Thinking Out-of-the-Box to Solve Diversity Problems

You won’t hire more diversity candidates by “sensitivity” training. This is another outdated HR idea comparable to competency models, behavioral interviewing and the use of like/dislike personality tests to predict fit.

The fact that Google fired someone for writing some ill-advised manifesto makes no sense either. The dumb manifesto and the dumb firing and the dumb solution indicates that there’s a bigger issue at play. Why not figure out why the person wrote the memo to begin with and then put him on a project team with a lot of diverse talent to find a true solution?

Google and every other company that wants to hire more diverse talent need to recognize that when you have a strategic problem you need to first figure out the root cause of the problem and develop a new strategy before implementing a bunch of old-fashioned programs with new names. To me, if HR wants to be strategic they first have to begin thinking strategically.

I have an early background in overhauling processes and systems to better control product design and manufacturing costs. When I became a recruiter it was obvious that hiring was the most inefficient of all business processes. Twenty years ago I had this graphic drawn for one of my first training courses.

Sadly, little has changed. Here’s my top 10 list of pervasive problems with some obvious solutions.

  1. The wrong talent strategy leads to the wrong process. A surplus of talent strategy designed to weed out the weak won't work when a surplus of talent doesn’t exist. In a scarcity of talent situation you need to attract the best in.
  2. Skills-based job descriptions are useless. The best people get promoted for none of the stuff written on the job descriptions. When I take a search assignment I ask the hiring manager what the person needs to do to be considered successful. This results in a performance-based job description describing the 5-6 key performance objectives for the job. Then I find people who are motivated and competent to do this work. This is how you open up the pool to more diverse and high potential candidates and people with non-traditional backgrounds.
  3. The assessment process is flawed. You don’t assess competency, fit and motivation by box-checking skills, giving personality tests and conducting behavioral interviewing. You assess competency by having the candidate prove they have done comparable work under comparable conditions of complexity and stress.
  4. The best people want more money. The best people always want more money than the budget. The only way they’ll take less is if they see the job as a true career move. A career move is a minimum 30% non-monetary increase consisting of a bigger job, more satisfying work, a job with more impact and faster upside potential. Proving this is why you need a skilled recruiter and a fully-engaged hiring manager.
  5. Everyone is biased, especially hiring managers. You can’t train people to be objective. You need to systematize it out. I have 12 bias eliminating tips that help minimize interviewer bias, but the best ones are conducting more well-organized panel interviews, assigning people narrower interviewing roles, and using crowd sharing to complete our Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard.
  6. We should listen to Maslow and Harvard Prof Todd Rose. When people are screened out based on the skills, eliminated from consideration based on their compensation needs and accept offers that are at best ill-defined lateral transfers, success is problematic. Check out Rose’s The End of Average for more on this critical idea.
  7. The legal justification for “tradition” is an excuse for not changing. I asked the top labor attorney from the number one law firm in the U.S. his opinion on all of the above. I included his whitepaper in my latest book. Here’s his point on diversity: Focusing on “Year 1 and Beyond” criteria may open the door to more mi­nority, military, and disabled candidates who have a less “traditional” mix of experiences, thereby supporting affirmative action or diversity efforts.
  8. Being more efficient doing the wrong things masks activity for progress. Being faster at weeding out the people you’re not going to hire based on some AI algorithm might seem state-of-the-art, but it’s actually based on outdated thinking. As part of the redesign effort, replace the “Apply” button with a “Let’s have a conversation” button. Rather than submitting a resume, have interested prospects submit a short write-up of a major accomplishment most comparable to an important job need.
  9. HR is too risk averse. In HR there are too many followers and not enough leaders. Being different is the key to hiring stronger people. Playing it safe and waiting for some “authority” to give the okay is a recipe for being too late.
  10. Minimizing hiring errors is not the same as hiring stronger people. Any structured interview will eliminate some emotional mistakes and those caused by a hurried or superficial process. In fact, a causal factor analysis will prove that this is the reason behavioral interviewing can be statically justified as effective. To hire stronger people you must implement steps 1-9.

For the last 20 or so years I’ve begun all training sessions and talks by asking, “Have you won the war for talent yet?” No one answers “Yes.” The reasons why are listed above. What I can’t figure out is why HR and talent leaders are unwilling to change.

The 12 Factors That Reveal Your Company Culture (and Allow You to Hire Better)

I just wrote a post suggesting Amazon doesn’t have a culture problem; it has a hiring problem. The idea being that a company’s culture is not defined by its people but by its competition, its environment and its inability to hire the right people. Given this, you need to hire people who fit and work within the real culture, not the imaginary one described by the utopians in HR.

Define Your Real Culture by Considering These 12 Drivers

1. The CEO sets the tone:

Consider Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Jobs, Cook, Bezos, Page, Ellison, Gates and all of the other CEOs most people don’t know. Culture starts at the top. And if it doesn’t, things go out of control at the bottom.

2. The strategy:

There are four primary strategies: operational performance, product excellence, market growth and financial maximization. A company’s culture is affected by its mix.

3. Rate of change:

From start-up to bureaucracy, where a company is positioned on the corporate lifecycle will impact its actual culture.

4. The competition:

A company’s daily activities and its underlying culture is driven by whether it’s vying for sales, investments, the right people or the latest technology.

5. The nature of the industry, function, department, season, economy, etc:

Accounting firms are always busy at tax season, sales is always intense at the end of the quarter, engineering is always trying to meet design schedules, investment bankers always go 24/7 and everybody struggles when the economy collapses.

6. Depth of resources:

Fast-growing companies never have enough people to do all of the work.

