The Other Side of Experience, Part 3: Productivity and Communication

“The Other Side of Experience” is a four-part article series that explores six candidate attributes to be considered while interviewing, as opposed to using experience as the sole criterion in the hiring process. The rationale of looking beyond experience was outlined in Part 1 of this series. I urge you to read the essential explanations and reasoning behind this line of thinking before you move on to reading Parts 2, 3, and eventually 4. For a quick review, the attributes to be considered in “The Other Side of Experience” are as follows:

  • Attitude
  • Leadership capabilities
  • Productivity
  • Communication skills
  • Potential
  • Relationship/teamwork capabilities

This article, Part 3, will cover productivity and communication skills. The remaining two attributes will be covered in the fourth and last part of this series. Let’s now begin with productivity. Productivity According to Lance Morrow, University Professor at Boston University, “American productivity, once the exuberant engine of national wealth, has dipped to an embarrassingly uncompetitive low. Americans have shaken their heads: the country’s old work ethic is dead.” I for one am amazed at how little attention is paid to employee productivity. I am even more astounded that interviewers do not look at productivity as a key factor in hiring. I don’t care how smart or experienced a candidate is or how many degrees or credentials they might have. If they are not productive, they should not work for your competition. I have made a career of observing people in the workplace, and in most cases am overwhelmed as to how little work actually gets done. Call me old fashioned, (just don’t call me old), but I believe employees should come to work for the purpose of working, and when they are done, they should go home. Work is not a social club. It is a place to ply your craft in the most expeditious and value-added manner possible. Period. One of the significant criteria to assess when making a hiring decision is not just whether or not the candidate can do the job, but whether he or she will become a productive member of the team. Regardless of experience, I tend to shy away from candidates who cannot show me they have been highly productive members of a previous workforce. If they did not do it at previous companies, why should they do it at your company? The workplace is a very delicate ecosystem, and the introduction of the wrong person can greatly upset that balance, causing far more harm than good. It is, of course, possible to make people more productive. But why take that route if you can find someone who is more productive in the first place? When looking at how productive a candidate will be, you can gain some insight by looking at and drilling down in the following areas:

  • Time management. One of the questions I ask candidates is simple and very much to the point: How do you manage your time? With time being the only commodity all of us have in equal amounts, I want to get a good idea of how people utilize their time to be productive in the workplace. There is no right answer for this. I can get an insight in understanding the value of time and its relationship to being productive.
  • Setting priorities. Von Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” This is a critical concept in every successful business. I need to know that the candidate understands how to set priorities and that he or she embraces this philosophy as an everyday tool that supports productivity. Ask the candidate how they plan and prioritize their work.
  • Proactively overcoming obstacles. Many employees will simply stop moving forward on tasks or projects when they are presented with a problem they cannot solve (this drives me crazy!). Ask candidates how they have successfully dealt with problems that have stood in the way of their making progress towards a given task or goal, and get specific examples.
  • Planning work. Employees come to work for many reasons, but getting work done is not often high on the list. In order to do anything well, you must plan what you are going to do (try building a house without a plan and you will have a really strange and expensive house). Ask candidates about the planning they do that will support their work effort. Most answers that indicate thought, goal setting, and priorities are okay. Beware of the candidate who comes to work with “winging it” as their only plan. They can make for a dangerous hire.
  • Maintaining consistently high standards. Getting work done is not hard. Getting work done to consistently high standards, however, is quite another thing (remember American cars of the 1970s?). It separates the professionals from the dilettantes and can make a huge difference in your organization’s ability to compete. Look for examples of work that clearly demonstrate the ability to maintain high standards or better and the ability to raise them to a height that provides a new level of value to the organization.
  • Remaining focused on the task. In my experience dealing with productivity issues, one of the biggest problems employees have is an inability to remain focused to task. A major key to success in the workplace is finishing what you are working on and not allowing yourself to become distracted; distractions hurt productivity. Ask questions that address how the candidate deals with distractions, remains focused on the task at hand, and knows when it is a good business decision to switch to another task.
  • Understanding deliverables. Deliverables is a word that was once used primarily in the world of consulting but is now beginning to make its way into the vernacular of employment. A deliverable can be many things. It can be anything from a report to a result (the most valuable deliverables are always results!). Look for candidates who understand that work experience is not an endless flow of coming to work everyday and going home at night. Ask questions about specific deliverables that have been a part of that candidate’s track record.

There are many other areas to be examined in the interviewing process that will highlight productivity. I suggest you consider the points I have provided above as food for thought. Communication Skills I am almost embarrassed to have to be writing on this subject because it seems so obvious. But if people do not communicate well, the problems that arise can be endless. Examples of these problems include:

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  • Misunderstood expectations
  • Customer interface problems
  • Productivity Issues

The workplace of today is very different than the workplace of 10 or 15 years ago. In today’s reality, cross-functional teams meet regularly and communicate with vendors and customers, and at all levels of management. If a candidate does not communicate effectively, hiring them is fair neither to them nor your organization, because effective communication is critical to organizational success. You can gauge a candidate’s ability to communicate by considering some of the following criteria:

  • Good listening skills. The candidate you are interviewing should demonstrate the ability to listen by not talking constantly. Nervousness aside, the interviewing process is a high-level exchange ó and a learning experience for both parties. It is tough to learn anything if you are talking endlessly. This kind of behavior is a strong indicator of what can be expected in the workplace. Poor listening skills do not sit well in most organizations, and I urge you to pay close attention to this concept.
  • Asking relevant questions. Assuming the candidate has researched your company and industry and has acquired some information on the position, he or she should ask questions that relate to these areas. Some warm-up conversation is always nice, but candidates who do not ask questions that show profound thought relating to the organization’s needs and how they might add value demonstrate a lack of business-oriented thinking at best ó and a cavalier attitude to the interviewing experience at worst. Proceed very carefully with this kind of candidate.
  • Expressing thoughts clearly. It is the responsibility of the candidate to present a cohesive and understandable response to questions that are asked. Very often candidates are unable to do this. This is a red flag for many reasons, not the least of which is that so much of what is done in the workplace today is conceptual in nature long before it becomes reality. If the candidate does not have the ability to express their viewpoints and ideas in a way that is clear and logical, they stand little chance of implementing their ideas and contributing to organizational growth.
  • Using logic to support ideas. Logic is the primary tool used to give credence and consideration to your ideas, suggestions, and beliefs. If you can’t support your arguments with logic, they will not be taken seriously and will appear to be poorly thought out. I find it helpful to ask a candidate about their viewpoint on a given subject and then ask why they think their position is viable. If the candidate fails to support the viewpoint in a rational manner, I see this as something that will interfere with the candidate’s chance for success.
  • Encouraging dialogue. People who communicate well engage others and have the ability to create dialogue around issues that are central to their roles and responsibilities. This ability can provide added information that in turn can result in enhanced productivity. Interviews should be somewhat conversational as opposed to a simple question-and-answer session. Look for this enhanced and sophisticated level of communication.

As mentioned previously, judging the softer skills that candidates possess is not easy to do. It is as much an art as it is a science. We are so used to focusing on experience and matching qualifications with specifications that we very often equate experience with a great hire, but this is not always the case. Productivity and communication skills are critical to long-term employee success, and employee success is a key factor in so many of the areas necessary to build a great company.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net

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