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Sumser: Here’s how to get a true sense of quality of hire

By: | December 3, 2020 • 4 min read
Emerging Intelligence columnist John Sumser is the principal analyst at HRExaminer. He researches the impact of data, analytics, AI and associated ethical issues on the workplace. John works with vendors and HR departments to identify problems, define solutions and clarify the narrative. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

I recently scanned a conversation on Linkedin about measuring quality of hire. I am intrigued and appalled by what seems to be our desire to measure the quality of people. I suppose it’s not that different from how we treat cattle.

The underlying question is part of an eternal squabble between recruiters and hiring managers: Whose fault is it when a candidate doesn’t work out? When we answer by looking at quality of hire, we’re only looking at the candidate. This works for both recruiters and hiring managers because the answer is always not them.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s important to try to quantify the work of the recruiting department. It’s a thankless endeavor with only limited ties to the overall company or the work it does. Recruiting is concerned with getting people in the door. Typically, the recruiter’s job ends the moment the new employee walks in the door.

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Recruiters rarely get visibility into the results of their work. There are no current methods for tracking the performance of the people they recruited. A completed requisition gets rewarded with a new, uncompleted one. As a result, almost all recruiting metrics focus on speed, elapsed time, growth and other things we can measure about the recruiting process.

The desire for a standard quality of hire metric is understandable and a bright sign. It means that recruiting, as a discipline, is beginning to ask the world for useful feedback.

It’s only by building life-cycle accountability into the system that recruiting can become a strategic tool instead of another process. Its absence leaves the recruiting function without a clear ability to describe its own value to the organization.

But …

Individual performance in an organization can be quite accidental. How an individual fares in a particular setting is a function of a number of variables. Industry, niche, organization size, product lifecycle, capital structure, business cycle, internal politics, competition, brand and leadership are just the most obvious.

Each employee enters the organization at a unique moment in time. They bring a host of skills, experiences, learnings, family relationships, values, preferences, physical conditions, intellectual capacities, emotional constructs, assumptions and beliefs.

They begin their work that often takes a couple thousand hours per year. They get hired after a few hours of interviews and conversations. It’s a big deal to spend 10 hours in the hiring process. That’s reserved for very important hires. The interview process centers around two documents—the job description and resume—that take maybe five minutes to read.

Working relationships are complex, human partnerships. Yet, the hiring process is more like qualifying for a loan.

Then, the moment someone begins a job, it changes. As their personality and values begin to bear on the work, the work itself shifts.

A job is the intersection of a person and a role. Each influences the other. The company, in all its hard-won agility, shifts with the market’s changes. This also changes the work.

In the end, individual performance is often a question of luck and timing. What were the characteristics of the highest-quality cook on the Titanic?

A great manager can build a super-performing team under the right circumstances. They take the strengths of each team member while working to minimize their weaknesses. Landing in their department is the kind of good luck that makes modest performers into superstars.

Meanwhile, precious few employees can immediately translate their skills easily between companies. The barriers of culture, power structure and the company’s unique view of what is or isn’t work require a translation and reorientation period.

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By about month 18, hiring managers are unhappy with about 50% of their hiring decisions. This rarely means that the employee is a bad person. They are just caught in the shifting sands.

So, how do you solve the problem?

Hiring is hard. Predicting individual success over time is harder. We underinvest in recruiting, treating it like purchasing rather than starting a relationship.

If you don’t understand the work and you don’t understand the company, it’s just matching job descriptions and resumes. This is the trouble with many of today’s recruiting tools. Matching isn’t enough. If you want to improve the actual quality of hire, you have to deeply understand the work, the company and people.

You have to start there before you can measure it.

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