People Are People: Don’t Fight It, Work With It

I was in a client meeting recently and had a request from one of the participants. “Help us fool-proof selection decisions to ensure only the ‘right’ people are always hired,” he said.

Instantly, my mind started compiling a list of solutions. Targeted selection interviewing training for all hiring managers. A list of the common interview tendency “errors” such as the halo or horn effect. Competency models with corresponding interview guides to provide additional clarity on the “right” people.

Others began to chime in with their ideas.

Everyone became excited about the steps we were taking to make sure members of the group “made no more hiring mistakes” to put it in the words of one individual.

Later that day, in thinking about the meeting, I found the sometimes-cynical side of me emerging. “There’s no such thing as ‘fool-proof’ hiring,” I thought. “After all, people are people.” I’d just had an epiphany.

I thought about that statement for a number of days. I realized that no matter how much we try to design a fool-proof recruiting process, we simply can’t account for all the possibilities when people are involved. People are too unique, and sometimes too unpredictable, and their tendencies, personalities, and experiences often work their way into the hiring process.

Recruiters are intently focused on using a litany of tools and techniques to provide the highest level of coaching hiring managers. I strongly advocate this but also recommend that recruiters acknowledge and account for the diversity of people and how they are shaped by their life experiences.

Think about the 8 oz. glass with 4 oz. of water in it: some describe it as half empty; others describe it as half full. Even though everyone may be looking at the same object, what they “see” can be vastly different.

Think about this same example but in a recruiting context: Two managers on the same interview team interview a candidate. The candidate is very confident in her responses, is assertive, and “closes” the interviewers by telling each, “I’m the person for the job. Give me the opportunity and I’ll give you results.”

At the debrief, the interviewers confer and find they have conflicting opinions of the candidate based on some of the same observations. As they compare notes, hiring manager #1 says, “I like that this candidate was assertive, had quick responses for every question, exuded confidence, and asked for the job at the end of the interview. I really believed her when she said she’d deliver results. She’s exactly what we need here at ABC Company.”

Hiring manager #2 says, “The interview was just too ?perfect.’ She had quick answers for every question; this demonstrates a lack of thinking things through.” He continued, “She was overconfident, and the closing line at the end was too salesman-like. It felt more like a pitch for a product than why she wanted the job. Not what we need here at ABC Company.”

Sound familiar? Don’t worry; there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is that subconscious biases influence us all to the point we don’t even realize it. A hiring manager who is interviewing a candidate who has graduated from his alma mater may have an immediate bias for the candidate simply because they attended the same school.

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A recruiter may be high on a candidate just because she has a similar profile to another candidate the recruiter placed with a different hiring manager one month ago, and therefore, not consider others.

A hiring manager may take an instant liking to a candidate because the candidate reminds her of a favorite relative. Another may subconsciously dislike a candidate simply because she has a southern accent and the hiring manager is from Minnesota.

The good news is that this keeps life interesting and challenges us to see and appreciate the world through multiple vantage points. Encouraging hiring managers to invite diversity (in its broadest sense, diversity of experience and thought) on interview teams will make for an engaging debrief. It can also highlight aspects of the candidate perhaps thought to be detractors by some to be great assets a team may lack.

Have a manager who is a big-picture “sky-is-the-limit” type? Surely he will have a strong connection to a “sky-is-the-limit type” candidate as they spend their interview time talking about all the possibilities. Challenge the hiring manager on the benefits of enhancing the team with someone who understands how to translate visions in the sky to tactics on the ground.

Working with a hiring manager who insists that the ideal candidate’s experience must be identical to her own? Demonstrate to that manager the value of incorporating a different set of experiences and perspectives a candidate can bring to encourage a wider array of ideas and approaches to challenging business issues.

The key to harmonizing training, tools, and techniques with the fact that people are people is recognizing, understanding, and respecting differences, not passing judgment too quickly or inappropriately, and embracing the diversity of perspectives. Work with a hiring manager to identify the common characteristics present on his or her team, highlighting tendencies to hire “mini-me’s” or perhaps hesitance to hire “outside the mold.” Sometimes managers may not even realize how homogeneous, either culturally or intellectually, their teams are.