7. Rigidity factor:

Changing things is hard to do if the company doesn’t want to change.

8. The quality of the managers:

Great managers can insulate their team members from many of these inherent cultural problems. Weaker ones make things worse. If the manager’s leadership style doesn’t map to the new hire’s management needs, nothing else matters – the person will be less effective than expected.

9. Cultural fit:

Good people in the wrong environment will underperform. Good people in the right environment will excel since they can deal with whatever happens. Cultural fit however is not the feel-good HR speak described on the company’s career page. It’s everything else described here.

10. Capacity to handle change:

Good planning and planning for contingencies enables a company to manage change more effectively. Pressure builds when the actual change required is faster than the ability to handle the change.

11. Performance to plan:

Financial or otherwise, things always get hotter in the kitchen whenever a company, group, division, or department misses its objectives.

12. Time matters:

Pressure builds whenever things have to get done under tight deadlines.

When I take a search assignment I ask the hiring manager to not only define the performance objectives required for job success, but also the environment and culture underlying these objectives. This needs to cover all of the critical factors described above, especially the hiring manager’s leadership style.

When I interview candidates for these jobs, I’m looking for people who have achieved comparable results in comparable environments. While this seems like common sense to me – and backed by extensive research from the Gallup – most managers fight the need to even clarify the performance objectives up front.

Hiring people who fit the cultural requires both: a true understanding of the culture and what it takes to be successful in it. One without the other is a recipe for underperformance, dissatisfaction and turnover. Unfortunately, it’s a recipe used all too often.

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.

* image by stavos

How to Build an Indescribable Company Culture

IMAGE: Getty Images

When it comes to defining company culture it's same o' same o'. This Culture Builder Tool can define your company's culture better than you.

Other than the CEO setting the general guidelines about performance and expectations, I contend defining a company's culture is beyond anyone's personal control. External forces like company size, growth rate and the competitive environment predefine your company's culture. More important, the hiring manager's style and the work assigned define the actual culture for each individual employee.

To demonstrate this point, I created this simple Culture Builder Tool. To determine your company's culture just select the appropriate terms from the categories below. Then compare this summary to what you think your company culture is. Get ready to be shocked.

The Culture Builder Tool to Define Your Company's Culture

The Basics: Pick one term from each set.

  • Energy: Driven, Motivated, Results-focused
  • Team: Respect for the individual, Team-oriented, Collaborative, It's All About You
  • Character: Ethical, Principled, Committed, Authentic
  • Attitude: We Care, A Fun Place, Be Yourself, Things Happen Here, Progress, Professionalism

Our People: Pick one statement from the following.

  • Our people are our pride.
  • At _____ our people count.
  • Our people are #1.
  • You make it happen here.
  • (Or come up with your own generic people-related statement).

Our Customers: Pick one statement from the following.

  • Customer satisfaction drives us every day.
  • Our customers' success is our success.
  • At ____, you're one of the family.
  • No company treats its customers better.
  • (Or come up with your own silly customer-facing statement).

Pace: Select your company's growth rate and use all of the terms.

  • Start-up: Lean, Self-starter, Tireless, Adaptive, Creative, Do-It-Yourself, Wild 'n Crazy
  • Fast growth: Fast decision-making, Think on your feet, Resourceful, Make it happen, Pressure-packed, 24/7, Continuous Change, Individualistic
  • Moderate growth: Flexible, Patient, Adaptive, Goal-oriented, Improving, The Team Counts, Think Scalability, Collaborative
  • Slow growth: Stable, Thankless, Really Patient, Structured, Security, Frustrating, Political, Slow Moving, Changeless

Strategy: Select your company's primary strategic focus and use all of terms.

  • Market Growth: Customer-Focused, Sales Growth, Market Penetration, Customer Satisfaction Counts, Aggressive, Sales and/or Marketing department driven
  • Product Excellence: Design for Quality, User Experience is King, Technical Excellence is Essential, Drive for Perfection, Product and Engineering department driven
  • Operational Efficiency: Analytical Focus, Attention to Detail, Process is King, Six Sigma Thinking, Performance to Plan, Cost Controls, Adherence, Operations and/or Accounting department driven
  • Financial Maximization: Risk vs. Reward Thinking, ROI Approach, Investment Mentality, Performance Matters, Do It Right, No Waste, Hard-nosed, Financial department driven

Managerial Style: Select the hiring manager's dominant approach to managing.

  • Micro Manager: Do it this way!
  • Controlling: It better be my way!
  • Supervisor: We'll do it the company way!
  • Trainer: Let's do it the latest way!
  • Coach: This might be a better way!
  • Delegator: Do it your way!
  • Hands-off: Just do it!

Industry: Pick one, if needed, to make your list longer.

  • Best in the industry
  • Award-winning industry provider
  • Ranked No. 1
  • No one does it better
  • We set the standards

Now put all of the items you selected in one paragraph titled "Our Culture." Then fix the grammar, tenses and focus and you have your company's actual culture. Now compare it to your existing cultural description and make some comments below.

[close X]

Click Here to Learn More

No matter how important you think it is or brag about it, your company's culture is largely beyond your control. From what I've seen, 25 percent of a company's culture depends on the pace of the organization and industry competitiveness, 25 percent on the hiring manager's style, 25 percent on the person's fit with the job (which drives satisfaction and motivation) and the balance is a collection of everything else. As long as you get the pace, job fit and managerial style parts right and don't hire jerks, your culture will be just fine. Even better, everyone will fit it. A culture built this way will be unique and diverse and one you can truly be proud of. In fact, it will be indescribable.