Leader Selection

Figure 1: Leadership Factors and Usage
Figure 1: Leadership Factors and Usage

Most of us at some point in our career decide that being a leader would be a worthwhile endeavor.  Not all of us attain a position of authority, but most of us have the thought.  The desire strikes people in different ways (progressive or situational) as well as at different times (early, mid, or late career).  When leaders reveal what motivated them to act on this urge, common motivations include assuming we can do better than our current leader, desiring to feed our ambition, looking for the next step in our career, feeling it is our destiny, or a combination of these.  Regardless of why, when someone becomes a leader a transition ensues.  Put simply, what makes me successful before I become a leader does not guarantee me success as a leader.

In order to illustrate the differences, let’s use the four simple factors we discussed in our last post (strategy, execution, development, and relationships).  Most of us when we became leaders demonstrated strong personal execution skills, commitment to personal growth or development, and good relationships with our supervisors and coworkers.  Although important for personal success, these sub-factors make up a fraction of the skills needed as a leader.  For example, as a leader I need to be able to execute multiple processes while depending on others to provide the majority of the effort, develop relationships up and down as well as inside and outside of the organization, and develop the skills necessary to grow others.  Figure 1 provides a very basic summary of some of a few of the elements present within each factor.  As an example, before I become a leader I would need to understand and implement organizational strategy.  Once I obtain a junior level leadership position, I should become more involved in strategy development.  Finally, as a senior leader, I take on a more comprehensive role in the development, communication, and monitoring of strategy.

Although the differences appear incremental, there are some significant skills differences between implementing micro-elements of strategy and designing an organization’s overall strategy.

So, what can we do to ensure that more leaders possess what is needed in the four factors?

  • Determine what your leaders need to have to be successful;
  • Assess who you have, their capability, their potential, and where gaps are present;
  • Ensure that you recruit employees that have the potential to become leaders;
  • Recognize that some exceptional performers are not meant to be leaders; and
  • Invest the time and resources necessary to develop leaders.

New Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are the building blocks or foundation for managing work in any organization.  Well written job descriptions provide a basis for identifying the specific responsibilities of a job, working conditions, necessary knowledge and skills, tools and equipment, and interaction with others.  Well written descriptions serve as the:

  • linkage between an employee’s assigned tasks and the mission of the organization;
  • guide for managers in assigning work, prescribing training, and creating employee goals;
  • method for seeing expected results and basis for performance evaluations;
  • inventory of legal limitations to the role and activities of the position;
  • summary of what the organization is looking for when it hires; and
  • overview of how work is organized and resources are allocated within the organization.

Most of us would agree that writing and updating job descriptions is not the most exciting process, yet a critical one for the success as well as protection of our organization.  Managers, as part of their expanded role as the recipient of numerous decentralized human resource processes are now becoming more involved in the development and updating of job descriptions.  This is especially true at the initiation of the hiring process.  The reasoning is that managers are much more knowledgeable of what and who they need and by including this information that recruitment process can be improved.  Although it is easy to see the pros, what are the cons to this change in responsibility?

A very simple example of a pro that becomes a con relates to specificity.  As a manager, I can easily imagine the ideal candidate for my team’s open position.  I can go into considerable detail about the attributes, skills, and behaviors that my “perfect” team member will exhibit as well as visualize how the team will operate after the key addition.  In other words, I know what I want.  Moreover, with a weak economy I can easily assume that what I want is out there and looking for work.

To make sure that I get only the candidate that I want, I create a job description that will only attract those that are a perfect match.  In reality, this move to greater specificity limits the pool of applicants that I have to review during the hiring process and can result in very few, if any applicants meeting my requirements.

How pronounced is this phenomenon?  The 2011 ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey estimates that about one third of global employers have a hard time finding potential candidates that meet their actual criteria for employment.  Almost 75 percent of those with hiring challenges identified a lack of experience, skills, or knowledge among applicants as the primary difficulty.  Put simply, they could not find a suitable candidate.  Although it might be argued that really good candidates have jobs even in an economic downturn, a complementary explanation is that added specificity caused talented alternatives not to apply, be filtered out, or drop out of the process.

