A Hiring Expert’s Dream

I had a dream last night. It went something like this: I was in a huge room filled with groups of people having heated discussions. “Red chicken feather soup is assuredly the best cure for cancer of the eyeballs,” I heard one of them say. “That’s not what I heard,” said another. “Ear wax dipped in guacamole and rubbed into elm bark works better.” “Nonsense!” said a third. “Neither of those things work. You need to FEEL the disease and ask it what kind of animal it would like to be.” At this point I couldn’t help but speak up. “What is your cure rate?” I asked. “Huh? Who are you?” they replied. “Just someone trying to understand your discussion.” “Cure rate? How are we supposed to know that? We just do our thing and let the patient do the rest. We’re professionals!” they said indignantly. “Okay,” I said. “Have any of you folks ever heard of pharmaceuticals? These are drugs that can cure most of the diseases you are discussing.” “You’re crazy. I’ve been using red feathers for years,” said one. “Wait a minute…you’re trying to sell these ‘farma-cuticles,’ aren’t you?” he asked warily. “No,” I replied, “I’m just trying to understand why you call yourselves professionals, even though you have no formal training in the field, reject all the science available to you, and persist on using silly practices to do serious tasks.” “Now just a minute, fella! We’ve been doing this for years and know everything there is to know about it!” “Okay. What are the Uniform Guidelines for good medical practices?” I asked. “The Uniform what?” “The Guidelines, you know, best practices,” I said. They seemed confused and started chattering among themselves. “Well, of course we do!” said one, with uncertainty in his voice. “Those guidelines are too much trouble. They take too much time. They only deliver average results. Besides, ‘practicing’ is not the same as ‘doing.'” “Okay. So you are telling me that best practices — the practices that help you cure the most people, treat every patient fairly, avoid being sued, and become a true professional — are too much trouble and only deliver average results?” “Yeah,” they said. “Your glass is empty. Don’t you want to go waaay over there and fill it up?” “No, I’m fine.” “Look, we really only care about whether our patients stay alive for six months to pay their bill. But we do have a problem with our apprentices. They are not very healthy and die fast. Would these ‘farma-cuticles’ help?” “Sorry, you lost me there,” I said. “Your own apprentices fare no better than your patients?” “Well, yes.” “So you are selling a service that is no better than patients can provide for themselves?” “You have us there. Ha, ha.” “What is your market advantage?” I asked. “We find and screen-out riff-raff patients.” “And then? “That’s it. After that, it’s up to the patient to either get better or die!” They all chuckled and glanced sheepishly at one another. “But seriously, we could use some help internally.” I left in disgust and walked over to another group that was also actively engaged in heated discussion. “…the damned patients get sick and cannot work. They die and we have to replace them continually,” I overheard one person saying. “Hello,” I said. “Who are you?” “Like I told those other guys, just someone trying to understand what’s going on. What’s this about your patients? You sound frustrated.” “Frustrated? Frustrated? We can’t get a patient worth a damn. They all look healthy when we hire them, but about half get sick and die. It costs us a fortune!” “Sounds like a problem,” I said, “what are you doing to make sure they are truly healthy when you hire them?” “Well, we talk to them for about an hour. Sometimes we even ask if they are sick.” “What do they say?” “Just what you expect — they are perfectly healthy and promise not to get sick.” “So you believe them?” I asked. “Yeah, why not?” “Do you do any tests? Blood pressure? Pulse? X-rays? Physical exams?” “No. That takes time.” “But you were just complaining about the problems this causes.” “What’s your point?” “You complained your hiring system is costing a fortune,” I said, “but you don’t do anything to improve it. In fact, it seems like you prefer to argue about the consequences than fixing the problem.” “Your glass is empty. Don’t you want to go waaay over there and fill it up?” they asked. “No, I’m fine,” I replied. “Well, hotshot, I suppose you have the answer.” “I do. Do tests. Check blood pressure. Take their pulse. Give some X-rays. And do a physical exam.” “But that would take time, and, um, it would interfere with our gut reactions.” “But time and gut reactions are not working for you!” I said. “What’s your point?” Brrrinnnggg! I woke up with a dull headache. What did it all mean?

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3 Comments on “A Hiring Expert’s Dream

  1. I suppose your next dream will be about primates who play the stock market and outperform the experts, eh?

    Your ‘dream’ reminds me of an old Catskill humor line: The Doctor says ‘You’ll live to be 60!’ ‘I AM 60!’ ‘See, what did I tell you?’

