Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bad hires in hindsight

Lately I've been thinking about hires I've seen that went bad. What seemed like the right selection at the time turned into a huge disappointment, or worse--a total nightmare. This is particularly the case when selecting for supervisors and managers.

Looking back at those decisions, what happened? So far I've identified several classic cases:

1) Smallville Syndrome. While the individual may have had success in a smaller role, they were completely unfit to take on the bigger scope of the new job. The strategies that worked before are no longer adequate in the new position. This is similar to thinking your strongest specialist will make the best supervisor, but it can happen even with people that are currently in a similar role.

2) The Loch Ness Monster Effect. On the surface, everything seems fine with the applicant. But lurking below is a monster, just waiting to rear its head. Once in the right position, you will see a side of them you weren't anticipating--and it won't be good.

3) Gumby Complex. A supreme lack of flexibility leads the individual to spurn suggestions to do things differently or be open to new ideas. This often results in a toxic combination of alienating their bosses as well as their subordinates.

4) Prima donna-itis. A hard-charging and competitive individual contributor who consistently performs at the top of their group can yield big returns. But this typically isn't what you're looking for in a supervisor or manager. Instead what can happen is they build their own island where subordinates either conform or get kicked out.

5) Iwannajob condition. The individual wants a job--any job. And they don't care what they do as long as it pays. Except they do. And sooner or later they will realize this, start disengaging, and you've lost valuable training, relationships, and resources.

Turning these around, we see some ideas for improving the selection process:

1) Dig, dig, dig. Resist the urge to hire quickly. Do your homework and gather as much information as you can about potential hires--particularly ones going into leadership positions. Have the courage to not hire anyone if you don't like your candidate pool.

2) Pay attention to the minor details. Something may seem like a minor personality quirk that is overshadowed by the person's strengths. But that quirk may end up making their strengths irrelevant if their new environment causes the quirk to grow into a full-blown condition. Think about how a personality trait might exhibit itself in a new environment.

3) Focus on the job at hand. It's trendy to focus on someone's performance history. And many times this can predict performance in a new job. But when the new position requires new competencies--or a whole new level of them--what happened in the past may not be so instructive. Use a variety of strong assessment devices tied to the position, not the applicants.

4) Consider personality inventories. Yes, they can be challenging to adopt, administer, and interpret. But a lot of organizations use them successfully to help get underneath the shiny exterior. Just be very careful when selecting the particular tool to use.

5) When hiring for a supervisor or manager position, spend 80% of your time looking at personality and communication style, 20% on technical competencies. People want to be led, motivated, and engaged, not micromanaged by someone who feels like they can do the job better than you can.

6) Try to find out why the person wants the job. This isn't easy, and generally won't be had by simply asking, "So...why do you want this job?" You can start with that question, but follow it up with a bunch more that get at whether the person has really thought about their fit and what they hope to accomplish in the position.

This is of course just a sample of what can go wrong and some quick suggestions. As those of you that have been doing this a while know, hiring the right person is usually not quick and easy--particularly for leadership positions. But boy is the effort spent up front worth it. Just ask anyone who's ever had a bad boss.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Research update #583: Impression management and a lot more

Okay, I've got a lot of ground to cover this time, so buckle up...

Let's start with the December issue of IJSA:

- Looks like how much applicants try to make themselves look good varies by country

- Is applicant faking behavior related to job performance? Kinda depends on your definitions.

- Research has found that emotional intelligence can be related to work attitudes. This appears to be in part because of an increased situational judgment effectiveness.

- Speaking of situational terms of job knowledge, knowing what to do is different than knowing what not to do

- What impact does a resume have on a recruiter? Depends on what assumptions they make about you after reading it.

- How to people select--and continue with--an executive coach? By looking at things like their ability to forge a partnership.

- How do Canadian firms do in terms of using tests other than interviews? Not so well, it turns out.

Let's move to the October issue of JASP, where there's just one article but it's a good one. Researchers continued the (depressing) finding that applicant names impact pre-interview impressions. Specifically, the more a name was Anglicized, the more favorable the impression was when hiring for an outside sales job.

Next comes the November issue of JAP:

- A new meta-analysis of the FFM of personality and its relationship to OCBs and task performance.

- Measures of interest haven't gotten a lot of love as selection devices. Looks like we need to tease out the constructs a little because they could be more helpful than we thought.

- Applicants trying to create a certain image during an interview are better off doing this after an initial flub or relying solely on self-promotion rather than making up an image.

A few from the November issue of JPSP:

- Another on impression management (not selection-specific) that goes into more detail about the topic (e.g., how many tactics people use, their accuracy)

- A caution about using the Revised NEO-PI in different cultures due to DIF.

Next, a call for more transparency in false-positive findings.

Last but not least, those of you interested in the potential of social ratings of performance being used for selection might be interested in this study of, which found student ratings are likely to be useful measures of teacher quality.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

How important is assessment, really?

Prepare for a little blasphemy.

Over the last few months my job--and focus--has changed dramatically. Historically I've been a "testing" guy. Question about job analysis? Item writing? I'm there.

Then, a few years ago, I started managing a team that did a more than assessment--a lot more. In fact, even though assessment is in their job description, the team spends most of their time counseling supervisors on performance management. Of course some of this is because the testing workload is down, but it's also a function of demand for advice in this area.

In July we found out our department's budget was being cut; to the tune of about 10%. We adjusted and tightened our belts, but in the end it wasn't enough and we had to plan for layoffs. I was recruited to be one of the coordinators of said layoff, and thus began the dramatic work shift.

That's all a really long way of saying that my focus lately has not been on recruitment and hiring. I've been thinking a lot more about what keeps people going in difficult times. Sure, the KSAOs they bring to the table are important, but other things raise in importance during times of uncertainty and lack of control.

Which got me to thinking: how important IS assessment really? Even at our best, we can predict only about a third of individual job performance. What's going on with that other 2/3rds?

You're probably familiar with models of job performance, so I won't bore you. Suffice to say that a lot goes into job performance. So that person you hired that aced your assessments? Not guaranteed to be super star. If they end up being supervised by an incompetent manager, their inner greatness may never reach the surface. If they have a death in the family, you better believe their focus is not going to be on work for a while and job performance may not be at maximum.

Let's think about job performance as a pie. Top-notch assessment can predict about a third of that pie. What else is in that pie--and more importantly, how big are the slices? Things like:

- motivation
- supervision style
- role clarity
- co-worker support
- mood
- resources
- performance feedback
- stress

(I tried with no luck to track down a comprehensive path model, maybe one of you can point one out)

Now we can't control all of these things (although as HR professionals we certainly can consult on a lot of them--clear duty statements, supervisor training and accountability, engagement surveys, etc.), but what we CAN do is take the rigor we bring to the study of assessment and apply it to other aspects related to job performance. If you look at HR research outside of assessment I think you'll find that the level of analysis is, shall we say, sometimes lacking.

Don't get me wrong: assessment will always be important. The legal rationale is IMHO the least compelling. Instead, there is proven, substantial, utility in implementing best practices for employee assessment.

But lately I can't help but thinking: Are we spending too much time thinking about--and studying--how we bring people in to an organization, and not enough time thinking about what happens once they get there?