What Manager’s Want

Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt recently starred in a very cute movie called, “What Women Want.” The movie is not a mental blockbuster, but it engages the viewer in the fantasy of what it would be like to be able to read another person’s mind (in this case a male chauvinist suffers an accident that enables him to read women’s thoughts). Reading the thoughts of other people gives Gibson new insight and helps him become more understanding of the opposite sex (like I said, the movie is pure fantasy). A similar situation arises when recruiters ask, “How can I get managers to tell me what they really want?” Well, the answer is quite simple. Unless you are living out a Hollywood movie script – you don’t. Most people readily admit that line managers don’t expect HR to understand the intimacies of production, sales, or engineering. Line managers are captains of their own domain and are quick to let you know it. Can you imagine how much respect a line manager would have if he or she took a reactive, “tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you” kind of attitude? Does “career suicide” come to mind? There are two fundamental problems with asking the “what managers want” question. The first is that line managers aren’t supposed to be human skills experts. They are busy resolving problems, reducing expenses, or making money. They don’t have time to “fuss” with people skills. The second is that HR is seen as a place where skills can be easily learned on the job. How many times have you heard questions like, “How do I break into HR?” or “How do I break into recruiting?” And the most common answer is “Just get into the department, you can learn later.” Can you imagine someone asking, “How do I break into medicine? How do I break into law? How do I break into engineering?” How about answering, “Just get a job in the emergency room. You can learn later.” The whole idea is silly! Everyone knows these professions require a basic level of knowledge. Is staffing so simple-minded that few skills are required to perform the job? Apparently, many people both inside and outside the organization think so. Tracking Consequences, Anyone? In a very old animal experiment, pigeons were trained to roll a ball toward pins. If a pigeon knocked down enough pins, it received food. Psychologists, having very warped minds, manipulated the experimental conditions so that some pigeons “bowled” with a curtain blocking their view of the pins; while others were allowed to see how many pins they knocked over with each roll of the ball. Guess which group became the better bowlers? Yep, the birds that could see the target. It is easy to think you are doing a good job if you don’t live with the consequences of your actions. Recruiting is seldom measured by employee performance – usually open job orders and time-to-fill. Basically, recruiting has a “curtain” blocking the view of the “pins” that reinforces speed – not accuracy – of hire. Is it so surprising that, in a very simple application of psychology, you almost always get what you reward? OJT Solutions As mentioned earlier, the “easy” road to learning what managers want is perpetuated by vendors who promise that hiring success can be achieved based on scores from a single test or by using their “magic” set of interview questions. This is the silly product of silly people who need to learn more about professional selection technology. If measuring human skills was that easy, turnover rates would plummet, individual productivity would skyrocket and politicians would start telling the truth. Just in Time Learning? Reading articles like this can be frustrating. Good hiring practices cannot be taught in 1200 words any more than any other profession. Do you want to put your career in the hands of someone whose major claim to professionalism rests on reading a few articles or attending a three-day workshop? I hope not. Of course, people can always pick up a few pointers form short programs, but the real answers lay in taking courses in personnel psychology, psychometrics, job analysis, and assessment techniques – or, at least read and understand about what the government requires. In many universities you don’t even have to enroll in a degree-granting program, you can just sign up to “audit” a course without credit. You would be amazed at how it can help your career. If you can’t take the time to go back to school, log on to Amazon.com and buy “Applied Psychology in Human Resource Management” by Wayne Cascio. It is an easy read and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn. Hire a Consultant I could always suggest you hire a specialist – someone with at least a Masters in Industrial Psychology, but then some people would say that I’m trying to promote my own services. Well, that’s just “sour grapes.” Whether I promote my services or not does not change the fact that if a person does not have the right skills, it is good practice to “rent” someone with expertise who can build a good system for you. There aren’t many good selection people out there, but if you look hard, you can find one or two who won’t be promoting a quick solution or general-purpose personality test. Work Hard, Work Smart By far, the most frequent comment I receive about using a good selection system is that it takes too much work. That’s like a coach telling his or her alumni that building a winning basketball or football team is too much work.. Of course it takes work! How else can you build an accurate competency profile, learn how to use valid and reliable tools and accurately measure applicant skills. What’s the point of all this work? Well, how about lower turnover, higher individual productivity, lower training expense, better competitive response, etc? What’s that? You say you aren’t rewarded on those things? Management only cares about speed to fill positions and the number of open work orders? Too bad. Well, at least you can fantasize about learning what managers want by seeing Gibson’s movie – it’s pure fantasy, but loads of fun! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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