    Some people just have amazing powers of deduction…

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  2. Interesting article Dr. Williams, but what you are articulating in this dream is an age old problem. ‘Is recruitment an art or a science?’

    I think the board members would do well to read some of the work by Dr. Mike Smith and Dr. Ivan Robertson (UK based academics) who have tries to put some science behind recruitment. but are always left asking the question ‘Why do companies persist in using such poor recruitment / selection methods?’ Most people are aware of the validity and reliability of the methods they use but still persist in using them. Why?

    I think I may have an answer as my own research at the moment for my Masters is focusing on the use and utility of metrics in recruitment and selection and much of the literature I have studied shows a distinct lack, and indeed a reluctance on the part of HR professionals to use metrics to manage and improve their recruitment process.
    I think Dr. John Sullivan said it best sayinjg ‘If you don’t measure a process how can you hope to manage and improve it?’

    Recruiters / HR / Line Management still rely on their ‘gut feel’ when assessing individuals and often fall into the halo effect when making hiring decisions. Interviewing is a natural social process where people still believe that they will know the right person when they meet them. Is there anything we can do to change this view? The art of recruitment still prevails in the main,and while the academics expound the virtues of applying the science, there is a long way to go to convince the masses that there can be a science applied.
    At present I can only see metrics providing a solution to this issue as they are not biased or based on preconcieved notions. Cold hard figures lay bare the art and shine on the science of recruitment. But the reluctance of HR or recruiters to look beyond simnple measure of time and cost do not bode well for the profession. Act now before the management accountants take on bord the work of measuring the effectivenness of recruitment or even the whole HR department because ultimatley if they are measuring the process they will eventually get a bigger say on what is done.

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  3. Good ideas.

    Effective recruitment is a science that can be raised to an art form. Basic techniques of job analyses, validation and evaluation are all as close as your local university library. They have been around for years and their success is indisputable. The ONLY people who tend to dispute their results are people who tend to ignore them.

    The field is rife with professional ignorance. The average person believes recruitment is a ‘earn as you learn environment’. (Try selling that idea to any sports-team owner!) As long as practitioners discount the complexity of the field, it will remain bush-league.

    You might be aware of a behavioral theory called ‘balance of consequences’…basically, people tend to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. How does this play out in the profession?

    1) Recruiters seldom live with the consequences of their actions…someone else does…as such, recruiters have little personal incentive to do anything more than acquire somewhat qualified bodies.

    2) It takes considerable time and effort to evaluate candidate skills…but the results may never be seen…as such, ‘fill and bill’ accomplishes the short-term headcount goal. Want to change the playing field? Make recruiters responsible for on-the-job candidate skills.

    3) Of course, what is measured, gets attention…but measuring human performance among knowledge workers and managers is easier said than done. It is also subject to experimental confounds…You want to make money? Teach organizations how to easily associate money with employee performance. Get their attention and you will get their money.

    4) Human performance is a Tower of Babel. Managers, rectuiters and HR have no common langauge of human performance (e.g., trainers, educators, and vendors can’t even agree on a definition of ‘leadership’). Without a common language of performance, how can anything ever be measured?

    5) Managers (see #8) want the quick fix and simple solution. Experimental design (i.e., performance measurement) is rigorous, time consuming and indirect….it takes pain to achieve gain.

    6) It is poor politics to admit weakness. Hiring mistakes are often shoved under the rug, promoted or transferred.

    7)Everyone complains, but no one takes responsibility. There is a HUGE credibility gap between HR, line managers and executives charged with strategic goal. Why? Few are capable of professional management and candidate skills evaluation.

    8) 70% to 90% of people holding management positions were promoted based on past performance, not ability to do the job. As such, a majority of people in leadership positions do not have the intelligence, knowledge or skills to manage.

    9) Utility analysis has been around for years (a mathematical technique to estimate cost of poor performance). But, it’s complicated. Futhermore, when managers see the magnitude of money lost, they get glassy-eyed and mentally shut down like a Dilbert cartoon character…(see item 8)

    Why does recruitment ignorance remain rampant?
    1) A lack of primary accountability
    2) A consummate lack of professional education
    3) An embarrassing lack of professional association support and encouragement
    4) Few uniform performance metrics
    5) Unqualified management

    (Thanks for bringing up the points…focus your masters on metrics. You do the measurement, I’ll do the intervention…we’ll make a fortune!)

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