How do we counteract this impact of too much specificity?

  • Make managers aware of the danger of being too specific in the duties and requirements.
  • Move away from tasks and duties and include more skills, behaviors, and competencies.
  • Review postings before they are advertised to make sure that a sufficient number of desired candidates will apply.

The 3 Q’s of Recruitment

We are fortunate to have a special post from a guest writer.

C. Darren Brooks, Ph.D. has spent almost 20 years as an HR practitioner and performance consultant in the private and public sectors. He has extensive experience in strategic HR planning, recruiting and staffing, instructional design, performance improvement, program evaluation, organizational development, and talent management. Dr. Brooks is a visiting/adjunct instructor at Florida State University in the College of Business and College of Education.

Over the weekend, while watching a pre-season football game with my son, I was intrigued by the numerous discussions about player trades and acquisitions during the off-season and the attention teams give to identifying the player(s) that fit their particular organizational need. In other words, there is better alignment between the organization’s need and the actions taken to meet that need. This takes planning and an understanding of the priorities driving the recruitment process.  As I contemplated the level of detail football coaches and team personnel managers place on the recruitment strategy, I could not help but reflect on whether or not business and governmental organizations applied the same level of thoughtfulness in aligning their human resource needs with their recruitment planning. My experience gave me the answer…no!

In most organizations, recruitment planning typically means managers are engaged in “filling a position” with limited thought given to aligning need and activity. More specifically, many hiring managers lack clarity about key priorities that are necessary to define a recruitment strategy. For example, if a manager is pushing to fill a position quickly yet the organization needs to improve the quality of new hires there is a lack of alignment between the need and the recruitment activity. When this happens the result is rather predictable. The position is filled but need is not met.

As HR and recruiting professionals it is our responsibility to assist hiring managers in identifying and aligning the business drivers of the recruitment process.  This can be done by engaging your hiring manager in a discussion about what I call the 3 Q’s: Quantity, Quickness, and Quality. While not a comprehensive list of questions, answers to the 3 Q’s provides answers that will shape the actions of your organization’s recruitment strategy. Let’s discuss each one briefly.

Quantity. How many qualified candidates are needed? The answer to this question provides detail that will shape how you will market the position, how you will evaluate candidates during the recruitment process, and the impact on the hiring manager’s time. For example, I recently advised a client who needed to hire more than 120 entry level professional positions in 8-weeks. The number of new employees necessary to meet the organization’s need required the employment of a broad mass-marketing approach to attract the volume of applicants in a short period of time. One potential downside is quality may suffer resulting in higher rates of turnover down the road.

Quickness. It is important that you understand the hiring managers definition of quickness in recruitment activity. This ensures that there is realism in the recruitment process. If quickness is the key driver, a different recruitment strategy may be necessary because an extensive search may not be possible.

Quality. In recruiting speak, quality generally refers to the strength and caliber of a candidate’s experience and overall qualifications when compared to the requirements for the position. During the discussion with your hiring manager, clarify what is meant by quality. Have them describe the requirements necessary to perform in the job. Ask for the top three to five “must haves” in a candidate. This will help the hiring manager think through the position in context of the organization’s need. You can also help them recognize what is “important criteria” versus what is a “nice to have”.

By taking the time to question hiring managers about the 3 Q’s, the better you will understand the key business drivers that ultimately shape your organization’s recruitment strategy. By seeking clarification and prioritizing quantity, quickness, and quality your recruitment efforts will be more productive and aligned with the needs of the organization.

