One of my YPO clients asked me to co-write an article on cultural fit with him for their group’s internal website. YPO, or Young Presidents Organization, is comprised of thousands of CEOs around the world with companies over $20 million in revenue that are run by people typically 30 to 50 years old. Cultural fit is a critical topic for them.
I suggested hiring for cultural fit isn’t that tough as long as you follow this simple rule:
Rule 1: Don’t hire jerks.
By jerks I mean people who always complain, they’re negative, they need to be told what to do, they are unwilling to compromise or they just don’t get along. Few people are like this all of the time. However, the circumstances of the job can make anyone become jerk-like.
So to accurately measure cultural fit, you need to carefully determine someone’s propensity for becoming a jerk at your company. You can’t rely on personality and gut feelings to make this important assessment. This is done far too often: excluding the right people for the wrong reasons and hiring the wrong ones without the proper due diligence.
How to spot a jerk
Be careful. Anyone can become a jerk if three or more of the following conditions apply:
- The person took the job primarily for economic reasons. This can become a problem once the new hire discovers the job isn’t as good as hoped.
- Job expectations weren’t clarified up front and the actual job turned out to be less than desired.
- The new hire and the hiring manager don’t get along. Anyone can become a jerk under this situation.
- The person has a big ego. One POTUS candidate comes to mind, maybe two. These are the perpetual jerks. Avoid these if you can but sometimes they bring a lot to the table.
- The candidate hasn’t coached, trained or developed other people including peers and support staff. True jerks never do this, so this is very revealing. A person is definitely not a jerk if people regularly ask this person for advice and he/she gives it freely.
- The person’s work style doesn’t match the pace of the organization or the resources available. This is big. That’s why people from big slow-growth rule-bound companies struggle at smaller companies where the rules are made up daily.
- The person isn’t flexible enough to deal with change. Sometimes people who are very structured and work in structured jobs find it difficult to deal with change.
- The person hasn’t collaborated in the past with the types of people he/she needs to collaborate with in the current job.
By digging into the person’s major accomplishments by asking the most important question of all time, you’ll be able to determine all of the above. While avoiding hiring jerks is important, the same questioning pattern can be used to identify exceptional people. In this case, look for the factors that indicate a high degree of job satisfaction, the ability to work with others and the flexibility to match the pace of the organization.
How to identify people who would be a good cultural fit
Of course, to determine the job satisfaction part you’ll need to prepare a performance-based job description before you even start the process. The big point though is that you need to make sure the person is taking the job for the right reasons. That’s how you avoid hiring good people who eventually become jerks.
You can test for this a few days before making the offer by asking the candidate to forget the salary for a moment and ask if he/she really wants the job. If the person says no, don’t make the offer. You’ll be hiring someone who could become dissatisfied very quickly. This is a real clue the candidate has not been thoroughly vetted, the company rushed the hiring process or the candidate isn’t very discriminating.
If the person says yes, ask them to explain why. Then separate his/her answers into short- and long-term factors. Short-term factors include things like the employer brand, location and job title. Long-term factors include work that is motivating and important, working with the team who he/she has met, the leadership qualities of the hiring manager and the chance to be in a culture that maps to the candidate’s internal motivators.
If the emphasis is on the short-term factors the potential for dissatisfaction is high. When people leave jobs for short-term reasons and accept them for other short-term reasons a condition known as the vicious cycle of underperformance and dissatisfaction is created.
However, when people accept jobs for long-term career reasons and they have been thoroughly vetted, have a clear understanding of real job needs, can work well with the team and their work style maps closely with hiring manager’s, they will become exceptional employees. Bottom line: This is how you prevent hiring jerks and how you hire for cultural fit.
Everyone thinks the questions asked during the interview are what matters.
They’re not nearly important as the answers.
And neither of these are as important as how the answers are assessed.
In fact, if you know what you’re looking for in terms of real job needs, like the following example, you can ask almost any questions you want.
A Simple Performance-based Job Description for a Product Marketing Analyst
- During the first 60 days review the launch plan for the new mobile app suite. As part of this identify all concerns and potential challenges. Develop a resolution for each.
- Put together a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of all direct and indirect competitors for a Q2 executive review.
- Under an extremely tight timeframe, work with the advertising and market research groups ensuring product messaging and positioning meets all user needs. This area is far behind schedule.
With this actual job in mind, the goal of the interviewer is to ask whatever questions are needed to determine if the person is competent and motivated to do this work. Most important, if the person is competent and motivated to do this work, he/she will have the exact set of skills, experience, competencies and educational background required. That's my definition of the perfect person.
