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Making a Truly Excellent Hire

KeysI was in a meeting with a client last month who had an employee resign at the worst possible time. He wanted my help figuring out how to replace this person quickly. His experience is one many managers have had. But, how do you change from the panic mode to a rational and strategic one? When even the most valued employee leaves, recognize it as an opportunity to strengthen your organization. In this issue of Changing Times, we share five best practices for managing employee departures and making good hires. They include:

#1: Learn from Those Who Leave
#2: Know What You Want in a New Hire
#3: Base Your Hiring Decisions on More Than Your Gut
#4: Hire for Smarts
#5: Don't Expect Your New Hires to Sink or Swim - Orient Them

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Best Practice #1: Learn from Those Who Leave
Understanding why an employee is leaving - and whether you could have done anything to keep him or her - can be a powerful strategic management tool for reducing turnover's sting. If done candidly and consistently, the information can help inform future hiring decisions.

Getting an accurate read on your organization is another important benefit of conducting exit interviews. In a recent issue of Inc.com magazine, Richard Harding, director of research at consulting firm Kenexa, explains, "It used to be the main point of an exit interview was to find out why people were leaving. The new thinking is to turn it around and figure out why good people want to stay." The article points out that figuring this out is especially important in today's labor market, which is characterized by low unemployment and a new generation of employees who no longer expect to remain with the same company for long.

In a successful exit interview, candor is key. To get useful information, the interviewers must be friendly, but probing. The session should be relaxed and conversational. And paramount - all comments must be kept confidential. Treat the departing employee as a trusted advise9r rather than a traitor. Even if a dissatisfied employee is leaving, they often feel a connection to their co-workers and want to see the company improve and succeed. Business decisions should not be based on the comments of any single employee; rather you should be looking for trends and patterns that emerge from a number of exit interview conversations.

Laura Butcher is a member of The Wunderlin Company network, and former HR leader at GE, Bank of America, and Delta. Laura advises using the exit interview data to involve current employees in fashioning action plans that decrease turnover and improve current employees' satisfaction. "If you hear time and time again that people are leaving because the company is not family-friendly, ask a group of current employees to address this specific issue and work on solutions for improving the company's family-friendliness."

Two resources for excellent exit interview questions are: Goodbye and Good Luck; and, What to Ask Before Employees Leave.

As with all your recruiting, interviewing, hiring and exiting processes, make sure that your questions comply with legal regulations. Check your proposed interview questions with your human resource manager or employment attorney to ensure that you avoid legal pitfalls.

Best Practice #2: Know What You Want in a New Hire
If you don't know what you're hiring for, you might get something else. Creating current, specific, and accurate job descriptions is a critical first step toward making good hiring decisions. Start with your current strategic plan. Where are you headed in the future? What knowledge, skills, and behaviors do you need to look for in a new employee? If you are replacing a worker, ask, How has this job changed? What would I like to see approached differently? What attributes are critical? What would be the result of hiring the right person?

In previous issues of Changing Times, we have shared Jim Collins' ideas From Good to Great about "getting the right people on the bus." That's what a strong job description will help you do.

A job description should be more than just a list of duties; it should focus on behavior traits. Excellent descriptions define the job in terms of its objectives. Start by itemizing your most successful employees' patterns of behavior. For example, for a sales position, include, "Demonstrates optimism, persistence, and an ability to present ideas to customers," instead of, "Make 10 cold calls a week." The best job descriptions start with the objective/purpose of the role, and then present a listing of job responsibilities - written in broad terms, not on a task level. Qualifications are then presented and include the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the job.

A carefully crafted job description can become your blueprint for an interview. Take your list of behaviors into the interview and pose follow-up questions until the trait is validated. Another article in Inc.com advises concentrating on a candidate's descriptions of their actions as much as you listen for the attitude or preference you are trying to uncover. Where possible, ask for examples from the past. This brings us to our next "Best Practice"…

Best Practice #3: Base Your Hiring Decisions on More Than Your Gut
Okay, so let's say you have a current, specific, and accurate

job description and that you have a number of candidates. How do you make a good match?

Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. That is the theory behind behavioral interviewing and it's a technique that most HR professionals recommend for evaluating job candidates. "Tell me about a time when you…(describe a situation here,)" is typical of a behavioral interviewing question. The secret is then to follow up that question with more and more specific questions, such as "How did it go?" "What was the impact of your contribution?" Many candidates are familiar with the behavioral interview technique, so it's essential today that you ask artful questions and are prepared to follow up. The Smart Interviewer, by Bradford D. Smart, is an excellent source for additional behavioral interview details.

Laura also endorses conducting multiple interviews with a candidate, each conducted by a different person, including someone who reports directly to the position. "It just gives you different viewpoints - different lenses - from which to evaluate the candidate." "Ultimately," she counsels, "it should be one person who makes the hiring decision."

Talent/skills assessments are additional means for measuring a candidate's fit. One must be careful to validate that the assessment used is technically sound, applicable to that particular position and company, and complies with a host of government regulations. Valid assessment tools can reveal, for example, whether candidates enjoy a lot of detail in a job, their agility with numbers or words, their energy level, and their need for structure. Often times, the information gleaned from assessments can ensure the ultimate hire is well managed.

"Conducting a background check and reference check is also a critical part of the hiring process, and shouldn't be shortchanged," Laura advises. These two activities should take place at the end of the interviewing process. They should be used to validate your decision or to learn something that would cause you to reconsider it.

Best Practice #4: Hire for Smarts
At the highest levels of an organization, the most crucial predictor of executive success is not confidence, kindness, or charisma; it is sheer brainpower. A recent Harvard Business Review article entitled Hiring for Smarts states, "Thinking critically is the primary responsibility of any manager, in any organization, and a leader's capacity to engage in this process is largely determined by his or her intelligence." Justin Menkes notes that there are many academically brilliant people who might score in the genius range on an IQ test, but who could never make it as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. That's not surprising, he explains, since IQ tests focus on cognitive skills central to success in school, not in business. Rather than reading, writing, and math, executives need to be measured on the following:

  • accomplishing tasks
  • working with and through others
  • judging oneself and adapting one's behavior accordingly

Measuring a candidate's brainpower is not easy, but it can be done. Develop cases and scenarios that reflect the complexity of your organization's environment. When candidates offer their approach to addressing that situation, you can gain insight into the quality of their thinking processes. This technique works particularly well in comparing the quality of several candidates' replies. Learning to interview and assess executive candidates for intelligence can deepen insight into a candidate's potential to contribute to your team.

Best Practice #5: Don't Expect Your New Hires to Sink or Swim - Orient Them
In his book,"The First 90 Days", Michael Watkins estimates that the cost of a failed hire is 14 to 28 times base compensation. In addition to bottom line costs, individual lives are affected and an organization's productivity can be boosted or cut short based on the relative success of assimilating people into new jobs.

Once again, that well-crafted job description can come into play; it can serve as a guideline for orienting a new hire. Develop a 30- and 60-day plan with your new manager. It is a simple measure, but one that is often overlooked. There are other things you can do to assimilate a new leader. What might take four to six months to happen naturally can be achieved in a much shorter period of time. For example, a formal assimilation interaction between a manager and his or her team enables rapid and open information sharing. Team members learn upfront how a new manager likes to receive information and communicate with his or her employees. People don't have to flounder and learn by trial and error how to hit the new leader's sweet spot regarding being kept informed about ongoing projects. Getting new hires off to a quick start maximizes success and minimizes turnover.

Conclusion
The whole recruiting, hiring, interviewing, and assimilation process is complex and strategically important. Set yourself a goal for this year that every new member of your team elevates the overall average. Don't wait until you lose a key employee to put a plan in place. And let us know how we can help!

To discuss any of the ideas in this newsletter further, feel free to contact Laura or: Karen.

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