Will Data Help You Hire Better Employees?

April 26, 2013

The cost of hiring and retaining workers can approach 60 percent of a corporation’s variable costs, so it makes sense to manage this extremely well. Can big data and software help do this?

Nearly two-thirds of all workers are paid hourly in America and about half of them change jobs every year. Companies can save a great deal of money if they can better determine who will perform well and stay in these jobs.

Evolv is a company that monitors recruiting and workplace data in order to help companies decide who to hire. They have analyzed and studied millions of data points from more than 30,000 hourly employees.

Among their findings are that those who fill out online job applications using a browser that they had to deliberately install like Chrome or Firefox, perform better and change jobs less often than those who used Microsoft’s Explorer—the default browser that comes with most computers.

Evolv also determined that those who work in customer service at Xerox are more likely to stay on the job if they live near their workplace and can get there easily. And that those who belonged to one or two social networks stayed on the job longer. Using data such as this during the hiring process, Xerox was able to reduce attrition by 20 percent in an initial pilot program.

Using software and data to help determine viable candidates seems to make sense, but relying on algorithms alone can be a mistake. Like with any data, it can only be as good as the people who determine how to gather it, design the queries and analyze the output.

Think about your workplace. I’m certain you can think of people who may not have all the standard qualifications, educational background, and necessary experience that may be required to do the job. And yet, these very same people may be among the top performers. Are they only outliers who shouldn’t be considered or would it be a mistake to install a system that would deliberately miss them in the recruiting process?

My bet is that these people didn’t get the job through the normal HR channels because they likely would have been rejected by resume scanners and other data-driven software.

Data mining for people acquisition is not limited to hourly wage employees.

Google uses “people analytics” to better hire innovators who are so crucial to them as well as every other company. The way Google sees it, accurate people management decisions are the most important and impactful decisions a company can make.

And all these people decisions are based on data and analytics. They are applied with the same rigor Google applies to engineering decisions. It’s hard to argue with Google’s success: on average, each of their employees generate nearly $1 million in revenue and $200,000 in profit every year.

You can read more about Google’s analytical approach to human resources in an article by HR thought leader Dr. John Sullivan.

But the notion of putting such analytical decision-making above the relational issues human resources is typically relies upon seems ludicrous.

Aren’t these outliers more likely to be the very innovators many companies say they are really looking for?

So much of the hiring process is based on instinct and attentiveness to the relationship because human beings are not made up of ones and zeros. While our ability to do a certain task is something that can very often be quantitatively measured, our ability to work cooperatively with others, verbally communicate effectively, and generate creative solutions cannot always be quantitatively measured.

Think about how schools in China are now trying to teach out-of-the-box thinking so that their students can become more innovative like Americans.

There are so many subtleties in the hiring process that could ultimately miss great prospects through filtering software.

Let’s not lose sight of the importance of instinct, relational attunement and qualitative evaluation that cannot be determined via data and software analysis.

Would You Hire a Remarkable Employee?

March 2, 2012

At a time when employers can be especially choosy about hiring, should they now pass on great employees and hold out for those who are truly remarkable?

While great employees may be reliable, dependable, proactive, diligent, and demonstrate the ability to both lead and follow, remarkable employees are all these and can also make a major impact on performance.

In Jeff Haden’s recent Inc. Magazine article “Eight Qualities of Remarkable Employees,” he defines these as follows:

1.      They ignore job descriptions – Think on your feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, do whatever it takes, regardless of role, to get things done.

2.      They are eccentric . . . – Think out of the box, question the status quo, unafraid to stretch existing boundaries. 

3.      But they know when to dial it back – They know when to play and when to be serious; when to be irreverent and when to conform; when to challenge and when to back off.

4.      They publicly praise . . . – A compliment from a peer in group settings can be especially powerful when this is someone others look up to.

5.      And they privately complain – They bring up sensitive issues or concerns in a private setting to avoid disrupting the larger group. 

6.      They speak when others won’t – Remarkable employees have an ability to understand what concerns fellow employees and speak up for those who may be intimidated to speak up publicly or privately.

7.      They like to prove others wrong – This is the intrinsic drive to exceed other’s expectations because it’s deeper and personal.

8.      They’re always fiddling – These people are rarely satisfied (in a good way) and are constantly tinkering with information and processes.

Haden writes that while great employees follow processes, remarkable employees find ways to make those processes even better because they can’t help it.

I suspect many of these same qualities may actually inhibit employees from getting hired in the first place. When you think of the traits beyond skills and experience necessary for a job in your organization, how do these eight stack up?

Finding a job candidate who appears eccentric, challenges existing processes, and complains about anything may raise red flags during an interview. If the person gives examples of how he or she constantly fiddled with information, wouldn’t this raise the question as to what more important things might not have been getting done?

While all these traits of remarkable employees might fit in some organizations in some positions and at a particular point in time, I suspect they might be ill-suited for many. Perhaps only the start-up company is where they are best suited.

Not only that, but it may ultimately take a remarkable boss and a remarkable company to enable these remarkable employees to get hired and to thrive in the work environment.

Instead, for most organizations, I believe settling for these great employees who demonstrate reliability, dependability, pro-activity, diligence and the ability to both lead and follow is the best course of action. Finding and hiring more great employees would benefit every organization.