Recruiting: How to Approach It

Like many human resource processes, preparation will increase the chance of recruitment success.  We discussed the tangible and intangible investment that is made when we add a new team member in the last post and clearly the cost of recruiting is sizable.  Given the commitment of resources necessary to add a new team member, it is not hard to recognize that a small investment on the front end of the process makes a lot of sense.  There are five critical decision areas that need to be addressed as part of the planning process:

  • Analyze the job
  • Update job description
  • Determine candidate characteristics
  • Assign a pay level
  • Devise communication methods

Analyze the Job

Before starting the recruitment process, it is important to assess how the job might have changed since the last time the job description was updated or the last person was hired in that classification.  Potential changes include tasks and responsibilities, workflow, new technologies, or flexible arrangements.  Leaders in the organization, the immediate supervisor, and even coworkers should be involved in this updating process to ensure that the most important up-to-date information is available for updating the job description.

Update Job Description

Every job in an organization should have a detailed job description that covers overall purpose, individual tasks and responsibilities, and required background or experience.  The description should indicate the relationship of the job to the organization and team, most critical skills, and most important tasks.  Before advertising, the job description should be updated and approved so that it can be made available to screeners, interviewing staff, and candidates.

Determine Candidate Characteristics

As we all have experienced, a candidate can have all the necessary skills and abilities and not possess the “right fit” for the organization.  As part of the planning process, the personal characteristics of the ideal candidate should be identified: experiences, competencies, education, training, specific skills, knowledge, and aptitudes.  In addition, behavioral and personality characteristics should be considered.  The behavioral characteristics should be linked to the organization’s culture as well as the team.

Assign a Pay Level

Market supply and demand, current internal pay levels, and the ability of the organization to pay should be factored into the pay range calculation.  Although it is tempting to assume that all candidates can be compensated the same, it is important to have a compensation philosophy that allows your organization to be responsive to the market and type of candidate you desire.

Devise Communication Methods

When leaders fail to attract the kind of applicants they desire, two of the most common causes are a lack of communication related to the opportunity and miscommunication of requirements and expectations.  The lack of communication is related to not distributing information on the opportunity to the right outlets commonly viewed by the desired candidate type.  Miscommunication occurs when the opportunity is not described in a manner that the desired candidate type desires to pursue the position due to a lack of details, misspecification, or failure to use the correct occupational language.

All five factors should be considered before beginning the hiring process.  Some research has shown that an organization’s success rate can improve by as much as 40 percent if these guidelines are followed.

Do Not Make Me Hire

We all know that hiring someone possesses a certain amount of risk.  At a minimum, most of us worry about the depth of the candidate’s abilities, the candidate’s ability to fit in with the rest of the team and the organization as a whole, and the probability that the candidate will remain with the organization and consistently produce at the level needed.  Each of these in turn relate to a rather large, latent concern of what if the candidate fails to be everything hoped for, will he or she have to be let go at some point in the future.  Consequently, it is common for the typical decision maker to oscillate between the excitement of increasing the team’s abilities and the fear of making a mistake.

Several past clients have likened the hiring process to trying to select the least negative outcome.  One leader described hiring as “I know that it will turn out bad eventually, but I want to minimize how bad it will be.” Another characterized the process as “I know what I want and cannot afford, so I just hope to get someone that has most of what I want.”  A more recent one made the point “people will say anything to get a job, so I really have to be an investigator.” When I asked the same leaders what were the real issues, three things generated the greatest concerns:

  • Cumbersome nature of the hiring process
  • Lack of good candidates
  • Poor results of those hired

Cumbersome Nature of Hiring Process

One of the biggest concerns of managers is the time and effort it takes to hire a new employee.  Hiring like other functions suffers from the “not broken, do not fix” perception.  It is easy to assume if people are being hired, then the process must be working.  However, research has shown that there is considerable variation in the hiring process and the associated costs and efficiencies.  Although some elements of the process are necessary, many times streamlining can preserve the integrity of the process while increasing efficiency.

Lack of Good Candidates

Even in an economic downturn, it is not always easy to find strong candidates.  Some of the major reasons include the reputation of the employer, labor market availability, and reaching the most desired segment of the market.  In the last few years, numerous clients have indicated that there are many more applications, but the number of strong candidates has stayed the same or even decreased.  Typically, a downturn serves as a mechanism for reducing the weakest segments of an organization’s workforce.

