Using Performance Profiles to Achieve Diversity and Affirmative Action Goals

There is a reason why the nation’s third largest law firm, Fisher & Phillips, heartily endorses the hiring tactics I’ve talked about in my articles as the most legally fair, morally correct, and accurate means of hiring people. As senior partner, Rob Bekken indicated in a white paper that the firm provides to its 5000-plus clients, “The POWER Hiring selection methods effectively encompass all the elements and measures needed to significantly reduce an employer’s exposure to future employment litigation. The principles behind this methodology represent the ideal manner in which an employer should hire future employees.” (If you’d like a copy of this report, send an email to The key to their evaluation was the use of a performance profile to define job success. As mentioned in previous articles, a performance profile differs from a typical job description by listing what the person taking the job must do to be successful, not what skills and experiences the person must have. In this way it defines the job, not the person. It describes what the person must do to be successful, not what the person must have to get the job. In many ways it’s like a job analysis, but much easier to prepare and use. More importantly, it has the legal backing of a top law firm. As Rob Bekken further states: “This is why POWER Hiring represents a revolutionary breakthrough in terms of providing employers with a methodology to avoid litigation by not hiring the litigious applicant and providing a defense in the event the employer’s hiring decision is challenged. In essence, the POWER Hiring protocol is the ‘missing link’ in the hiring process. It is both the practical and legal component of the hiring process most employers overlook.” A candidate’s skills, years of experience, academic background and industry exposure are far less important in deciding whether to interview and subsequently hire the person than what the person under consideration has actually accomplished. That’s why you need to focus on what a person has achieved with their skills and experiences (the doing part), not the absolute level of these skills and experiences (the having part). For example, the fact that an engineer has five years of power systems circuit design experience isn’t really the important issue. What is important is that in this job the engineer needs to lay out and design a low-cost, high-reliability power system for the new Dell PC laptop, and has only six months to do it. It’s what the engineer must do with his or her skills that matter, not how much they have of the skill. One person might have a degree from MIT and 10 years of good experience but not be able to function in the challenging Dell environment. Another person might have an AA and have worked as a design tech for three years but be a fast learner and a super designer. It’s the doing, not the having, that’s important. I believe this same concept should be applied when selecting anyone for any position, even for admitting the person into a college or university program. I’d like to offer this, or something like this, as a fair solution for the great debate now underway about whether affirmative action, EEO and diversity hiring initiatives are unfair to non-minority candidates. One example of this is the University of Michigan administration’s policy of arbitrarily assigning 20 points for minority candidates. Minorities feel the points are justified, since they level the playing field by taking into account their lack of opportunities. Non-minorities feel they are not being treated fairly, since their measurable performance (largely academic) should be all that matters. Both groups have valid points to make. I, however, believe the root problem is the poor selection process. It assigns too much to the having and not enough to the doing. I would like to make the case that a very fair and far more accurate non-discriminatory selection process can be to developed by reversing this emphasis. As a first pass, let’s arbitrarily assume that academic and professional success is based on the following traits and factors. A good case can be made that this list is representative of universal success in any field, but we’ll leave that for a separate article. Most of you, I’m sure, will agree that anyone with these traits will probably be reasonably successful:

  • Self-motivation: A strong work-ethic has been recognized as the core trait of all success
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  • Talent: Innate talent or the potential to learn a certain skill
  • Experience: Life experiences and overcoming personal challenges that indicate maturity, an ability to grow, self confidence, character, values, and self-discipline
  • Leadership: The ability to lead, persuade, and motivate others
  • Vision: The ability to anticipate problems and opportunities
  • Problem-solving skills: Developing alternatives given a set of circumstances and resources
  • Communication skills: Being able to logically and persuasively present ideas both in written and verbal form
  • Organization and planning skills: Putting different ideas, plans, and people into motion and successfully achieving group objectives.

I don’t know if this is a complete list, but I suspect that it’s close. I also don’t believe that academics are a good way to judge a person on these factors. I think life experiences are a valid point ó and a minority candidate who has succeeded should be given major credit for this. But not everyone should get 20 points. Some should get zero. Others should get 100. Nobody should get a single point for legacy, or who their parents are, or how much money they gave. If these are the correct factors to select candidates for admission to college, the key question then becomes, “How do you fairly measure them?” I think the playing field, or environment, should be taken into account when measuring a person’s performance. What people have accomplished with their abilities in whatever environment they grew up in is what counts. An African American or Hispanic person should get added credit for persuading a gang member to clean up or just getting to school everyday. A single-parent child should get more credit for all Bs if they also had to work part time. A white kid should get equivalent credit for great SAT scores if he or she also worked his or her butt off doing something else important. On the other hand, a minority student shouldn’t get any extra points for coasting, nor should a smart white kid who only studied all day. More credit should be given for team projects and leading teams. More credit should be given for figuring out how to solve problems than for knowing the answers. More credit should be given to someone who can explain how they’ve matured and grown, whatever their background. More credit should be given to a person who can organize and build teams to accomplish something important, whether it’s running a homeless kitchen on Thanksgiving or producing a school play. It’s what you do with what you have ó not what you have ó that’s important. I believe that any review of a person’s accomplishments should take into account the environment in which they took place. The effort and results are what really matter. It is far easier to arbitrarily check boxes, but this in my opinion is unfair, inaccurate, and wrong. It’s what a person does that counts, and selection systems (corporate or university) should be designed to address this. Let’s start an aggressive online discussion on this important topic. But remember, it’s less about philosophy and more about tactics and results. (Note: As many of you know, I host two monthly online discussion groups where we explore topics like this in greater depth. One of the discussion groups is exclusively for those in corporate recruiting management where we focus on metrics for recruitment management. The other group is exclusively for third-party recruiting management. Here we discuss everything about building a recruiting practice. Both groups are sponsored by POWER Hiring,, and ERE. If you’re on the corporate management side you can join by sending me an email at, and for third-party recruiting management the email is . I’ll be presenting much of this information at ERE’s ER Expo 2003 West in San Diego in March, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet there. This is an event you won’t wan to miss if you want to be on the leading edge of recruitment management.)

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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