If remarkable traits surface from among the great employees you’ve hired, perhaps they could then be encouraged and nurtured. Your organization will be better served in the near term and, over time, it may benefit from greater performance simply due to having so many great employees.

Character and Success

September 20, 2011

Can you succeed in your career and life if you haven’t first learned how to fail?

This is the prominent question in a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article titled “What if the Secret to Success is Failure.”

The writer suggests character traits, including the ability to overcome failure, may be just as important, if not more so, than intellgence in order to graduate from college and succeed in a career and life.

A list of 24 character traits come from a book called “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification” by Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. The 800-page book is basically the “science of good character.”

Seligman and Peterson settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras after consulting works from Aristotle to Confucius, the Upanishads to the Torah, the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters. The list includes traits like love, humor, zest, bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity as well as things like social intelligence, kindness, self-regulation and gratitude.

Many would argue that character traits don’t belong in the classroom curriculum and that this should be the domain of parents and not teachers. Let’s face it, teachers have enough to handle at a time when American students academic scores are failing to keep pace with many students around the globe.

My own middle schooler is currently experiencing a great deal of anxiety over the increased demands sixth grade entails, and my wife and I can see that this anxiety is not strictly about the academics so much as the increased homework, internal pressure to do well, and the lack of mature coping skills.

And as difficult as it is for we as parents to watch our child struggle and possibly fail, it may be fundamentally important to her success that we do. We all know at some level that kids need a little hardship or challenge they can overcome in order to prove to themselves that they can do so. This may be the best—if not the only—way to build confidence in oneself.

So if overcoming failure and having certain character traits are so important to success, what does this say about the workplace? How often do these traits show up in a job description or are even mentioned during an interview?

A successful interviewer should certainly probe a candidate for a time when he or she failed at something, and then look for what was learned or how that experience led to improvement. If the candidate is unable to provide an example of failing, that alone should raise red flags.

Character traits are more difficult to uncover yet they can be ascertained through repeated interactions and requests for stories from previous work experiences as well as through detailed conversations with professional references. Ultimately, character traits may never be quantified enough to fully measure, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be looked for in a potential employee.

Many companies have a list of corporate values that include character traits that are consciously or unconsciously sought after in the people they hire. Knowing what these are and choosing to deliberately look for them in hiring should be emphasized.

What if your company looked for character traits like zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity in the people it hired? Would these be a good predictor of whether that employee succeeded or failed? I believe they would, but would love to know your thoughts.

Prepare to Hire the Right People

August 26, 2011

At a time when the stock market is a frightful roller coaster ride, consumer confidence is extremely low and the US unemployment is over nine percent, it may seem silly to talk about hiring again. But things will improve and you need to be prepared for when it does.

In Jim Collins’ seminal book Good to Great, he stated: “Get the right people on the bus. Get the wrong people off the bus. And then get the right people in the right seats on the bus.” Everything begins and ends with the right people doing the right jobs at the right time.

So just how do you hire the right people? How do you ensure that at a time of high unemployment you sort through the many potential candidates and get the best possible employee?

In most businesses the people you employ are your most important asset. They make or sell your product or service, and they determine whether you are successful or not. Therefore, hire winners. Hire people who are smart, hard working, ambitious and nice to be around.

Be certain you know exactly what it is you’re looking for. Commit this to paper and circulate it to everyone likely to work with this person. Ask for advice and comments from everyone on your team. Make sure you have thought beyond the knowledge and skills of your current people to include all the qualities you are seeking in an ideal candidate.

In Full Engagement: Inspire, Motivate, and Bring Out the Best in Your People, author Brian Tracy suggests the Law of Three in Hiring. He says this technique can increase the quality of your hires to a 90 percent success rate.

The Law of Three in Hiring

  • Interview Three Candidates – Choosing at least three candidates to interview can give you three different perspectives on the kind of people who are available. Don’t underestimate how powerful this can be in helping you identify the right fit.
  • Interview Three Times – Interview the person you like at least three times because with each interaction you will see another side of the person to evaluate. You may also learn further details or discrepancies in the stories the candidate reveals about his or her experience.
  • Select Three Different Meeting Places – This is helpful because people are subject to the “chameleon effect” and often change their personality when you move them around. Meet the candidate in a coffee shop or restaurant to see them in a more relaxed and public setting. You will see different sides of their personality that may be admirable or not so admirable.
  • Have Three Different People Interview the Candidate – This is especially important for the people who will be working directly with the candidate. And be sure to take their feedback seriously when making your decision. Ideally, you’ll want 100 percent agreement on who to hire.

Most importantly take your time in making a decision. This is currently an employer’s market and you have the luxury of taking time for fact checking the resume, contacting references for more than cursory information, and evaluating whether this is truly the right person.

It can cost between three and six times the person’s annual salary to hire someone who doesn’t work out. This cost is made up from the time spent on interviewing and training, the person’s salary and benefits while they are learning the job, and the lower level of productivity in the first few months of any new hire. Employee morale can also suffer with high turnover in your place of business.

Finally, it is important to trust your gut. Your intuition will tell you whether this is the right person and your brain will then logically justify your decision one way or the other.

Take the time and effort to get the right people on your bus.