Poor Results of Those Hired

The final concern is closely related to “buyer’s remorse” or the fear that I will select the wrong option and be disappointed.  As leaders, we work with imperfect information in an imperfect world.  Mistakes are the nature of being human.  Consequently, it is important to reduce the number of less than optimal hires to the best of our ability.

Obviously, in every organization people are the greatest asset and attracting and retaining the best people are critical to success.  Going into the hiring process with dread is not the ideal.  In the next few posts, we will explore what you can do to reduce worry and maximize your desired results.

Lessons from the Cereal Box: Prize Inside

One of my childhood memories is anxiously waiting to open a new cereal box to find the prize inside.  The cereal companies did a great job of combining a child’s natural desire to collect toys and fondness of sugar with selling their product. In order to ensure that you did not deviate from their brand, each type of cereal had one toy type or character.  So, if you wanted to collect something related to a specific comic book hero, you had to eat a lot of that kind of cereal.  Moreover, sometimes the same toy came in multiple boxes, so rare toys required making sure you had numerous boxes of cereal.

One of my dreams was to collect a whole series of the toys and be able to go to elementary school and show them off.  At six or seven years old, every box of cereal seemed to take forever to eat and my mother only shopped about once a week at the grocery store.  After growing impatient, I started to eat cereal three times a day hoping to speed up the process.  That still did not diminish what seemed to be an infinite supply of cereal in the large box.  When I was eight and had lost hope of collecting all of the toys, I went to the cereal aisle at the local grocery store to look at the pictures of the new toys that were in the boxes.  To my surprise, I found a boy I knew from school sitting in the floor with about six opened cereal boxes around him.  Some had spilled, others were dumped on the floor, and he was digging in another.  There was a small stack of bright colored toys next him.  His mom had failed to keep him with her and he was digging for the toys missing from his collection.  At that second, I thought he was a genius.  When his mom and the store manager came a few seconds later, I realized it might not have been so smart.

As leaders, we too dig in proverbial boxes for the prize.  Most of us have been involved in recruitment and selection on a regular basis.  A few of us might even consider our abilities to discern the best candidate as above average.  However, most will agree that interviewing someone for a short period of time is a relatively poor predictor of future performance.  There are three simple lessons we can take away from the prize in the cereal box marketing technique that should help us all at hiring the best candidates possible:

  • We don’t know what we are getting from the outside
  • We have to eat a lot of cereal to find the best prizes
  • Some really need the prize to sell the cereal

We Don’t Know What We Are Getting

Just as a kid can look at the back of the box and see all the toy possibilities, there is no way of knowing what is in the box before buying it and opening it.  Nevertheless, most kids know which brands hold on to the prized collectables the most and which ones are the most “fair.”  As leaders, we need to ask as many questions as possible and ascertain as many motivators, drivers, competencies, and characteristics that we can about the potential candidates.  Moreover, we need to make sure that our standard or uniform tools are sufficient to glean the best information from all types of people in each type of position.  The more we look and understand the better off we will be when we make decisions on who to hire.

We Have to Eat a Lot

Just like cereal, we have to open a lot of boxes or hire a lot of employees to determine if we have found the truly high performer that has the motivation, capability, and match to produce the results that we desire.  If we improve our ability to screen candidates, the chance of finding better employees goes up, but there is no perfect x-ray machine that allows us to look in the box in advance.  Clients on a regular basis talk about how a little improvement in hiring goes a long way and they are right.  Improvement is many times incremental, but critical to the future success of the organization.

Some Really Need the Prize to Sell

The only thing more disappointing than the wrong prize is that the cereal tasted so bad that you did not want to eat more of it.  Similarly, some candidates do a good job of saying the right things and pointing to a skill or capability that your organization really needs to hide the fact that the rest of their offering would not meet your standards.

Over the next month, we will explore a few of the facets related to recruitment with the hope of reducing some of the most common missteps we all experience.