectations. This fact is brought up occasionally but the discussion is a non-starter as she is “too well liked by the team” and “contributes in other ways.” This goes on and on and Susan goes no where. Your VP of Sales is struggling to meet his numbers and is under fire from the CEO. Finally, the VP of Sales goes, Susan remains and continues to struggle.

So, which is worse? Which situation costs you more?

Here is my take. Return on Hire means more than turnover. Traditional HR measures would ignore Susan and show John to be a bad hire. But John was only there for a few months. Yes, its turnover and costs you money. But try to measure the impact of Susan …it’s bad and just keeps getting worse. Remember, she is still there.

New hire flameouts suck. They attract all the wrong attention and, in talent acquisition, you probably only have a few of them before people wonder about you. But this is the wrong approach. Massive recruiting failures like John are just going to happen. We hire humans and we, as a bunch, are a hot mess of drama and unpredictability. But it’s the Susan’s of the world that, when left unchecked, break companies because we allow the walking dead to roam the hallways, never contributing in the way we expected.

That’s my take. Would love to hear yours.


Now it’s off to speak at the Garden State SHRM conference in Atlantic City and then HR Tech Europe in Amsterdam. If we are going to cross paths in either place, make sure to say Hi.


HR the Red Bull Way

A Facebook friend asked this morning if Red Bull has the best branding of any company in the world today. My immediate response was absolutely.

First off, I have never even had a sip of Red Bull. But, even I am thinking about giving it a try because, frankly, they are so freaking cool.

When your brand is associated with (actually responsible for in this case) getting a guy into space and jump back to earth with millions and millions watching, you’ve nailed it. You now are in the leagues of Apple and … well … Apple for inspiring their target market to think and be greater.

We forget these lessons in recruiting sometimes. It’s really easy to spend time talking to a candidate about the job. But what about the things that really matter … what your company represents to its’ buyers, its’ employees and its’ community. In short, what makes you inspire your team to think and be greater?

I think we overstate our mundaneness too often. We think that what we do can’t possibly live up to a standard of Red Bull or Apple. If that is the bar you set, you are probably right. But there is greatness in what your company does or you wouldn’t be doing it.

Start asking the question “How do we change the world?” It’s an odd one at first, but start asking the question and then look at the excitement that starts to build around simply the question, let alone the answer.

Then discuss it. Talk it up with candidates in interviews, on-boarding, review sessions and anywhere else you can. Will you put a man in space and have him freefall from 127,000 feet up? Likely not … that’s been done. But, find what makes your company great and use it. There nothing like a workforce trying to change the world.


Hiring Manager Accountability

A very long trip to Eastern Europe caused a bit of a lag in blog posts. Rushed back to the US and had a great webinar with our friends at FistfulofTalent.com. There was a ton valuable content, but one idea has really stuck with me the most which deals with creating accountability around the hiring manager.

There are some things that HR can do well in an organization. I firmly don’t believe that recruitment is one of them however. The most effective recruiters in your company are as follows (as least in my view) …

1.)  Founder

2.)  CEO (usually)

3.)  Hiring Manager

This is not to denigrate recruiters and HR, just a simple reality that the best recruiter will be those closest to the job and the long-range view of the company. HR plays a critical role in creating screening process, but not closing the deal.

Recruitment is often dumped into HR, with the role of the hiring manager typically being one or two interviews along the way. There is typically no real accountability for a bad hire, however nothing w

ill impact a manager’s ability to do their job successfully more than a bad hire. Quite a paradox.

It’s time to drive accountability into the process and begin measuring a manager’s hiring effectiveness (another great role in the process for HR). It doesn’t need to be complicated. Decide on a couple metrics such as …

1.)  Turnover (first 90 days)

2.)  Turnover  (1 year)


3.)  Return on Hire (A new metric that can help you measure overall quality of hire by looking overall manager and candidate satisfaction. Ultimately, you are identifying still poor hires who haven’t quit or gotten fired. I have a white paper for more info and a ChequedTV episode covering the topic.)

