I had lunch with a colleague a few weeks ago who is the author of a book called “The Paradox of Excellence: How your great performance can kill your business.” He had been CEO of a midsize public company for many years and more recently a consultant for several well known Bay Area tech firms. He told me there are indicators that can be evaluated and fixed before companies or people in business fail.
I’ve taken the liberty of interpreting the questions he asks company CEOs and translating them into recruiting terms.
The core questions are the same.
Yes =1, No =0
|Are any of the following circumstances true today for you?||Yes||No|
|1||You are the sole resource for your customer.|
|2||Your customer has grown to consider you highly reliable.|
|3||Your performance is used as a benchmark to judge others.|
|4||You spend at least 20% of your time creating reports indicating your successes.|
|5||You are often called to consult on other issues by your customers.|
|6||Your projects are often completed so efficiently that you are looking for new ways to challenge yourself in the next project.|
|7||You feel highly appreciated by your customers.|
|8||You include a cross section of customers and peers in your projects.|
|9||Your customers use your metrics in their own performance presentations.|
|10||Customers respond to your ideas in a positive and urgent manner.|
|11||Customers respond to your emails or calls within a short period of time.|
|12||Customers are forgiving of small errors you may make.|
|13||New customers call you because of your reputation.|
|14||External peers call you for advice.|
If you scored 12 or greater, you are doing excellent work, working collaboratively, and clearly demonstrating your successes. If you scored between 7 and 12, you may be doing excellent work but could improve on your collaborations or metric reporting. If you scored less than 7, you may be doing great work but have a low perceived value.
If your score was lower than you would like, don’t feel bad. My score started out low but jumped over the past year because of the changes I made that took me from invisible to valuable.
A Paradox in Excellence
We’ve all been taught that if you work hard and do a good job, people will notice and you will be valued. The paradox in this is that the better you do your job, the more invisible you will become, except when bad news arises. So the challenge becomes one of maintaining positive visibility in a socially acceptable way.
It’s a hard truth, but we don’t get paid for working hard. We get paid for producing a result that someone else values. So if you are working really hard to produce something your boss or customer doesn’t value, you have to ask yourself, “Is my performance excellent–really?”
We need to work on things that are important to our customers. First, we need to understand why the work is important. Second, we need to gain an understanding of what the customer really wants. Lastly, we need to how they measure success. But watch out: don’t assume the excellent work you performed in the past will be perceived as excellent a second time. We need to not only have new innovative solutions, but we also need to engage the customer in the new solution while at the same time engaging the supporting resources, whether those are your peers or external sources.
In the book “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin, he says, “Outstanding performers don’t always possess staggering intelligence or gigantic memories.” Outstanding performers add value to their employers.
I don’t claim to be the best recruiter on the planet, but I have had my share of successes and know my way around the web. I’ve always had a good reputation with my customers and human resource management for being able to deliver top quality candidates. Last year, I met with a customer that needed to have 15 new engineers in their seats within 60 days. Our normal time to hire from posting to offer was averaging 130+ days. Although there was a Six Sigma project underway to shorten the time to 60 days, that was not going to meet my customer’s needs. I also was competing for his business with an external contract staffing firm. I took it as a challenge to win over the customer’s business. Our applicant tracking system had not been updated in quite some time. I didn’t have CRM or SEO capabilities to drive and manage talent. In spite of the lack of systems and web technologies, I saw this as an opportunity to deliver value to the customer.
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Collaboration and Alignment
Once I had a clear idea of what my customer wanted, I met with the key stakeholders who were involved in the hiring process. I described the customer’s needs and milestones and with their input laid out a step-by-step project plan to achieve the milestones. There were about 50 steps to the hiring process before an offer was made. As we reviewed each of the steps I kept asking the same question: Is there a way to make this faster? The excuses were the usual ifs, ands, and buts.
We decided to break through all the barriers to expedite the hiring process. We learned that most of the hiring paperwork, including salary, background check, and other necessary approvals could be done before the candidate arrived for their interview versus after the interview. Our technical managers normally had the final say on which candidate they were going to interview, but our Six Sigma evaluation indicated that this decision alone was averaging 60 days. Interviews were taking another 20 days to complete. Like most companies, our support organizations are minimally staffed, and the extra job of recruiting and hiring is an additional burden to the manager’s workload. We simply took that work off their plate. With 15 vacancies to fill we decided to bring in 10 candidates at a time for a one-day interview. Our goal was to make same-day offers to 80% of the candidates.
The new expedited process allowed us to meet the hiring goals. The benefits of the new process provided a new record for the hiring cycle which went from 130 days to just 30 days. We saved an estimated $150,000 in management time by condensing the interviews into one day. In addition, we were able to maintain the high quality of candidates who are normally hired in the 130+ day process.
I created the chart you see here to visually demonstrate the process improvement. For metrics to have maximum impact, it’s helpful to have a comparison of old to new. The numbers can be industry average, last year’s performance, or in my case averages from long-term hiring data.
15 Hires in 60 Days
So how did this add value to my position? Let me put it this way: my score on the test above went from around a 10 to 14! I went from just another employee in HR to the subject matter expert in recruiting and hiring. (According to the customer), recruiting requests for my service, as well as the recruiting department, have quadrupled. I’ve been asked to consult in areas other than recruiting, including new business development. The new process was referenced throughout the Department of Energy as best practice. The HR department used the metrics as one of the top accomplishments of the year. I went from an invisible but high-performing employee to someone who is known for adding value to the growth of the Laboratory and an expert in my field.
In summary, consider the following next time you take on an assignment:
Employee Value = how well you do it (quality) + how fast you do it (efficiency) + how much you do (volume) + how well you meet the need (target need)