The Complexity of Hiring SMART
Hiring the “right” candidate is the antonym for having to fire the “wrong” employee. There are many hiring managers and HR professionals who have a good “gut-feel” for hiring. Personally, I have an easier feel for firing people under my care. As much as I loathe having to fire someone because I failed (lacked the capacity) to bring them up to speed, it really is very easy. In fact, I’ve even had that mysterious, “thank-you” for firing me conversations several times. However, I’d rather hire right than have to fire well.
The reason it is easy to fire well . . . . Measures! If you are an astute manager you will have measures that promote the kind of behaviour you are looking for in a high performing team. You’ll also monitor that performance and give instant feedback and assistance to keep your team winning.
If wins are hard to come by then it indicates a situation where changes are needed. When performance wanes with an individual, the manager needs to start coaching, if the coaching has failed then moving to progressive discipline, leading to termination is the option. This may be a situation where the hiring process slipped as much as the manager. So what does hiring have to do with firing, well, it turns out to be the opposite side of the same coin.
Daniel Goleman posted a bit from a masters class with Claudio Fernández-Aráoz recently, called “How to Hire the Right Candidate”. Goleman discussed how to hire the right candidate using a 20 year old technique of structured-behaviour interviews and reference checks. However, the post made some strong assumption about the hiring manager and the organization. I surmise this is for two reasons:
- It’s a current, in your face topic, with a lot of research around the cost benefits of getting a good candidate up-front.
- The organization has made the means and measures for performance available and can identify those criteria.
When hiring managers are not very good at firing people it indicates that their systems and processes are not in place, understood, or practiced. In this case, they are called on to deliver the criteria (job analysis) for a high performing candidate without really having the means to measure them. Affectively, they hire someone under false pretence or just “gut-feel”. Remember that a manager who is good at firing rarely has to do so, and when they do it is fast.
Now, I can assure you that none of this firing business is done maliciously or on purpose, any manager worth their salt will take it as a person failure. But going back to the post by Goleman I ask: How can behavioural questions have any meaning if they do not have a current benchmark for performance to measure them against? In fact, the article notes how one interviewer can have a 50% error while reaching the third reduces error to 1%. This is really just reduction by “gut” and gut is highly biased.
Don’t get me wrong, gut is good, in 2010 Heribert Watzke gave a TedTalk called “The brain in your gut” where he compared the level of neurological capacity to that of a cat. The fact is, your gut is connected to the limbic system in the brain and is a powerful assessment tool. Your cat can tell if a good guy or bad guy walks into the room too. However, can the cat tell if they will perform in your organization?
Typically a method for interview will follow a few key steps, such as, determining skill areas, create behavioural questions around skills, and finding a way to rate those questions.
These steps are important because the interview needs to be relevant to the job, but this takes us back, full circle, to the job measures. We need to ask ourselves when developing the interview criteria, “When I give the employee their probationary and annual or incentive review, how will they be judged?” Behavioural and skill questions should be based on those measures that have proven results.
Of course, the manager needs to align with the vision and mission of the organization, but that’s another story. In finding performance criteria it is important to understand the goals that the candidate will contribute to and what role they will need to play in that achievement. Knowing that role also values the employee and builds inclusion, an important factor in group development.
Setting performance goals is not easy and needs regular consideration. One way to set goals is to use the mnemonic acronym SMARTER (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related, and evaluated and reviewed). SMART is generally considered to have come out of Peter Drucker’s 1954 work on management by objectives.
For translating this to the candidate interview we need to have clear goals and means to measure, deriving our job analysis from those goals and tasks, since the measure will ultimately drive the behaviour that creates the win.
Behavioural interviewing is ultimately a great tool but if you are the hiring manager and your measures are not in place or the HR person bringing the person in, then the final success may not be up to your great interview technique. More than one employee has gone from champ to chump by being fed into a poor process loaded with perverse measures.
In sum, measure the hiring performance, if it is weak then look at the job processes and measures. Make sure to get clarity on the job, its goals and how they are measured in a “SMARTER” way. Be fair and transparent and you’ll be sure to build a great team.
Brian Mendoza Dominguez