Create a dashboard and start measuring with each new hire. Develop a simple heat map to show you which managers are performing well in the hiring department and which are not. You will immediately see the problem managers and can take action.

Simple stuff here … let HR support the hiring process through tools, etc. and assisting the hiring manager with training, development and resources. Put the ultimately accountability on the hiring manager. It is there team, isn’t it?


Why a Recruitment Brand is Nonsense

Been traveling a bunch lately and had a chance to stop by the offices of a pretty cool company, Evviva Brands, in San Francisco. This is not intended to be a plug in any way but the conversation got me thinking. Evviva does employment related branding for some seriously big companies like Marriott and HSBC. They actually do it in some really innovative ways … through games.

“Recruitment branding” has become a buzz-word de jour of late. Having an image as a great place to work or an innovative environment or whatever is all good. But I think the entire conversation is pretty misguided.

There can be only one brand and that belongs to the whole company. “Who are we or what do we want to be in the minds of a candidate” is the wrong question and yields a lack of authenticity. “What about our company and its brand can we leverage to attract top talent” may be a better approach. (For the record, this is the approach Evviva takes.)

Companies attract top talent when there is a brand alignment to customers, employees, candidates, and any other stakeholders. It’s probably the most over used analogy in HR but consider Southwest Airlines. If SWA was not a fun airline to begin with, would a brand that promotes them as a fun place to work ever have impact? Maybe for a little while until the truth came out.

Recruitment branding exercises often focus more on brainstorming appealing statements to candidates and less on communicating the natural advantages of the business. The next time you are thinking about your recruitment brand, really consider your overall corporate brand. What makes is special, different? Why did your top performers choose you over other companies, why do they stay and excel? Need a place to start? Ask them. Chances are it will say far more about your company as a whole than any inauthentic “recruitment brand”.


Why Turnover Doesn’t Matter (a.k.a “So? What if they sucked?”)

For decades, HR organizations and executives throughout the company have fretted over turnover metrics. “Our turnover is increasing … what are we going to do?” was a refrain heard constantly.

But, just once, another question needs to be asked …

“So? What if they sucked?”

There are probably more tactful ways to get to the same issue but it’s a legitimate question. The fact is turnover is only a bad thing if you loose a good performer. It can be a great thing if finally that deadbeat of an employee takes a walk.

We need to be looking for a new metric that can focus on “good turnover” and “bad turnover”. Of course “good turnover” would mean that you made a bad hire in the first place but shouldn’t that go into a successful hiring metric?

Here is my proposal (right off the top of my head) to begin a new set of metrics with the resulting outcome …

1.)  Good Turnover: Crappy employee quits or gets fired. Commence party, flog the recruiter.

2.)  Bad Turnover: Good employee quits or gets fired. No party, flog the manager.

I’m sure that you can come up with far better ideas but I would challenge you to really rethink the entire turnover metric as it’s dated and tells us nothing about the state or health of our operation.


Forced Marriages and Other Out There HR Ideas

I hate the fact that I turned 40 a couple weeks ago and now find myself thinking I sound like a curmudgeon on occasion. After all, 40 is hardly the prime age for the nay-sayer, right?

I love “out there” ideas and random experiments, especially when it comes to recruiting/developing people to maximize performance. But, this one just strikes me as … well … creepy.

Monday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article entitled “Computer programmers learn through tough lesson in sharing.” If you didn’t see it, have a look. Here is the gist: In an effort to reduce programming errors, companies are “pairing” developers together to conduct a constant, real-time code review. Sounds logical until you realize they are literally sharing a desk and a monitor. Yes, one developer sits behind the other and watches over their shoulder as code is written. As errors are found they are immediately spotted (so goes the theory) and remedied.

Technology companies always lead on the innovation front, in products and also business practices so I really love this attempt to accelerate the release cycle. But, there are some questions that failed to be asked like …

What if having a forced workplace “marriage” doesn’t fit their work style?

While this may help “procedural performance” (enhance the process) what will happen to individual performance?

