Hiring: The Broken Process

It makes good business sense to invest the time in more precisely matching the individual to the job.

By Herb Greenberg, Ph.D., Founder, Caliper Corporation

You’re looking to make a hire. So, you advertise “10 years of experience required.”

I cannot tell you how often I’ve asked groups to whom I’m speaking, “Why 10 years?  Why not eight or 12 years?” There is never a solid answer. 

Making 10 years of experience the magic number is arbitrary.  So I ask, “How many of you have hired the individual with 10 years  of experience only to find that he or she is repeating a year’s worth of bad experience 10 times?”

You learn you’ve made a mistake, but it’s too late.  You and your company have paid the price of a bad hire. Why? You might assume it is always important for an individual to have experience in the job for which he or she is being selected. Unless you are talking about your surgeon, the answer is not what you might expect.

Regardless of the experience a resumé indicates, chances are that you may end up hiring someone who is not ideally and inherently suited for the job you want to fill. Employee satisfaction surveys reveal the grim statistics: Most people are not impassioned about what they are doing on the job. In other words, they don’t love what they do. Which means essentially, they’re not motivated. Why? Because the role they are in doesn’t allow them to play to their strengths.

Hiring the wrong person for the role adds to the significant number  of what we call the “misemployed.” Unless you have identified the core strengths of the person you are looking to hire and have matched those traits to those required by the job you want to fill, you are, at best, making a calculated guess.

Training the Untrainable

If you follow your hunch and proceed with the hire, you then may want to offer training. This is the second area where the hiring process can go wrong.  Perhaps you want to offer a training program for new hires in a particular position—sales, for example.

The risk in funneling your new sales hires into such training is that you may be trying to train the untrainable. It’s like trying to turn a piece of coal, simply because it contains carbon, into a diamond just by polishing it. You’re trying to turn someone into something they’re not.

On the other hand, if you have a diamond in the rough—in other words, a person whose core strengths are aligned with the job that you have for him or her—the right training can help to uncover that person’s true potential and turn an ordinary employee into a superstar.

In today’s economy, we can end up hiring people who are taking a job simply to have a job. The inherent ability and motivation that can make the difference between a lackluster employee and a great one simply isn’t there. 

Good training is necessary to provide individuals with the tools they need to accomplish their job, but all the training in the world can’t motivate an individual to do that job. As most reputable training organizations will tell you, “You can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude.”

Understanding Your People

Once an individual has been hired and trained, next comes the onboarding process.  Here again, even if selection and training have been adequate, huge mistakes often are made.

First, rarely is the supervising manager aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the team who reports to him or her. And likewise, the individual just hired rarely is made aware of the manager’s needs. While companies give new employees a job description, rarely is their job description directly related to their boss’ responsibilities. Caliper has been brought in to rectify situations where although selection and training appear to be effective and connected, the new employees are assigned to the wrong manager, or the manager and employee are not given sufficient information to ensure their joint success.

We should go one step further here. In some cases, the company does not clearly enough communicate what is required of a new employee. To compound this ambiguity, managers do not know the strengths and weaknesses of new employees, which means the manager is ill prepared to manage new employees as effectively and efficiently as possible. How can you coach employees in your care if you don’t understand what motivates them and which of their core traits and strengths are best aligned with success on the job? Without a deep understanding of the people on your team, you’re really coaching in the dark.

Often, managers feel they’re doing the right thing by acting as a coach or bringing in a coach for their team.  If the coach is not aware of the unique strengths and weaknesses of the employee, the coaching process can, at best, miss the mark, and, at worst, do damage. Simply put, good coaching begins with really knowing the individual being coached.

The broken pieces of the hiring process result from inaccurate assumptions. We assume that if job candidates have 10 years of experience, they must know what they’re doing and are likely to succeed in the job to be filled. We also assume that off-the-shelf training will be effective for employees, regardless of their unique strengths and weaknesses. And third, we assume that we can hand the new hire over to a manager, mentor, or coach who knows little or nothing about the new employee. Most managers go with what they know —they manage as they have been doing year after year, regardless of who they are managing.  Such an uninformed approach to management can lead to frustration for both manager and employee.

Whether you look for talent from outside the company or within among current employees (which more companies are beginning to do), it just makes good business sense to invest the time in more precisely matching the individual to the job. You want your hiring decisions to be based upon the kind of substantive data that personality assessment profiles uncover.

The payoff to this investment of time and effort is that people whose core personality strengths are matched to a specific job are much more likely to give the return you want on your hiring investment. In other words, when you assess your job candidates with personality testing, engage them in multiple interviews, and check references carefully, you are much less likely to make a hiring mistake.

Once you have made a good hire, trained your new employee in the way he or she needs to succeed, and established a well-defined relationship between manager and employee with clear expectations based on an in-depth understanding of their core strengths and competencies, you have, in essence, avoided the broken hiring process that plagues many companies today.

Whatever investment you make in testing job candidates, providing the right training or coaching, and establishing a solid manager/employee relationship should be more than offset by the productivity you get from your new hires, and, in fact, the entire team.

Herb Greenberg, Ph.D., is the founder and chief executive officer of Caliper, an international consulting firm, that for 50 years has assessed the potential of more than 3 million individuals for 25,000-plus companies around the world in the areas of hiring, employee development, teambuilding, and organizational development. Dr. Greenberg can be reached at hgreenberg@calipercorp.com or 609.524.1200.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.