Use the Process of Success to Hire Better People

I needed to put the following video together for a Performance-based Hiringmanager interview program we’ve just launched. Whether you’re a recruiter, hiring manager, a member of the interviewing team or a job-seeker, I thought you’d find it useful as a means to more accurately identify high performers. It’s based on the following assumptions:

  • Hiring competent and motivated people starts by defining the job as a series of performance objectives rather than listing the traditional list of skills, experiences and educational requirements.
  • These performance objectives need to be as SMARTe as possible: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results defined, Time bound, and the environment (pace, culture, manager’s style) defined.
  • Using the “Process of Success” as a benchmark, the major performance objectives can be broken into critical subtasks. This typically begins by figuring out the challenges, putting a plan together and then successfully implementing the solution.
  • By asking SMARTe questions and probing for SMARTe answers the interviewer will be able to determine how well the candidate’s past performance maps to future performance expectations.

If job expectations aren’t clarified up front, it’s problematic if the person hired will be both competent and motivated to do the work required. Creating SMARTe objectives, asking SMARTe questions and looking for the process of success changes a random event into a highly predictable outcome.

The 10 Traits of Outstanding Candidates

As described in my previous post, there are 12 skills recruiters need to master in order to identify, attract, assess and recruit people who aren’t looking to change jobs. And the most challenging set of skills to develop are around identifying talent and potential.

Having done this for about 35 years and written about it for the past 20, I believe that there is a set of traits common to the most outstanding candidates. Most of these can be figured out as part of the fact-finding involved when asking a person to describe his or her major accomplishments as part of the Performance-based Interview I recommend.

Here they are:

1. They make things happen.

Being results-driven or motivated is not enough. Achieving the expected results is what’s important. To figure this one out, ask about the biggest project the person handled and how he/she achieved the objectives.

2. They volunteer for projects over their head.

During the interview, ask about the person’s three biggest accomplishments in the recent past. Then ask why he/she was assigned the roles. Look for people who stretch themselves or are assigned to stretch jobs.

3. They get recognized for superior work.

People get awards, bonuses, promotions and formal recognition for a job well done. Raise the caution flag if you don’t find much regardless of the person’s presentation skills.

4. They find jobs through their network.

Ask the person how they found his/her last job, and the few before that. The best people are frequently sought out by their former bosses and co-workers. If so, find out why.

5. They hire great people, many through their network.

If the person’s a manager, ask the person to rank the quality of each team member and ask how each new hire was found and hired. The best managers seek out the best people and give them opportunities to become better.

6. They have an upward sloping trend of performance.

Examine the size, scope, scale and complexity of the person’s major accomplishments over the past 5 to 10 years. The best people increase their impact and influence over time. If the person has plateaued, look for high quality work and exceptional passion for what they do.

7. They know how to solve job-related problems.

Forget the brainteasers. Get into a discussion about some realistic problem the person is likely to face on the job. The best people can put some type of logical plan together to find a solution, including how they’d figure out the answer to things they don’t know.

8. They overcome obstacles rather than make excuses.

As you dig into the person’s major accomplishments, ask how he/she overcame major problems. Look for a pattern of making things happen, taking personal responsibility and consistently achieving planned results. Avoid those who make excuses.

9. They posses multi-functional team skills.

Collaborating on major projects with influential people in other functions is a core attribute of those who get promoted. To figure this dimension out, ask about the biggest and most important teams the person has been assigned to, why the assigned to the project and his or her role. Then look for how the person influenced the team results and their ability to understand the challenge from the perspective of people in other functions.

10. They can zoom.

This is a catch-all trait I invented. It’s the ability to get granular to understand a problem, the ability to zoom out to see the strategic and multi-functional consequences and then zoom in to figure out the best tactical solution. The depth and breadth of the person’s zooming ability is a great indictor of the person’s current ability and upside potential.  You’ll need to conduct the full Performance-based Interview to figure out how well the person zooms.

I left out leadership from the list but I’ve discovered that if a person has most of the above attributes it’s because the person is a strong leader. Recruiters need to recognize true talent rather than just box check skills and experiences. The best people rarely have everything listed. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this is actually what makes them the best people. And it’s why recognizing talent is one of the core traits of all top recruiters.

5 Ways Good Managers Can Hire Great People

Back in 1997, I wrote Hire With Your Head and have since updated it multiple times. It was based on benchmarking more than 100 hiring managers I had worked with over the previous 20 years who had a track record of hiring and developing great talent. Two years later, Gallup introduced its Q12 in the seminal book, First Break All of the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Not surprisingly, these management principles weren’t much different than those identified in my far smaller sample. Fifteen years later, Google confirmed the earlier findings in itsProject Oxygen study.

My purpose, though, was different than Gallup’s or Google’s. It was to use these great management techniques to find and hire great people. This quickly led to thePerformance-based Hiring approach I’ve been advocating since the turn of the century.