Here’s how I’d suggest you go about determining if the person is competent and motivated. First, ask some variation of the most significant accomplishment question to determine each of the seven factors in the Job Fit Index. Then answer the following questions to rank the person on some type of Yes-No-Maybe.
The Performance-based Hiring Job Fit Index Questions
- Does the candidate have a track record of comparable results?
- Does the person have enough of the skills needed to do the actual work required or learn it quickly?
- Is the person still growing in her field and/or is the quality of her work exceptional?
- Does the person possess the Achiever Pattern, meaning the person been formally recognized for being in the top 25% of his or her peer group?
- Can the person work with the hiring manager’s unique style, collaborate effectively with the team and fit with the culture of the organization?
- Is the work itself intrinsically motivating to the candidate? If the person isn’thighly motivated (i.e., in “flow”) to do the actual work required, forget the idea of hiring the person.
- Does the candidate see the job as a career move? The definition of a career move is a 30% non-monetary increase consisting of some job stretch, more rapid job growth and a richer mix of more satisfying work.
Getting to Yes is the Key to Hiring Perfect People
The answers to all of the above questions need to be a collective yes before hiring someone. Getting the evidence and information needed to obtain the yes is the challenge, though. This is why the questions themselves are less important than how the interviewing process is organized and how the collective evidence is assessed. For a start, eliminate the 30 minute series of interviews. This is a sure way to have superficialities, biases and first impressions dominate the hiring decision. Next, eliminate gladiator voting. Up down voting with the biggest thumb deciding is a sure way to hire the wrong person.
Here’s a better way. First give each of the interviewers a few of the Job Fit Index factors. When interviewers narrow their focus to a subset of the total decision they tend to be more thorough. Some type of performance-based interview can be used to gather this information. They then need to share the evidence they gathered in a formal debriefing session before the team makes the Yes-No-Maybe decision for each factor.
If there’s a wide variance on any of the factors, assign it a “maybe” and get more information. You want close to a unanimous “yes” or “no” agreement on all of the factors before deciding whether the person should be hired or not.
In my opinion, if there are two or more collective and definite no votes on any of the factors you shouldn’t hire the person. One correctable no or a soft yes is okay if the hiring manager is willing to coach and develop the person. Regardless, getting the right information to make the correct hiring decision is the purpose of the interview.
After more than a thousand interviews, I’ve discovered that asking questions is the least important part of the process. It’s getting useful answers based on tangible evidence that really matters. And this evidence needs to be evaluated against actual job needs, not the interviewer’s perspective, bias, first impression or feelings. However, if you know what you’re looking for in terms of real job needs all you need to do is get a unanimous “yes” on seven simple questions.
That’s how you hire perfect people.
While personality tests like BEST are useful confirming indicators, they're not predictive. Regardless, they do have value when used to understand how a person's personality has changed over time.
Since Jung-based personality assessments like DISC, MBTI, Predictive Index and BEST, measure preferences instead of competencies, they are inappropriate for screening purposes. Regardless, they can be used during the interview to better understand the process candidates use to achieve their results.
This short video will get you up to speed quickly on the BEST test. It only takes these two questions to determine your BEST style, that’s why it’s “Simply the BEST.” (Here's a form to download).
Horizontal Axis: Do you prefer to make decisions quickly with limited data (right) or are you more cautious and prefer lots of data before deciding (left)?
Vertical Axis: When working on a team project are you more interested in the needs of the people (bottom) on the team or on achieving the results (top)?
By itself, someone's BEST style has little value, but using it as a guide can help improve interviewing accuracy significantly. Here’s how:
Use Simply the BEST Personality Test to Increase Interviewer Objectivity
- Prepare a performance-based job description to assess the person's competency, fit and motivation. I could write a book about this but this short post will demonstrate why skills-laden job descriptions are bad as assessment tests for screening candidates.
- Conduct the interview using your diagonally opposite BEST style. If you're an intuitive decision-maker (those on the right), slow way down. Focus on the process of success, not just the person's assertiveness and first impression. If you're a more cautious decision-maker (those on the left) don't just focus on the depth of the person's technical or team skills. Instead, understand how he/she collaborated with others to achieve significant technical and business results.
- Eliminate the bias of other interviewers. During the debriefing session filter each interviewer's assessment by his or her BEST style bias. One way to do this is to use evidence, not emotions to make a yes/no decision.
- Organize the interview by BEST style. Force people out of their BEST comfort zone by having them ask performance-based questions about their less dominant styles. For example, have Engagers ask about the person's most significant technical accomplishment. The Performance-based Interview I advocate describes this process.
