I recently led a hiring workshop with 140+ marketing and engineering design managers. They all complained they weren’t seeing enough top candidates and many of those who were hired either underperformed or were disengaged. I then said all of this was predictable.
I then proved it. The proof started by asking them to describe the characteristics of the best people they had ever hired or had ever worked with. This is the short list of what they came up with:
Top Traits of Top Performers
- Consistent high-quality results, on time, on budget.
- Leadership: Can articulate a vision, influence others, plan and organize resources and deliver the results.
- Proactively tackles difficult problems often with a new perspective.
- Gets it done – no excuses! Exceeds expectations.
- Takes the initiative for doing important work and volunteers for critical projects that take extra time.
- Self-motivated to do the work that needs to be done and doesn’t need a lot of direction doing it.
What’s interesting about this list is that it doesn’t mention generic competencies, depth of experience, personality traits or academic background. There’s nothing about great communication skills, cultural fit, whether the person was on time or prepared for the interview or whether the person had a great DISC profile. Everything described regarding on-the-job success involved doing the work that needed to be done, doing more of it, doing it better and more efficiently, and doing it with other people.
Big Aha Moment: If you don’t know the work that needs to be done ahead of time, it will be problematic if the person hired will be successful afterwards.
Predict Performance by Reverse Engineering Outstanding Performance
To predict a candidate’s potential for on-the-job success, start by defining outstanding on-the-job performance. Then assess candidates by benchmarking their performance against this standard.
Here’s how this can be done in four basic steps:
- First define the results you want achieved. If the person can do the work, he/she has all of the skills necessary.
- Assess a candidate’s past performance doing comparable work in a comparable environment with a comparable manager.
- Make sure the person is intrinsically motivated to do the work.
- Offer a true career move based on what the person can learn, do and become.
This is the process I call Performance-based Hiring. Here’s how to implement it.
Performance-based Hiring: Predict Job Success in 4 Steps
First create a performance profile describing the 5-6 major results a person needs to achieve in order to be considered successful. For example, for a design engineer it’s better to say, “Complete the prototype of the new (app, circuit, valve, switch, interface, whatever) by Q2,” rather than “Must be a results-oriented team player with 5-10 years of experience in (laundry list of skills).”
For a GM, it’s better to say, “Restore the ABC division to profitability within 18 months,” rather than “Must have 10+ years in the OEM industry working with high-volume rotating equipment in a six sigma environment with an MBA from a top school and a degree in engineering.”
Use the interview to assess a person’s past performance in relationship to these performance objectives. Ask this basic question for each of the objectives in the performance profile:
One of the big challenges in the job is (state one of the objectives). What have you done that’s most comparable?
Follow up by asking a series of fact-finding questions to fully understand the person’s accomplishments. To determine the comparability of the accomplishments, base your assessment on the scope, scale, span of control and complexity of the work and the environment in which it took place. Then plot all of the accomplishments over time to determine if the person is still growing or if the person has reached a plateau.
As long as the results are somewhat comparable, the person has an upward track record of performance and a good portion of the job involves work the person finds personally motivating, the person deserves to be on your shortlist of finalists for the role. You can use this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard to collect the evidence needed to make a decision. Under no circumstances use an up/down gladiator voting process.
The final aspect of this process is offering the person a true career move, not an ill-defined lateral transfer with a bit more money. In my mind, a true career move involves a 30% non-monetary increase. In this case, the 30% is a combination of job stretch (a bigger job), increased job satisfaction (doing more satisfying work with more impact) and job growth (being in a situation that offers more upside potential). While compensation is not unimportant, it should not be the most important reason a person accepts your offer.
Since we use a similar performance-based assessment approach for developing and promoting people internally, there’s no reason why this same approach shouldn’t be used for hiring people from the outside. Forget about the laundry list of skills. Start by defining outstanding success as a series of outcomes and results. Then find people who are both motivated and competent to exceed your expectations. Surprisingly, using this technique you’ll still be pleasantly surprised when they do and that's all the proof you'll need, too.