Seat Warming

A few days ago, I was reading some reviews of past articles. One of the reviewers suggested that good selection practices would never be followed as along as “recruiters’ preoccupation is on getting bums on seats.” This is a case where organizations get a little crazy – people trading in a long-term vision for a short-term objective. It is a human shortcoming. But, can you imagine an Olympic team where the driving credo was, “We have no vacant positions.”? How can an organization ever be world-class if “filling seats” is the primarily motivator for their recruiters? Maybe some truth in advertising is in order here…say, something like, “We Pretend We Have World Class People, but We Really Only Fill Seats!” If you have line responsibility, you should be coming “unglued” at this kind of attitude. If you are a manager, you already know how hard it is to train the “untrainable,” manage the unmanageable, and coach the “uncoachable.” If you were in charge of production, you would not tolerate a supplier that provided variable quality raw materials. So how do you think you can truly build a world-class team if recruiters don’t use best practices? Someone must be adding “funny stuff” to the cafeteria brownies again. What Is The Real Cost? No one can really provide an absolutely true cost of low vs. high producers – although, any hiring manager worth his or her salt should be able to “guesstimate” a figure. But let’s forget about the benefits of hiring good producers and look at the cost of all those low producers – not the people who quit and leave, but the ones who “quit and stay.” Low producers are generally half as productive as their high producing counterparts (lower, if you look at professional occupations such as IT, engineering, or the sciences). That means it takes about two or three low producers to equal one high producer – or roughly 200% to 300% more payroll expense to do the same amount of work…and that’s before you calculate the cost to coach, train and cover mistakes. Now, let’s add the inertia of people resisting new initiatives, the impact on quality and the overall impact on competitive response. How does the phrase, “You can’t get there from here,” strike you? <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Want to hear some scary facts? Only 13 of the top 50 organizations listed in the 1955 Fortune 500 remain (Jennifer Hillner – Wired Magazine, Feb, 1998, page 70). Only 10-20% of workforce are truly engaged in their work (The Inventure Group, Eden Prairie, Minn.). Most workers say they are not trained to think – two-thirds of workers report when problems and breakdowns occur, they are pressured for immediate solutions and high-level troubleshooting (“Minds at Work: How Much Brainpower Are We Really Using?”). Nearly two-thirds of 773 hourly workers said their organizations were operating with half or less than half the employee brainpower available to them (Kepner-Tregoe, Inc.) In the US, small companies disintegrate 50% within 4 years, 70% within 8 years, and 98% within 11 years. Of all new companies 50% breakdown in their first five years (Dr. Uri Merry). The Tools Are Available Am I saying that good hiring systems will cure all the ills of the organization? I wish. One thing a good hiring system will do, though, is provide “job tryouts” – if applicants cannot pass the tryouts, they cannot play the game. This is far cry from submitting a resume and completing a one-hour interview. It is a far cry from taking a technical test. It is a far cry from taking a personality test. It is a far cry from completing a standardized application blank. And it is a far cry from just knowing an interview technique. The key is to understand the job sufficiently that you can identify critical competencies, choose appropriate measurement tools, validate the scores with performance – and put these together into a tight-knit system. Silly Competencies There are only so many applicant qualifications that can be measured. They include mental abilities such as intelligence, problem solving and technical skills; interpersonal skills such as teamwork and selling skills; and, motivational drivers such as attitude towards work and stability. Some of these competencies can be converted into contexts such as mental ability into analytical problem solving, market analysis or financial analysis. The point is that many competencies are only different applications of a basic competency applied to a job-related situation. If you try to build a competency system based HR system based on job-related competencies, you will soon find that your hard-built program collapses under its own weight. There is no “Great Big Book of Competencies” to serve as a reference (although I am considering writing one). Even training-related competencies are silly and only vaguely measurable. In fact, you are just as likely to find a valid “List of Competencies for the 21st Century” as you are to find Elvis alive and well managing a small motel in Roswell, New Mexico. The only people who really know about competencies have learned their trade from reading research and responsibly practicing competency measurement as a profession. Buy a pre-packaged competency set and, without fail, your competency system will self-destruct within two to three years (give or take) along with your reputation. This is truly a market where, “you pays your money and you takes your chances.” If You Are A Line Manager You need to cooperate with the people who are trying to do a good job identifying competencies and installing measurement tools. It is in your best interest and will make your job easier over the long run. And, if no one is doing this for your organization, you need to find someone will help you get the people you need to become more effective. If you face resistance, you need to hire some fresh new faces who understand the benefits of good selection. More to the point, how much does an attitude of “getting bums on seats” undermine your ability to get things done in your department?

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