The Five Core Principles of Performance-based Hiring

  1. Define the results, not the skills. If we manage and promote people based on defining and achieving results, shouldn’t we hire people the same way? So rather than define the skills a person needs to have to do a job, define the job as a series of 6-8 performance objectives. To get started thinking this way, convert all of the required skills into results by asking, “What does on-the-job success look like using this skill?” For example, 5+ years of product design for outdoor wearables becomes “design and develop the complete 2015 product line for delivery to the factory by Q2.”
  2. Fast-forward one year. Every job has 2-3 big objectives. One way to determine these is to ask, “What are the biggest performance objectives the new hire would need to accomplish in the first year that would earn the person a promotion, special bonus or huge raise?” For a director of HR this may be, “Lead the implementation of the Workday HR system across six international operating units representing 10,000 employees.”
  3. Define the “Process of Success.” Whether it’s a sales rep, engineer, mid-level manager or executive, there’s a sequence of steps involved in achieving any major objective. This starts by first figuring out the problem or challenge, followed by conducting some type of analysis, developing the key subtasks, putting a detailed plan together, organizing the resources and then successfully executing the plan. Once you have these steps figured out (see slideshow), you can reverse the process as the basis for the Performance-based Interview. This involves asking candidates to describe some comparable major accomplishments and then peeling the onion to uncover the process they used to achieve the objective.
  4. Put the performance objectives in priority order. The above steps typically yield 10 or more performance objectives. From a practical standpoint, the top 6-8 represent the critical factors driving on-the-job success. To increase interviewing accuracy, make sure everyone on the hiring team is aware of and agrees to these objectives. Otherwise they’ll revert back to their normal, and suspect, interviewing practices.
  5. Think Backwards. As seen in the slideshow, emphasizing what people need to have on their resumes and what they get in terms of compensation as preliminary filters excludes the best people from consideration. To attract stronger people, it’s far better to emphasize what people need to do and what they could become if they’re successful. This backwards thinking should start the hiring process. For one thing, if the work represents a career move, compensation will be a negotiating item not a deal breaker. Even better, if the person can do the work, they’ll have exactly the level of skills needed to do the job.

Hiring results-oriented people starts by defining the results you want and then hiring people who are competent and motivated to achieve them. This has nothing to do with skills, competencies or behaviors. Surprisingly though, those you hire will have exactly the skills, competencies and behaviors you’ll need to achieve the results you want.

Hire More Diverse Talent by Rethinking the Job Description

Skills- and experience-laden job descriptions are at the root cause of why companies are having difficulty hiring enough strong people. There is a solution: First define the results required to be successful. Then find people who are competent and motivated to deliver these results.

For the past 30 years, I've been on a kick to ban traditional skills--and experience-based job descriptions. The prime reason: They're anti-talent, anti-diversity and terrible predictors of future success. If your company is having problems hiring enough strong people, maybe it's time to consider your job descriptions as the cause of the problem, not the solution. Unfortunately, too many human resources people pull out the legal trump card as their excuse for their continued use. To set the record straight, I asked David Goldstein, a preeminent attorney from Littler Mendelson (the largest U.S. labor law firm) to compare the idea of using a performance-based job description to the traditional job description. His whitepaper is included in the appendix of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. (Here's how to obtain acopy, or you can watch this webcast we did together last year.) This is his interesting summary:

  • By creating compelling job descriptions that are focused on key performance objectives, using advanced marketing and networking concepts to find top people, adopting evidence-based interviewing techniques, and integrating recruiting into the interviewing process, companies can attract better candidates and make better hiring decisions.
  • A properly prepared performance profile (aka performance-based job description) can identify and document the essential functions of a job better than traditional position descriptions, facilitating the reasonable accommodation of disabilities and making it easier to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws.

For background, a performance-based job description describes the work that a person needs to successfully accomplish during the first year on the job. Most jobs can be fully described in six to eight performance objectives. These are in the form of "complete the detailed project plan for the new automated warehouse in 120 days." This compares to the more traditional: "Must have 5+ years of logistics and supply chain management experience in high-volume consumer durables, plus 3 years of supervisory experience." Here are my top six reasons why using performance-based job descriptions are more effective in attracting, assessing and hiring stronger people than your company is hiring today:

1. Attract stronger people

By emphasizing the work itself and the employee value proposition, online job postings can better represent the career opportunity. Here's an example of how job postings can be used to tell stories that are designed to attract the best people, rather than focus on weeding out the unqualified ones.

2. More accurate screening

While some level of skills is important, the "amount" written on a job description is arbitrary, misleading, and capricious. Unfortunately, front line recruiters use this criteria to screen out people who could do the work but have a different mix of skills and experiences than listed.

3. Increase influence with passive candidates.

A recruiter who doesn't know the real job requirements is quickly branded as a gatekeeper and ignored by any talented person. This is equivalent to a sales rep who doesn't know the product being represented. As hiring needs accelerate in 2015, this will be a critical bottleneck for any company wanting to attract passive candidates.

4. Become a better manager.

Clarifying job expectations upfront has been shown repeatedly to be the foundation of a strong and effective manager. This is the number one factor in Gallup's Q12 list of factors that maximize employee performance and engagement. Google's Project Oxygen reconfirmed this. Most important: a manager who doesn't understand real job needs will not only turn off any strong candidate but is likely to hire someone who is taking the job for all of the wrong reasons.

5. Convert competencies into performance objectives.

Any competency like cultural fit, teamwork, organizational skills, drive or leadership is easy to assess using a performance-based job description. Just ask how the skill or competency is used and measured on the job. On a recent project, for example, strong communication skills for a research scientist was, "convert months of research into 10-minute TED-like talks to the executive team."

6. Increase the predictability of on-the-job performance.

Using the most significant accomplishment question and Performance-based Interview, it's easy to determine if a candidate is both competent and motivated to do the work required. It starts by getting comprehensive examples of the candidate's accomplishments most related to those listed on the performance-based job description.

In a talent surplus situation perhaps it's acceptable to use traditional skills-laden job descriptions to weed out the weaker candidates. In a talent scarcity situation, like we're in now, this approach will backfire.