Recruitment needs to be less like the X Factor

Panel of judgesDoes recruitment sometimes feel like an episode of the X Factor? Job applicants get a moment to shine with their CV, having to create enough of an impression in that moment that they are then invited to perform in front of a panel of judges. The vast majority of hiring decisions are then made in a relatively short interview process which tries to assess someone’s “talent” for the role on offer.

We all know that you can’t build a great company without great people. The problem is: How do you know who the great people are?

We all know the impact that the wrong people leave behind them – time wasters who seem determined never to meet the deadlines you’ve set, office whisperers who like nothing better than to spread the seeds of discontent and the jobsworths whose job description doesn’t include that task. All of these must have persuaded the recruiter that they were “right for the job” at the time, so just what went wrong?

There are some key reasons why new recruits subsequently fail in the role:

1.  Coachability: lacking the ability to accept & implement feedback from others

2.  Emotional intelligence: lacking the ability to understand & manage their own emotions or assess others’

3.  Motivation: lacking the drive to achieve their full potential

4.  Temperament: attitude & personality not suited to the particular job & work environment

5.  Technical competence: having the functional skills required to do the job

It is clear from these that having the relevant skills for the job is significantly less important than having the right attitude. It is also clear that it is not just about having the right attitude towards the job, it is as much about having the right attitude towards others and having the emotional maturity to be able to process our performance and make changes if necessary.

After all, what you know can change but who you are doesn’t. Or, in the words of the song, “I am what I am!”

The most common mistake that we make when recruiting is to find someone with the right skills, but with the wrong mindset and then think that we can change them. This is often because we start the recruitment process when it’s already too late, so we hire someone who will do the job right now with minimal training.

Let’s start by remembering that the single best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour so we should provide a recruitment process that identifies what behaviours each candidate brings with them & then compares them with the ones needed for this role. Of course it’s also important to identify when skills or knowledge are essential for the role, but don’t forget these can often be learned in a relatively short timescale.

So, just what should we be looking for? Some good behaviours to look for are:

  • Ability to learn – how quickly do they develop new skills
  • Ownership – who is responsible for their performance & development
  • Initiative – what have they done without being told to
  • Judgement – how do they show good decision making & common sense
  • Work ethic – when have they gone beyond what was required
  • Flexibility – how do they adapt to change
  • Positivity – how do they handle life’s ups & downs

The extent to which candidates have these traits can be identified through testing, proper questioning, observation &, most importantly, quality time with them. The more time you invest in making a decision, the more likely you are to ultimately make the right choice.

In today’s environment, it is clear that success in a job depends far more on these behaviours & competencies than it does on experience alone. If you choose the person with the right attitude you can teach & train them the skills they need & you will have made the better choice than the one that hits the ground running in terms of experience but falls at the first hurdle because they lack resilience or flexibility.

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HR: What do customers want from us?

There has been a lot of  discussion in the HR press over recent weeks about whether HR is recruiting the right people and indeed whether current recruits to the profession are up to the job. The recent “Raising the bar in HR recruitment” report was commissioned by the Oakleaf Partnership, an independent specialist HR recruitment firm. Arguably then, the report may well have set out with the aim of encouraging organisations to make more informed recruitment decisions through the use of specialist agencies.

My attention was caught though by the comments of Linda Kennedy (group HR director at Yell) at the launch of the report, Ms Kennedy felt that HR should reduce its focus on strategy and what she called “navel gazing” and “existential angst”. In her words:

“It’s not about strategic HR – HR should be figuring out what the business needs to do and then figuring out what it can do to support that. If you have that bit right, the rest should follow.”

But if we take the definition of strategic HR as being “the strategic management of human resources aligned with the organisation’s intended future direction. It is concerned with longer-term people issues and macro-concerns about structure, quality, culture, values, commitment and matching resources to future need.” (CIPD website)

Then, surely this is just what Linda Kennedy suggests that HR needs to be doing – figuring out what the business needs to do & what it can do to support that. In the words of Karl Albrecht (founder of Aldi) “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is”.

This raises an interesting question though, just who are HR’s customers & do we know what they want from us? For the answer to this I turned to The Institute for Employment Studies who carried out some research into this subject “What customers want from HR”. Now this report was published back in September 2008, but there seems to be a continuing resonance with the current position of HR even in 2012.