Understand How the Candidate's BEST Style Affected Performance
- Determine the candidate's dominant BEST style. Dig into a few of the candidate's most recent significant accomplishments figuring out how he/she made major decisions and overcame big problems. The candidate's BEST style will stand out.
- Determine competency by style. Ask the person to describe a major accomplishment for each BEST style. Get one for results achieved, one for influencing others, one for a big team project and one for analytical thinking or technical prowess. This will also reveal the differences between competencies and preferences.
- Assess flexibility across styles. As you ask these BEST performance-based questions notice if the person is able to adapt his or her style depending on the circumstances. The best people can. This is a sign of growth, maturity, potential and cultural fit. Be concerned if the person tends to use one or two styles for all situations. This indicates the person is inflexible and less able to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Assess ability to deal with different types of people. For each major project have the candidate describe everyone on the team and their roles and levels. Then get examples of how the person dealt with conflict and/or influenced those who were different styles, different functions and were more senior and junior to the candidate.
- Evaluate competency growth in dominant style over time. As part of asking performance-based questions look for changes in the size, scope, scale and complexity of the person's accomplishments over the past 5-10 years. Alone, this trend of growth is revealing, but also evaluate how the person grew in his or her core BEST style. For example, has a Technical become more proficient handling more difficult technical challenges or has a Supporter dealt with more complex business issues dealing with more senior level executives?
- Map the candidate's BEST style to actual job needs. To be considered a serious candidate the person's accomplishments need to compare on a scope, scale, complexity and style standpoint. This Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard will help you determine a good fit.
BEST-like assessments are useful as a confirming measure of performance but should be used carefully or not at all for pre-screening purposes. The either/or nature of the questions is a fundamental weakness associated with all of these types of tests. For example, a person may prefer to make quick decisions but when the situation calls for in-depth analysis the person might be fully competent. Using the performance-based interviewing approach described here and focusing on changes in BEST styles over time addresses this either/or problem. That's why this BEST test is simply, the best.
Improving and measuring quality of hire is a challenge that companies have been struggling with for years. That’s because, in my opinion it’s simply not possible using current hiring practices.
The problem relates to too much focus on generic skills and competencies, the use of ill-defined jobs for hiring purposes and indirect interviewing and assessment techniques (i.e. anything needing some type of statistical means for validation).
Accurately measuring pre- and post quality of hire requires a clear understanding of actual job needs; sourcing and recruiting programs designed to attract the best, not weed out the weak; and direct measures of past performance. The 11 steps outlined below meet this criteria and you can easily test them out on your next hiring assignment.
Using a Performance-based Hiring Process to improve quality of hire
1. Define exceptional performance rather than an exceptional person.
Every job can be defined as a series of 6-8 performance objectives. For example, it’s better to say, “Launch the new product line within 6 months targeting 20% market share within 2 years,” rather than, “Must have 5-8 years of product marketing experience in our industry plus an MBA from a prestigious university.” The quality of a person’s comparable results will then be the pre-hire measure for quality of hire.
2. Don’t post internal job descriptions.
There is no law requiring a company to post skills-laden job descriptions. When the top labor lawyer in the U.S. says using Performance-based Hiring as the foundation increases diversity and high potential hires you might want to give it a try. Starting with stronger candidates is one way to hire stronger people.
3. Turn job descriptions into stories to attract stronger people.
Use Marketing 101 techniques to write compelling career stories. As part of these, describe the work that needs to be done and the impact the person can make. You’ll also send these to passive candidates to get them excited.
4. Embed the skills into your career stories.
Convert your most critical skills into outcomes as part of your online job descriptions. For example, “Use your CPA and experience in international consolidations to help manage our fast-growing business,” will excite a person. “Must-have” requirements will turn the best off.
5. Develop a catchy title.
“Flight Nurse – Helping Save Lives Everyday” will generate a lot more interest than “Medivac RN – Experienced.” The former generated 14 viable candidates in one week vs. one marginal candidate in three months.
6. Create a “pitch tweet.”
Captivate your ideal candidate’s intrinsic motivator with something like, “Join new Ruby scrum team generating advanced VR gaming platform: LINK #vrgames.” Social media is a great sourcing channel when used properly.
7. Screen on Achiever terms.
To find the top 25% for any job, add recognition terms like award, honor, society, leader, coach, fellowship, promoted, patent, white paper, speaker and/or assigned to your Boolean strings. Achievers include these terms in their profiles and resumes. Those with few accolades use passive or generic terms.
8. Engage in conversations.
Go slow. While the above techniques will get stronger performers into the top of your recruiting funnel, you need to use a career-oriented recruiting approach to get them excited about your opening.
