Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Right Person for the Job

Identifying the people who are more likely to succeed at a given job is a well-proven science with a 100-year heritage. The key is to hire based on what the job requires. While this seems obvious, organizations often struggle to clearly and objectively define job requirements, or they may have difficulty translating broad role expectations - "provide excellent service to new and existing customers" - from a job description into behaviors that can be measured in the hiring process. Designing effective hiring processes starts with a formal, objective accounting of job requirements, elicited from a representative sample of subject-matter experts who know the job requirements well, such as high-performing incumbents, managers or trainers.

Job analysis can be relatively quick and painless, such as an online survey of a representative sample of job experts, incumbents or managers, for example, when studying jobs that are common across organizations, well-understood from previous research, and that don't change much over time. Front-line manager or customer service assistant could fall into this category, as these jobs often involve similar elements such as coaching and supervising a team, and being friendly and service-oriented, respectively.

The job analysis process also can be detailed, involving onsite job shadowing by analysts, detailed focus groups and interviews, which makes more sense for unique jobs, new or changing roles, or situations where involving stakeholders to this degree makes the effort worthwhile, such as union environments or large-scale change management initiatives. Job analysis is also flexible enough to consider what the job requires today and what will be required in the future, if this is an important hiring consideration.

In general, the resulting job requirements generally fall into three categories:

1. Readiness:
What people need to be able to do on day one to be minimally successful.

2. Potential:
What the performance requirements are for acceptable and exceptional performance.

3. Fit:

What the working conditions are and what it is like to work there.

Once the job is understood, the recipe for designing a scientific hiring system is simple:

1. Identify the people requirements - what attributes make people succeed or fail in the role.

2. Determine which requirements the organization intends to select for versus those it will seek to develop in new hires via on-boarding and on-the-job training.

3. Build a formal assessment program to measure potential talent.

4. Assess who shows up and try to hire the best.

This can be easier said than done. Identifying people requirements is difficult; scientists have been studying this for a century and are still developing the answers. Moving from job tasks and accountabilities and company culture to tests and interviews that provide good predictive information, requires a deep understanding of previous research on job performance prediction, methodologies to reliably develop new instruments and exercises that perform as expected, and a careful, objective approach throughout to question assumptions and ensure quality. In short, to determine what exactly should be measured in candidates, organizations need the science of talent measurement. But one need not be a scientist to make some sense of a market saturated with various employment tests, traits, models and labels - just remember P = M x Q.

Motivation Multiplied by Qualification

A common belief is performance is determined by motivation multiplied by ability, or P = M x A. This formula is useful to help talent managers remember that success depends on people being able to do and wanting to do a job. However, the "ability" label could give the mistaken impression that being smart and sufficiently motivated is all that is needed to succeed at work. It's not.

Research across several decades makes it clear that other competencies beyond problem-solving and learning ability also predict success in most jobs, including personality traits such as conscientiousness, agreeableness and extroversion. Interpersonal skills, managing oneself toward goals, following rules and procedures, demonstrating creativity and a host of other soft skills or competencies are useful - often essential - for success at work. As jobs increase in complexity, a more holistic view of what ability means is needed to fit the evidence.

What about experience, the favorite of recruiters and hiring managers alike? Beyond competencies and ability, there is clear evidence that experience matters, just not the way it is usually measured. Science doesn't measure experience simply as time in a job or years in the industry. Although these widely used measures are easy to collect and straightforward to review and confirm, they don't predict job performance. Rather, experience is best measured as the result of these efforts - specifically one's knowledge, skills and judgment.

It is hard to imagine an accountant, software developer or industrial-organizational psychologist could be successful in his or her job without acquiring the requisite technical knowledge of these respective professions along with the skill and judgment to apply that knowledge effectively. By defining experience as the resulting knowledge, skills and judgment, employers now can accurately measure these accomplishments using standardized tests or performance exercises.

Interestingly, while one's cognitive ability does predict learning speed, time on task and focused practice seem to predict expertise in a given domain. Like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, although somebody smart is likely to pick up concepts more quickly, people who persist, learn from failure and adapt, and keep working to develop their skills over thousands of hours ultimately become experts.

Qualification may be more useful for the formula alongside motivation, referring to the combined set of abilities, competencies, knowledge, skills and judgment that a person brings to the job. So instead of P = M x A, more accurate is P = M x Q. Qualification also implies that these are not generic attributes applicable in every setting. Qualification is talent as viewed through the lens of a job role or set of performance requirements. It is oriented to improve talent decisions and organizational performance.

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