Over the past several years, I have written extensively about a wide variety of issues related to online screening and assessment. Most of the material I have written has focused on the deployment of online screening and assessment tools or on specific issues related to the online screening and assessment marketplace. I write about these things because I know screening and assessment is a complex issue, and I think it is important to try to provide helpful, how-to information to whomever may be interested. Today, I want to change my focus a bit and take a much more macro perspective on screening and assessment tools. Instead of focusing on specific details related to the use of these tools, I want to focus on the broadest possible outcome related to their use: quality. The more I have worked with these tools and have helped companies to experience their benefits firsthand, the more I have begun to realize that the bottom line when it comes to screening and assessment is quality. In my mind, these tools have value because they provide a way for organizations to ensure they are making quality staffing decisions that will provide them with high quality personnel. I sincerely believe that organizations that go out of their way to create a staffing process that focuses on quality first and foremost will clearly see the rewards that come from hiring people who represent a good fit for both the job and the organization. Let’s take a closer look at quality as it relates to staffing. When we look at the overall purpose of staffing systems we see that, at the highest level, they have two inherent goals: quantity goals and quality goals.
- Quantity goals. These goals focus on ensuring that the organization is staffed with the precise number of people needed to ensure its ability to meet its strategic objectives. Identifying and meeting quantity goals is very important for organizations, because being over or under staffed can be extremely expensive. Without enough “butts in seats,” productivity can suffer, while too many butts can create a serious cash drain. So, a major goal of any staffing process is to forecast the precise quantity of persons needed to help the company hit a sweet spot where it is neither over nor under staffed.
- Quality goals. These goals relate to the process of aligning the characteristics of individuals with those required for success in the organization and with a specific job or career track within that organization. The end result of meeting these goals is providing the organization with the human capital needed to ensure that it is able to meet its strategic objectives. It is the ability to clearly define and meet quality goals that allows organizations to create value from their hiring processes. Without paying attention to the quality dimension, the staffing process is doomed to plod along in a manner that keeps it well short of reaching its full potential. I feel that a focus on quality is the key to shifting perceptions of the staffing process from a cost center to a profit center.
A truly effective staffing processes must reflect a balance between meeting both quality and quantity goals. This can be difficult, because the environment in which the staffing system functions often creates a perception that one goal is more important then the other. In such cases, the staffing process can get out of balance, resulting in a less-than-optimal situation. I have found two major reasons why the balance between quality and quantity goals is often not reflected by staffing practices.
- The legacy of past labor markets. The labor market often creates a situation where quantity goals appear to be more important than quality goals. Take, for example, the labor market in 2000 and 2001. During these times we saw companies focusing almost exclusively on getting the right quantity of people in the door as fast as they possibly could. Things were growing so fast that it was all about putting “butts in seats,” and a heartbeat seemed to be the main job requirement. During this time the market was ripe for companies selling sourcing solutions to find the warm bodies needed to fill seats. Very few people were considering the other side of the coin ó which is that quality should be part of the equation no matter what the conditions. Unfortunately, the focus on quantity has left an ugly legacy for many staffing professionals. The focus on making it easy to find and apply for jobs for the sake of getting the warm butts into seats is wreaking havoc in today’s labor market. Things are different these days. The available labor pool is much larger, and many of the warm bodies that were so desirable a few years ago have found themselves out in the cold and are trying to get back in. This has created a situation in which staffing professionals are experiencing an overwhelming tidal wave of communication and information from job seekers. This situation has led to much suffering because, while the current labor market allows staffing professionals to focus more on quality, they are forced to use tools that were created to focus on quantity. This lack of balance between quality and quantity is keeping organizations from optimizing their hiring process.
- Lack of ability to define quality in useable terms. Another reason for the lack of balance between quality goals and quantity goals is the fact that quality goals are often very difficult to define. Not to take away from the challenge of forecasting labor needs, but quantity goals are pretty easy to figure out. You need to sell more widgets, so you hire more widget salespersons. Quality is much harder to define. It is difficult for organizations to qualify exactly what a quality hiring decision looks like or to determine what the measurable outcomes of this decision are. As long as this is the case, quantity goals will still be paramount in the hiring process. The increasing use of staffing metrics is a step in the right direction in terms of understanding quality. Metrics represent an excellent way to begin focusing on quality because they provide the ability to learn about the impact of different information gathered during the hiring process. This information can be used to investigate hypotheses regarding what quality actually looks like in a particular situation. Until organizations begin working to clearly define what quality looks like as an integral part of the development of their staffing processes, their ability to realize quality through the staffing process will be limited.
Developing a Nose for Quality While I have been stressing the importance of a balance between quality and quantity goals, I feel that most staffing processes are currently lacking more in the quality department then they are in the quantity department. So I suggest that no time is better then the present for organizations to begin to understand the meaning of quality and to use this to drive the creation of staffing processes that are focused on delivering quality as they have defined it. At the broadest possible level, defining quality goals requires a focus on two things: matching people with jobs and matching people with the organization.
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- Person/job match. Matching people with jobs means determining the value of the job in terms of helping the organization meet its strategic goals, as well as outlining the specific requirements of the job that allow it to provide this value. Once this information is known, organizations can create processes for ensuring that the persons hired possess the characteristics needed for them to perform the job in question effectively. The closer the match between the requirements of the job and the characteristics of the person hired to do the job, the better the organization will be able to meet the strategic goals that depend on the output of persons performing the job in question. The measurement of the person/job match relative to desired organizational outcomes provides an excellent way to verify the quality of this aspect of the hiring process.
- Person/organization match. Matching people with organizations involves the match between the person and the organization as it relates to several less tangible things, including an organization’s values, the rewards offered through membership in the organization, and the ability for an individual to develop a career within the organization that may include many different jobs. These things are important for defining quality because the match between an individual’s values and goals and those held by their employer has been shown to influence important organizational outcomes. While these outcomes may include job performance, they also include things that are more difficult to measure, including retention, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. While these outcomes are not as clear cut as those related to person/job fit, they are still a very important part of creating quality through the staffing process. This is because the staffing process creates many opportunities to evaluate how well a perspective employee will fit into the organization.
Simple Steps for Creating a Quality-Focused Staffing Process While ensuring quality is given as much value as quantity in the staffing process may not be a simple task, I suggest that organizations looking to focus on quality take the following basic steps:
- Create a set of quality requirements. This means making an effort to clearly understand the requirements of the job you are looking to fill, as well as the context for the job created by your organization.
- Create a hiring process based on your quality requirements. Quality requirements should be used to drive the creation of a hiring process that centers around ensuring that employees possess the characteristics needed to ensure they fit into the organizational environment and are able to produce the outcomes required to ensure the position is creating value for the organization.
- Promote quality during the hiring process. Your employment brand and hiring process should promote the value that your organization places on quality. Applicants should understand the values of your organization and the context created by these values. Applicants should also understand your hiring process, the links between the steps in this process, and the outcomes desired for those filling the position in question.
- Benchmark applicants against your quality requirements (measurable outcomes). Quality means examining the relationship between quality requirements and the processes used to predict an applicant’s ability to meet these requirements. Additionally, metrics should be established to help ensure that relationships between key components in the hiring process and desired outcomes are clearly documented.
All staffing systems should be driven by both quantity goals and quality goals, and effective systems require a balance between these two goals. Many of today’s staffing systems are out of balance because they are still using tools that focus on quantity goals rather than quality goals. Introducing quality into staffing systems will allow organizations to develop a clear understanding of the impact created by hiring persons who possess the characteristics required for ensuring organizational success.