9. Modify the job to fit the person.
The likelihood a top person who’s not looking will find your vague job description an exact career fit is remote. Think about adjusting the scope of the position somewhat as a means to craft it as a career move.
10. Interview on past performance in comparison to actual needs.
The Performance-based Interview is all about having the candidate describe accomplishments comparable to those listed in the performance-based job description. Neat fact: If the person has comparable accomplishments and is motivated to do the work required, he/she has exactly the skills and experiences required.
11. Assess quality of hire pre- and post.
Using the Talent Scorecard found in the Appendix to The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, you’ll be able to measure pre-hire candidate quality of hire based on the person’s past accomplishments. You can use the same scorecard to measure the person’s actual on-the-job performance post-hire. By following the Performance-based Hiring process, the two measures will be close to exact.
According to Harvard professors Ross and Ogas, in order to maximize personal, company and societal performance, there is a need to customize your offerings to meet the needs of the individual being served. This is true for education, industrial design, medicine, sports coaching and hiring. In their soon-to-be published book, The End of Average, they outline why the Performance-based Hiring process described above is the only hiring process they found that could increase quality of hire for any job, improve on-the-job performance and increase employee satisfaction. It all starts by emphasizing the impact the people hired can make rather than the cost of hiring them.
... if a person isn’t internally motivated to do the work you want done, the person will wind up being in the 68% of your disengaged workforce.
Chapter I - Last Wednesday AM
Last week was a strange one. I started off bored stiff. Unwilling to get to work, and when there, just went through the motions. However, I had a slight spark on Wednesday leading a workshop for LinkedIn on how to help SMBs (small, mid-sized businesses) compete for talent with the BBBs (big and bigger businesses). One of the participants asked how his company could hire highly engaged employees. My response in a minute since this is just the first chapter in this story.
Chapter II - Last Wednesday PM
Things started to get interesting that evening while waiting for a flight in Orange County to San Jose (both CA). Somehow someone somewhere must have known I was thinking about employee engagement. As I flipped open Flipboard there was a cover story from Gallup with the rather sensational, at least to me, headline: Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014. My first thought, “I’m not alone. It’s probably the weather or Deflategate.”
The article itself was rather depressing. Less than 32% of the U.S. workforce was engaged, 51% were not engaged and 18% were actively disengaged.
Chapter III - A Week Prior to Last Week
The week before these two events happened, a co-worker from 15 years ago out-of-the-blue suggested we meet for coffee. We scheduled a meet-up for this past Friday. I didn’t remember the co-worker too well although the name was familiar. I actually thought the person was a college fraternity brother. Boy was I wrong. He now provides leadership training to companies around the world on how to increase employee engagement! He found his work inspirational. He even inspired me to write this article.
Chapter IV - Last Friday
During our conversation he asked me for advice on how to hire highly engaged employees. It was the same advice I gave during the Wednesday webcast. In fact, it’s the same advice I’ve been giving since I became a successful headhunter in the 1980s. It went something like this:
Adler’s Avuncular Wisdom on How to Hire Highly Engaged Employees
To hire highly engaged people, only hire people who are already highly motivated to do what you want done.
Here’s how you do this:
- First, recognize that motivation to do the actual work required is not the same as being motivated to get the job or being motivated some of the time to do some of the work.
- If you don’t clarify job expectations before you hire the person, it’s problematic if the person will be motivated to perform the actual work you want done. If you know someone who’s ever taken a job and discovered it wasn’t what he or she thought it was going to be, you have personal experience with this common hiring problem.
- Rather than use skills- and experience-laden job descriptions to define the work and advertise your jobs, prepare performance-based job descriptions that clarify the job expectations upfront. (Note: not doing this is the root cause of hiring the wrong people.)
- In your recruitment advertising highlight the work that needs to be done and the impact it will have. This will attract people – even passive candidates – who are motivated to do the work you want done. (Note: this is actually commonsense disguised as rocket science for marketing.)
- Ask the Most Significant Accomplishment question 3-4 times and find out where the person proactively took the initiative to get things done. Have all of the other interviewers do the same thing. During the debriefing session look for a pattern of where the person went the extra mile, wouldn’t quit, took the initiative and did more than required. This is the work that the person's will do without needing to be energized or reengaged. Then compare this to the actual work that needs to be done.
- Use our talent scorecard to evaluate and compare candidates. This form embodies our hiring formula for success, essentially: ability times motivation squared equals results. Point: if the person isn’t internally motivated to do the work you want done, the person will wind up being in the 68% of your disengaged workforce.
Chapter V - Summary
Hiring highly motivated employees is simple. Just define the work you want done before you hire the person. Then find people who are highly motivated to do this work.
Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn's Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.