If I were to ask you for the names of the people in your organization that you considered as high performing employees, could you do it? I have never talked to anyone who couldn't. For every job category in every organization, the high performers stand out and can be identified.
Managers who are asked this question often go on to explain the qualities of these people. Often they say things like: “They really get things done.” Or “they give 150% to the job”. Or they are my “go to” person. And even “I would be lost without them”.
But if I ask them why don’t they hire more people like those high performers, they say they can’t find them. Perhaps the disconnect is in the fact that they don’t really know what they are looking for. It is nearly impossible to advertise for people who will give 150%. The problem seems to be that hiring managers can not actually define what makes someone a high performer. If you can’t define it, you certainly can’t find it.
Recently, I was working with an international organization that was having trouble consistently hiring for a logistics manager in each region it serves. In this case, a great logistics manager can improve results by as much as 25% over a “good” logistics manager. Clearly, this is a case where you want to know what makes the great managers tick. As it turns out, they had hired a number of great logistic managers over the last several years. When asked to name them, they identified seven people who had demonstrated outstanding and measurable results. Not surprisingly, most of them had been promoted. Of course, those promotions created vacancies that were proving hard to fill with the same caliber of employees.
In the past, the answer to hard-to-fill positions would have been to change recruiters. If you had your internal people working on the problem, it was not uncommon to then hand the recruiting over to an outside agency. The prevailing wisdom was that the external agency would better understand the market. The hiring manager often cannot distinguish what abilities they are looking for in other than vague terms. So if the hiring manager can’t measurably describe what they are looking for, how can the recruiter find someone who will be a high performer?
Yet, there is a way to know what abilities best predict if candidates will be a high performer. Employment assessment tests properly used can make all the difference. The correct way begins with defining what you are looking for so that the hiring assessment tools can give you the best information.
Let's start with the research on what factors correlate most highly with successful performance. The top three are cognitive ability, work-related behaviors and previous experience. Previous experience is probably no surprise. But would it surprise you to know that it is the third best indicator? As it turns out, while experience is important, organization culture and expectations of effectiveness differ from organization to organization and can reduce the predictability of success based on previous experience.
The number one correlator of successful performance is cognitive ability, essentially how one solves problems. Once explained this way, it becomes obvious that the high performing employees are the ones who solve problems with the best judgment. That is why they are trusted and respected. Employee testing for cognitive ability makes the difference between an employee who needs to be told how to do something every time versus using hiring assessment tools that find employees who learn the first time how to complete a task successfully.
The second highest correlation to success is workplace behaviors. The key word here is workplace but I will go into that in a future post.
In the example of recruiting outstanding logistics managers, the mechanics were reasonably straightforward. We began by asking the seven top performers to participate in a study using an employee selection test. The study used a highly reliable and valid employee assessment tool designed to evaluate problem-solving approaches (cognitive ability). When all seven had completed the hiring assessment their results were compared. The comparison found four critical factors that defined what was common to all seven high performers. In this case, and it is not the same in all jobs, the critical success factors turned out to be the ability to solve problems using numbers, the ability to multi-task and still get results, a general of skepticism of other peoples' motives and a bias for intuitive decision making (versus using only data).The hiring tests identified that the high performers clustered tightly in the scoring for these traits.
Once these measurable factors were captured it became easier to identify those candidates most likely to succeed at the job.
How? Have the candidates take a hiring assessment, compare the results against those that are your high performers and use that information to inform your interviews and final decision making. Without this data, the chances of hiring another high performer are about the same as flipping a coin – 46%.
What keeps organizations from using this approach? One might think the reason would be time, complexity or cost. But none of these is a problem. It only takes one hour of time to take the hiring assessments and less time to generate the study. It costs just a few hundred dollars to generate a performance model of high performers and with the help of modern computers all the complexity is done by them. So it can only be that organizations don't know that all this is possible to do. It does challenge the norms for how hiring is done and it does reduce bias and increases the odds of finding high performers. So get the word out. There is a better way to hire that is faster and reduces the risks of bad hiring.