All aspects of our society are undergoing a kind of collective crisis when it comes to hiring. That relates to something I call the “mismatch problem.” So what is the mismatch problem? It is when the criteria we use to prepare to assess someone’s ability to do a job is radically out-of-step with the actual demands of the job itself.Turns out, there are mismatch problems wherever you look these days in the professions. Let’s start with the biggest and most serious case – teachers. What is the best way to ensure that teachers are of top quality? You want to ensure that they are top quality. You want to get the best-educated, smartest, most experienced people possible into the classroom.
We raise the bar, really dramatically on a number of academic levels because we felt that was the surest way to ensure that we had better quality teachers in the classroom. What is the relationship between those kinds of credentials and teacher quality? There isn’t any. So why do mismatch problems exist?
There are two reasons. One has to do with our desire for certainty. All of the things that we do in scouting combines – and with certification for teachers – and test scores for law students – they all have the same thing in common. They are the hard, objective, reliable standardized predictors of performance. But the truth is, in all of those cases, if you want to know how good someone is, those kinds of hard, objective, seemingly useful statistics are not useful at all.
All you can do when it comes to lawyers and teachers and professional quarterbacks, if you want to know how good they are, is to wait until they actually do the job. Analyze them when they are on their job and use your own subjective evaluation.
It is a case in which we are drawn to these kinds these objective standardized measures. We have a desire to impose certainty on something that is inherently uncertain. And that is why we get these mismatches.
I agree with Gladwell’s assertion that the criteria used to assess someone’s hire-ability is “radically out-of-step with the actual demands of the job itself.” However, being an HR professional and a strong believer in systems and processes, I take exception to his universal dismissal of “hard, objective standardized predictors of performance.” There is an antidote to the mismatch problem.The failure of most companies their lack of development, recruiting, and screening against the proper objective standardized performance predictors. To use a sports metaphor, they showed up wearing the right uniforms, but they are playing on the wrong field. How does this happen? The lack of investment in time and effective hiring processes are often the culprit.
There are multiple strategies for pinpointing and hiring superior performers. I evangelize screening against a handful of critical competencies required for the “superior” status. Yep, it takes time and money to develop a competency model – a group of competencies, that when bundled together, reflects the attributes of a superior performer. And it takes commitment and discipline to implement the competency model strategy. While any hiring process remains imperfect, the competency model process does minimize a “mismatch.”
Here are the components of developing and implementing a competency model strategy.
- Work with your current top performers to benchmark their success. There are 26 common job competencies. Pick the top six, that when bundled together, equates to a superior performer. As an example, in an exercise with a group of 40 business analysts, a democratic vote determined the competency model for a superior business analyst. The primary (threshold) competencies in order of popularity were: Analytical Thinking, Customer Service Orientation, Flexibility, Information Seeking, and Initiative. Secondary competencies included Teamwork and Cooperation and Achievement Orientation. A competency model for a superior trainer would require a different set of competencies: Developing Others, Persuasion, Integrity, and Self Control. Every position has a select group of behaviors and associated competencies.
- Once the competences are agreed upon, then behavioral interview questions are developed. Behavioral questions are asked to identify desired behaviors related to superior performance. To uncover initiative a candidate could be asked: Provide an example of a time you felt like you worked hard, maybe beyond your normal capacity, to complete an assignment, or reach a goal.
- Secondary probing questions are asked to verify the breath and depth of knowledge or passion for a certain area. Examples to use for Initiative: What motivated to you? What were the results? Answers to first question and probing secondary questions will provide enough data to “score” the candidate.
- A Candidate Scorecard will signify where the candidate falls between the continuum of Expert Capability and Minimal Capability.
- The interviewing team compares scores and come up with a final score for each candidate.
- Highest score gets the offer
That is the beginning of the process. 30 days and 90 days later, a performance appraisal should be administered using the same competencies. Think of it as a check and balances to verify the accuracy of your interview system. Based on their performance, were your initial scores correct on the interview scorecard? Were they accurate predictors of success? If not, review the interview questions and make adjustments to the questions and probing secondary questions in future interviews.While many companies are misguided in their use of “hard, objective standardized predictors of performance,” a more thoughtful investigation of their superior employees and proper implementation of a competency-based system minimize the “missteps.”
A helpful resource for competency models is InterviewRX. Two chapters are dedicated to job competencies, developing competency models and associated interview questions and candidate scorecards. I have found the competency interview system moves companies closer to the tipping point of success.