For a really innovative approach, have your hiring managers submit to a Myers-Briggs or DISC profile so they will be aware of their own styles and preferences, and how they work their way into the interview and hiring processes.

Unfortunately, there are times when, despite the most rigorous of interviewing, the experience and skill of the interview team, and due diligence in the reference checking process, managers make hiring decisions that turn out not to be the best.

When this happens, learn from it, think about what to do differently next time, and remember that people are people.

Lisa Calicchio, SPHR, is Director of Recruiting -- Pharmaceuticals Team, for Johnson & Johnson Recruiting, the internal talent acquisition organization of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. In this role, Lisa manages the development and delivery of talent acquisition strategies and execution for Johnson & Johnson?s U.S. pharmaceuticals and biotechnology operating companies. In addition to managing this segment of the business and a significant client base, Lisa focuses on enhancing JJR's consulting capabilities through specialty teams for business analytics, training, and recruitment marketing. Her background includes extensive experience as an HR generalist and recruiting, though she started her professional career "on the line" and held several line positions across key functional areas before moving from sales and marketing into HR.


8 Comments on “People Are People: Don’t Fight It, Work With It

  1. This article by Lisa Calicchio is very good! I agree with her that people should be seen as people and it should be recognized that people are in constant change. The work environment impacts greatly on how a person will react and behave. Too often hiring managers act as if the person they look for is pre-programmed and will act like a robot.

    I recommend to my line managers to have a team analysis done, such as the BELBIN teamroles in order to determine needs for certain teamroles in the team. The second evaluation is the Occupation Personality Questionnaire (SHL) for the team and the candidate to get a better understanding of the behaviour to be expected from an individual. The above two instruments will provide you with information on the needs and cultural fit of the candidates into the team and the organisation.

    A concern that I have is that the majority of hiring managers decide within the first few seconds whether or not they like the candidate irrespective of the qualifications or experirence put on the table. This holds the threat of ‘cloning’ and ‘group think’. In other cases hiring managers create and change a position to the extend that only a ‘super-human’ would be able to fill the role and be successful. It often happens that hiring managers have such high expectations of candidates that it becomes unrealistic.

    Taking it all into consideration I like Lisa’s approach that ‘People are People’. I feel that we try to make too much, to be to perfect in our recruiting processes, forgetting that the most important aspect of recruitment is the attitude of the candidate combined with his/her skills. Have a clear and specific position description, keep internal politics out of the recruitment process and do what is best for the company. Stick to basics and keep it simple!

  2. I enjoyed reading the article by Lisa Calicchio entitled, ?People Are People: Don?t Fight It, Work with It?. It reminded me that no matter how sophisticated we get with how we develop selection systems, we still will hire the wrong person at times. I also agree with Lisa?s recommendation on asking hiring managers to complete the Myers-Brigg or the DISC profile (although I would almost never use it as a selection tool) for self-inspection. I would also recommend that recruiters take it as well. I completed the DISC profile and it helped me significantly in relating to my clients.

    My background is in developing selection systems, so I frequently get the question Lisa did on trying to ?fool-proof? the hiring process. I sometimes speak to a hiring manager who uses the sophisticated/scientifically designed selection system that selected the wrong person for the job. In the eyes of the hiring manager the selection system is considered a complete failure. I apologize for this less than ideal experience, and then I try to educate and reset the hiring manager?s expectations. I explain that using a properly designed, validated selection system will only yield a greater than chance probability of hiring the right person for the job. I further explain that the increased use of validated selection systems will generate more qualified then less qualified hires. For example, if you hire 100 sales people using a valid selection system, you may get 80 good hires and 20 not so good hires. This is still better then flipping a coin.

    Also as Lisa did point out, we do need to keep in mind the common rating errors such as ?halo?, ?similar to me? etc. However, I do want to comment in regards to her example in the article about the two hiring managers listening to the same applicant in an interview, but who come up with divergent conclusions. I would point out that the prior specification of the position requirements, using a structure interview format, and referring to behaviorally anchored bars that point out successful job behaviors should minimize this inter-rater unreliability. But that being said, as Lisa points out, ?people are people? and we need to learn and do better next time.

