Evaluating Quality of Hire: Can’t Get There From Here

Time and again I read recommendations for evaluating quality of hire. Ask the managers, ask the employees, ask an astrologer. None of these things will ever give you more than a subjective opinion about the kind of information you need to improve the quality of hire. Here’s why.

Imagine advertising for superheroes. There are a dozen steroid-pumped, ego-centric applicants sitting in your waiting room wearing masks, capes, and tights. Each hero claims to have saved the world at one time or another. You hire three of them. Six months later, how do you evaluate your quality of hire?

Evaluating quality of hire requires looking at performance in a different way. It requires mentally separating the “how” from “what.” The “how” represents what the superhero says or does and “what” represents the outcome. Here is the hard part to accept: evaluating quality of hire depends almost entirely on evaluating “how” the hero performed the job, not the outcome. Regardless of opinions to the contrary, “how” is the only part of the job under the hero’s control. It is the only thing separating one hero from another.

Here is an example that may explain this idea.

It’s a particularly bad time on earth. Asteroid showers are occurring periodically, keeping the super-heroes busy. When he was on duty, Clock-Man reacted by turning back time. On her shift, Wonder Woman pulled the asteroids into new orbits with her lasso. And when it was his turn, Superman flew faster than a speeding bullet, smashing them into smithereens. The “what” was the same for all three: reversing time. Using lassos and brute force were all examples of “how.”

What about evaluating the quality of hire? Let’s look closer.

Clock-Man’s action trapped the world into a year-long time loop. The world kept rewinding and playing back. The asteroids never hit, but the world missed celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas, causing turkey famers all over the land to go bankrupt. Superman decided to stop first at Starbucks. When he finally finished, the asteroids were too close to be completely destroyed and one piece broke off, annihilating New Jersey (starting a lively argument about whether New Jersey was a fair trade for a decent Venti Mocha Latte).

Wonder Woman was shopping for glassware and misplaced her invisible plane among the fine crystal. When she finally found it, was able to lasso the largest asteroid, but a small one evaporated Paris Hilton and a small platoon of paparazzi (although no one except Mr. and Mrs. Hilton seemed to care). Now can you evaluate quality of hire?

Evaluating quality of hire is based on the same elements as determining which applicant to hire…you have to decide beforehand “how” a job to be done. Looking only at results can confuse performance because there are so many other things that can affect them. Superman might have been successful if he was motivated. Clock-Man should have thought through the long-term consequences of time-tinkering. Wonder Woman might have been more successful if she would have recognized the problems associated with finding an invisible glass plane in a clear-glass factory.

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Human performance always has three components: 1) an antecedent or event; 2) the candidates’ response or behavior; and, 3) the consequence or result. Folks call these the A-B-C of performance. The antecedent and consequence are the “whats” (i.e., the results). The candidate’s behavior is the “how” (i.e., what the employee said or did when confronted with the situation). “How” is what we use to define job requirements, select and promote employees, and evaluate quality of hire.

You can think of every job as having standards for motivation, organization, analytical thought, learning, and behaving. For sales jobs these might include competitive drive, time and territory management, sales development strategies, learning new products, making presentations, and so forth. Management jobs might include the motivation to direct and develop subordinates (instead of doing it yourself), achieving objectives, solving problems, managing the marketplace, and coaching skills. Jobs always have cognitive components and behavioral components.

The key to understanding “hows” is knowing which behaviors vary with the job holder, which are necessary for successful job performance and which are associated with failure.

Why don’t we more often use “hows” to evaluate employee and applicant quality?

  1. “Hows” often occur hours, days, weeks, or even months before we see results. We either forget or overlook them.
  2. Results are usually in-your-face singular events that command attention, whereas “hows” are more subtle and might occur together in clusters.
  3. We look at results and jump to conclusions about “hows”, often taking them for granted.
  4. Some people take credit for other’s “hows.”

I’m sure you can think of more, but people seem to have an intuitive understanding that how’s are important. But because most folks are not measurement experts, they get them confused. For example, let’s look at a sample list of recommended action verbs (i.e., hows) taken from a career-services center. They recommend using words like administered, analyzed, attained, chaired, contracted, consolidated, coordinated, developed, and strengthened. Unfortunately, if you are screening resumes or interviewing applicants, the only verb that even closely resembles a candidate-centered how is “analyzed” …the rest invite assumptions.

People are wired internally to make fast decisions based on little data. While this might be a good survival strategy, it leads recruiters and hiring managers to make huge assumptions about candidate skills. Negative information, for example, (e.g., a typo in a resume) leads us to assume the candidate is sloppy and inept. Positive information (e.g., high sales dollars) leads us to assume the candidate is highly skilled. A successful recruiter who knows how to identify and evaluate candidate “hows” will both recruit better candidates and be able to better evaluate quality of hire.


4 Comments on “Evaluating Quality of Hire: Can’t Get There From Here

  1. In the business world today, the main measure of success still remains the outcomes you produce and, unfortunately, not necessarily how you produced them. So, while I understand why the “hows” are important to measuring quality of hire, in many organizations that is not enough. The business side will still require some factoring of results or outcomes into any measure of quality.

  2. You are absolutely correct. It is one of the reasons we have bad management. You see, if the behavior is right, the majority of results will be right. Whereas wrong behaviors only occasionally lead to right results. The odds of a good hire are greater when the right behavior is identified and evaluated pre-hire.

  3. Wow! I struggled getting past the story of Clock-Man, Wonder Woman, and Superman, but persevered (the HOW). I was rewarded with a clearer understanding of the point of the article (the WHAT)…

    Seriously, although it was obtuse, the point is in there, and very worth considering. It is perplexing to me how “skilled” interviewers fail to explore the “HOW” after they have an understanding of the “WHAT”. While many experts decry the interview as a source of selection, I decry the interviewer as the problem within selection. Any candidate who claims to have successfully and repeatedly achieved good results should have no problem describing how, in convincing terms that are clear to the interviewer, they achieved the results. Candidate feedback I receive overwhelmingly indicates that the “HOW” element of the equation is virtually ignored.

    As long as businesses focus inordinate attention on the “WHAT” (bottom line, end result, EBITDA, or stock performance), it will be difficult for Managers (Hiring Managers) to focus appropriately on the “HOW”.

  4. This gets back to the same argument from 25 years ago went MBO was developed. People could get to the same goals by different routes. Some with desirable results some not so desirable, but everyone achieving the goal. So what developed was BARS to describe the behaviors someone should engage in to be able to achieve the goal in an acceptable manner. Turned out not to work to well.

    But others ran with this and we get behavioral interviewing, trying to get at whether someone performed in the past as we would like them to perform/behave in the future. All well and good, except we do not then measure them on these behaviors (the HOWS). Most of us just measure the outcome and deal with the fallout from the HOWS/behaviors in the aftermath.

    So if you want to truly measure quality of hire then you have to understand the behaviors you want, measure the use of them and measure the outcome or goal achievement.

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