The IES study found that the customers of HR (line managers, senior managers & employees) want a function that is independent minded, in close touch with the workforce & able to challenge managers when necessary. They also want support from HR people with real professional expertise, who can help them address people issues in a business context.

Both managers & non managers believe that HR has a unique role to play in balancing the needs of the business with the needs of the workforce. Of course, this can be a difficult role to play – HR is often perceived with mistrust by both parties, who often feel that HR is “on the other’s side”.At the same time HR can help managers understand what is really going on in the business. As one manager commented:

“HR needs to be like the jester to the king. It has to tell him what everyone knows but no one else dares to say”.

So, what do senior managers expect from HR? Well, they are looking for HR to balance the needs of the business & its workforce at a corporate level. HR can only deliver this if it has its finger on the pulse of what employees are feeling & how well they are working. So HR needs to be out & about in the business working with its customers to understand what they all need & how this can best be delivered.

This takes us neatly back to the point about whether HR is really up to the job (& not just the new recruits). Because what customers really want is a HR function that knows about HR. They do need to understand the business, of course they do, but fundamentally they need to be the people experts. And maybe this is HR’s problem – that too often we are seen as designing systems, policies, processes, & even names for ourselves such as “Business Partner”, for our own ends, rather than for the business’ needs.

So, where are we now? How can HR demonstrate its value? As Anita Lettink asks: “What is the added value of HR when managers lead employees?”

Senior managers stress the need for HR to understand the challenges facing line managers and their business needs. HR must be able to identify the people behaviours & skills that will drive organisational success & focus on business priorities rather than on policies & procedures that don’t add value to the business. Finally, HR should be able to support the business in reducing inefficiencies through the use of appropriate data & metrics that will drive organisational effectiveness.

The world of work is changing & HR is going to have to reinvent itself in order to keep pace with this. In a world where people expect to use technology to work & learn, HR is going to have to use these tools in order to reach & engage with both managers & employees. We need to demonstrate business awareness & have the ability to understand & interpret data that give real insight into performance. And fundamentally, we have to know what our customers want from us & must set about delivering on it.

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Moneyball, or what Brad Pitt can teach you about managing great people…

It struck me that the only way to maintain a blog (it is, after all, yet another commitment) was to write about things that interest me & hope that other people find these musings interesting too! So, the opportunity to start with a blog that incorporates Brad Pitt, performance management & the art of getting the best from people seemed like a good way to start.

So, why Brad Pitt? Well, this week Pitt was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Billy Beane in Moneyball (also nominated for a further 5 Academy Awards), which tells the story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team in 2001. The film tells how Beane, as Coach of the Oakland A’s, is ultimately successful in assembling a team of first class players, despite not having the revenue of the other, bigger, clubs. Beane and his chief scout Peter Brand, used a system known as sabermetrics to identify playing statistics that could be good indicators of future success. In doing this, they flew in the face of conventional wisdom at the time to identify a new range of qualities to look for when scouting for talent. By re-evaluating their strategies, the Oakland A’s were able to compete against much larger market teams such as the New York Yankees despite having only a third of the budget.

How is this relevant to business performance? The critical factor here is that Beane was able to identify a range of qualities to look for when scouting for talent. He was very clear about what he was looking for in a player & could recognise when a previously poor performer could be moved to a different position to achieve much greater things. I am often asked to support businesses in managing an under-performing individual, the aim being to exit the individual at minimal cost & disruption to the business. Very often this is the result of a mismatch in expectations between the business and the individual and a lack of mutual understanding.

Do you know what you are looking for in your people? Do you invest quality time before beginning the hiring process in deciding what your ideal person would “look” like? Or do you advertise a vacancy with limited information about your requirements and hope that you will meet the right person in the interview?

So, when your business is looking to hire new talent what should you be doing in order to generate your own Moneyball? Make sure that you know the answers to these:

  • How will you measure whether this person is successful or not?
  • What are the key objectives for the first 6 – 12 months?
  • What skills are essential in order for them to be able to deliver?
  • How would you want them to behave?
  • Can you train them to deliver or do you really need someone who can hit the ground running?

Remember “Recruit for Attitude – Train for Skill”.