Knowing how to manage effectively to get the best possible performance means knowing your people and what makes them succeed. For certain developers (or any staff for that matter) this may be perfect. But for those more solitary types (imagine that, a developer being an introvert) turnover and decreased performance will be the outcome.

Keep the experiments going. There is nothing like trying a new approach and seeing if you can move faster/better/whatever, but keep the people in mind. Performance increases through a happier, more productive and engaged team. You get that by understanding your people and managing to their strengths.




Response to “Reference Checks: Neutral is the New Negative and Getting Negative Info is Gold”

Just read HR Capitalist’s blog post entitled “Reference Checks: Neutral is the New Negative, and Getting Negative Info is Gold…”. In it @Kris_Dunn discusses simply receiving “name, rank and serial number” on a candidate is the new standard of a negative reference. But is it? I’m going to go with sort of. I know, it’s a really weak answer but let me explain.

I am CEO of a company that provides automated reference checking technology called Chequed.com. Our cloud-based solution checks thousands and thousands of references per month. Typically, automated reference-checking technologies like ours (there are a couple other companies provided similar, albeit differentiated products) see reference completion rates of over 80%. When I say completion, I am referring to a complete reference check with answers to all requested information. That is a pretty startling difference from the phone-based reference checking average of around 20% that our research indicates (as well as personal experience hiring a lot of people … I started my career as a technology recruiter).

So, back to my answer of simply getting name, rank and serial number as an indicator of a negative reference. Truth is that is depends a great deal on the position. Higher level professionals are more able to arrange calls with their references and get them to provide detailed information. Lower to mid level candidates may not have this luxury as the impact of a reference breaking corporate policy is just not worth it.

Beside the issue of career level, the much larger reason is that the phone-based reference checking model is flawed and will continue to yield fewer and fewer successful reference checks. They will also yield far fewer truly negative references where specific information is gathered from the call that will prevent a bad hire.

I say it’s a flawed model because it rests on premise that a reference provided by a candidate, who has a relationship with that candidate, is going to throw
their buddy under the bus to benefit someone whom they don’t know and have no interest in. Why would they do this? Got me. Corporate policy has just provided a convenient excuse for an already dumb request.

Automated reference checking technologies have started to disrupt this process finally and see far higher completion rates. Most importantly, the results can use assessment-based logic (at least in the case of Chequed.com who is the only one I can speak about first-hand) to make it predictive of on-the-job performance. We usually see negative reference rates between 15-20% versus under 5% which is average for phone based.

Back to HR Capitalists notion that no information is the new negative, under a flawed model there is probably some truth to that but we can do far better to make reference checking relevant again.


How Do You Predict?

Dictionary.com says to make a Prediction is to “define the future.” Sounds about right to me. Every prediction you make when hiring is the definition of what your business or organization will become in the future, isn’t it?

So I guess the question is how do you make better predictions in something as subjective and tricky as hiring? To me it really comes down to a few simple actions that are fundamentally the same in any area of your business or life for that matter:

1.)  Know the Target: This step gets missed … or misunderstood … A LOT. The target has to be about performance. Isn’t your goal to hire someone who can drive your business forward, maybe in ways you didn’t even consider? Or, is your goal to “avoid a bad hire”? I’m sure you said the former but we usually end up designing a recruiting process around the later and just try to avoid risk. Knowing what good (or maybe we can stretch to great?) performance looks like is the key. This means really understanding the metrics that are fundamental to the position and the competencies that will help this person achieve those metrics for the long run (we can all fake it for a while).

2.)  Collect the Data: This means real, quantifiable data and not the random thoughts that often go into making a hiring decision (we will get to those in step 3).  Set up your process to collect as many data points as reasonably possible. I say “reasonably” because you will need to make a decision quickly as well. Technology is going to be key here. Assessments on the front end that drive interview questions based on the test results, structured, job relevant (and pre-planned) interview questions targeted at the competencies required for success and structured, competency based reference checking to validate what you have discovered are a bare minimum. Then score each step. It honestly doesn’t matter how you score them as any method will be better than none. Again, look at technologies to drive these screening steps for you.