  3. A very thorough and thoughtful article.
    Hiring is typically made too complicated and managers are overwhelmed with too much information, which decreases their decision-making ability.
    Hiring managers/interviewers should be trained as thoroughly as possible to be able to ask and answer precisely two questions:
    1) Can this person competently perform the job they will be asked to perform?
    2) Do I feel comfortable enough with this person to work with him/her for an extended period of time?

    If the managers/interviewers can’t answer ‘yes’ to both questions, the candidate shouldn’t be hired. We should empower our managers with the authority to go with their best judgments in hiring, as we empower them go with their best judgments in other matters of corporate decision-making.


  4. Keith:

    I wish it was as simple as can people do the job and will I be comfortable working with them.

    In most case we are good at determining the can. Only 14% of the time do we fire people for not being able to do the the job. So it is a question of will they do the job the way we want it dome. There is a one liner that sums it up. We hire people for what they know but we fire them for who they are.

    Selection does not need to be complex but good selection is hard work.

    Yes people will be people.

  5. I hope I understand Mr. Kleiman’s note correctly: 14% of terminations occur because of performance? The rest 86% have to do with personality or personal style. The notation about ‘they don’t do the work the way we want it done’ is telling.

    To me, this is endemic of most firms with strong, unwavering cultures that end up getting passed by. So…if people don’t fit the predefined notions of management, they get canned? I would think that companies with that percentage would do the smart thing and test hires out prior to engaging them for the long haul or warn them of the consequences of acting or doing anything out-of-the norm. Robots wanted.

    I will state however if these people are true rogues or violate company policy (i.e., negatively disruptive, substance abuse, etc) then the figure is excused. Some organizations do have that type of issue and turnover.

    I think the article is about working with people’s flaws and foibles. Evidently most ‘managers’ can’t or won’t do it?

    I had a situation where my employer harped incessently on my direct communication style – to them, it was the end of the world. Forget the fact that my team was the most productive, the clients were super impressed with me and my team’s delivery and passion, and our quality of work was unsurpassed. The direct communication style and high standards did me in. They couldn’t work or deal with it. A year later – I was in my own business, two years later talking to a competitor of theirs, maybe five years later taking over their market share…you get the point.

    86% terminated for poor fit or bad management?

  6. Rachel Schneider opined:

    ‘I would think that companies with that percentage would do the smart thing and test hires out prior to engaging them for the long haul …’

    Precisely why, whenever practical, you should start people out on a temp/contract basis before bringing them on direct.

    You can do personality tests and interview until you’re green in the face, but often you really can’t tell if you have a good personality and work-style fit until after the person has actually been on the job for a number of weeks or even a number of months.

    ‘Robots wanted.’

    Not necessarily. There really are considerably different ‘cultures’ from company to company. Although the high-energy, highly-creative ‘bull in a china shop’ type of personality can wreck havoc in a company filled with low-key, hypnotized by the CRT to the point of catatonia types; it is equally the case that someone who is more comfortable in a strictly regimented ‘spell out each indivudal instruction’ type of environment can cause an inherently high-energy, creative organization to come to a complete and grinding halt as well.

    Best bet: try before you buy.

  7. Rachel,
    Been there, done that too… but this isn’t just about Management. I’ve seen this mentality throughout my entire career, in both the US and Canada. Regardless of where you are in the pecking order, the performance norm is rarely set at or anywhere near, the top of the scale. Even if Management tries to set such a goal, peer pressure can take an enormous toll. Performance improvement is not for the faint of heart, and changing a culture and normative behaviors is a leadership task of monumental proportions. I suspect this is the reason that business favors automation, monitoring systems and low wage labor over training, incentives and corporate identity development. But let’s not forget that some have gotten it right – UPS, Home Depot before the principals abdicated, and perhaps JetBlue, to suggest a few. Now if they could just teach this stuff effectively at business schools…

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