3.)  Use Your Gut: Once you have narrowed down to a small group, use your gut. Yes, that much-maligned intuition can serve you well in hiring so long as you have narrowed the field to a small group based on the objective, quantitative steps in #2. Only you know your company and culture so don’t be afraid to maybe pick the long shot from the finalists that you just have “the feeling about” instead of the front runner. There is nothing wrong with gut feel so long as it’s used in the context of a solid process.

These steps are used in just about every area of decision-making but we just go careening off the rails in hiring for some reason. Give yourself the best chance of success and make sure that your process is aligned with these simple steps.


The Seven Habits of Bad Talent Selection

I get it … this is just an appallingly negative title/topic but sometimes it just fun to take a look at the dysfunction around us.

There are so many ways to really amp your ability to hire more effectively. Then there are those all to common things that will sabotage it just about every time. So, here is my list, which is not at all exhaustive. Comment below if I’ve missed one (which I certainly have) …

1.)  The Resume Scan. Resumes are flooding your inbox, ATS, mail or anywhere else they show up. You or another hiring manager take a 20 second look to judge the candidate fit and decide what to do next. Totally arbitrary and ripe with error. Consider automating this step by putting your assessment up front and letting it first determine the competency fit to the job and culture. THEN take a look at the resume for the skills match.

2.)  The “Job Description” Recruitment Ad. Repeat after me … a job description is not an ad, a job description is not an ad. Go to any job board and they are everywhere. That completely lame document only read by HR and lawyers becomes the centerpiece of your company’s value prop to a candidate. Don’t be lazy and take some time to think through the reasons someone would want to work in this job at your company. It is not, I guarantee you, because they do or don’t have to lift “greater than 50 pounds.”

3.)  The Unprepared Interview. Here’s a tip … skip it and you will have better odds of success. Even a 5 minute block to review the resume, the assessment results and the job description and prep a few structured questions will make all the difference.

4.)  The Reference Check. I don’t know how else to say this. Phone based reference checking is a joke … it’s an old-fashioned cultural relic that just won’t go away. Here is the paradox however … collecting information from past colleagues, if it’s honest and candid, can be the best predictor of success on the job. Look for other ways to get this information. If you have explored automated reference checking technology (BIAS ALERT: I am CEO and Founder of Chequed.com, one of the companies that does exactly this) you need to do start. Quality automated reference checking technology can streamline the process while making it competency-based with far greater candor and accuracy in the results.

5.)  Poor/Slow/Inconsistent Follow Up. Consider the mindset of a candidate. Stress is high, expectations are raised and patience is thin. Dragging out the process is just brutal. Stop with the vacation schedule, can’t get a meeting set, etc. excuses and get them an answer. Make sure that your follow up meeting with any others involved in the screening process is set prior to the interviews and stick to it. Dragging it out hurts your recruitment brand and honestly is just plain inconsiderate. Think karma on this one.

6.)  The (Info) Hoarders Run the Show. I wrote another blog post on the silos that emerge in screening that gets more into this topic. If you are not sharing the data collected (assessment results, interview notes, etc.) between all the parties in the screening process you are compromising your accuracy. Connect the dots on the process by making sure you are leveraging each step. For example, use the assessment results to help you prep the interview so you can focus on specific areas that may be problematic or use the interview notes to prep questions for the references.

7.)  No Analysis of Results. Spend some time taking a look at the results of your hires but get beyond simple turnover data and look at how the person actually performed. Consider surveying the manager to see if they would actually rehire this person even if they are still working there. This rehire type survey can be telling about a candidate who was hired but is a mediocre performer who you are now stuck with. Review the data and look for patterns of successful hires … sources, screening process, competencies, interests, skills, etc. What makes them different from bottom performers.

There is no doubt most of this is obvious to anyone around HR for a while. But, it’s amazing how often we fall into one or more of these categories without even realizing it. Here is the challenge: Take a look at your process and see what bad talent selection habits your organization has developed and put together a plan to change just one of them today.