Automating the Staffing Process for Hourly Jobs: Part 2, The Risks

Nov 13, 2003

Part 1 of this article series reviewed the benefits that can come from using automated staffing solutions for hourly jobs. Here in Part 2 we’ll discuss the risks associated with automating the hourly hiring process. While these risks are significant, they are also manageable. They should not deter you from using technology-enabled tools and systems to support hourly staffing. However, deploying an automated hourly staffing system, particularly for a larger organization, is not an easy task and requires a commitment to doing the little things needed to ensure the system’s success. Technology-enabled assessment solutions can be double-edged swords. If used correctly they lead to huge increases in staffing efficiency and effectiveness. But if the wrong system is chosen or if the right system is deployed incorrectly, it can do significant damage to a company’s hiring processes. Potential problems include:

  • Decreasing access to quality candidates
  • Systematically hiring the wrong people
  • Missing the opportunity to hire A players
  • Undermining managers’ sense of responsibility toward hiring successful employees

These problems can be fairly subtle, and the organization may have little awareness of their effects until after considerable damage has already been done. This article discusses these risks in more detail and provides guidelines for managing and avoiding them. The Risk of Choosing the Wrong System The most effective web-enabled staffing systems represent a complex blend of technology and assessment science. The complexity of these systems becomes even greater when they are used to support hourly staffing for positions located in geographically dispersed stores or locations. Myriad considerations need to be made when choosing a staffing assessment vendor. These range from relatively obvious considerations, such as the system price, to more complex and subtle considerations, such as the stability of technology platform and the skills and stability of the vendor’s consulting and customer service team. In our experience, the greatest areas of risk when choosing an hourly staffing system tend to fall into the following three areas:

  • Appropriate assessment design. Hourly staffing systems vary considerably in terms of their ability to predict different behaviors that influence hourly job performance. One of the most frequent mistakes people make is the tendency to focus exclusively on systems that predict tenure without considering whether the people being hired are more effective. Selecting on tenure alone is a good way to create a workforce of mediocre employees who never leave. This is hardly what we would characterize as an ideal staffing strategy. When considering hourly staffing systems, look for vendors who demonstrate an in-depth understanding of hourly job performance and whose systems are designed to predict key behaviors that drive high performance in hourly jobs. Avoid vendors who focus primarily on increasing staffing efficiency (e.g., time to hire, cost per hire) and who give little attention to predicting the actual employee behaviors that determine job success. Lastly, do not simply take a vendor’s word that their system predicts superior performance. Ask them for data that clearly illustrates how the use of their system improves bottom line organizational performance.
  • System usability. The staffing of hourly jobs is often done by first-line supervisors or store managers. These hiring managers frequently work in remote locations or stores with little direct support from other corporate functions. Hourly staffing systems must be highly intuitive, so that these people can use them with little to no assistance. Learning how to use hourly staffing systems should require minimal training, particularly if there are relatively high levels of turnover among the hiring managers who are going to use them. Make sure the vendor can provide adequate customer-service support to answer questions from hiring managers that will invariably occur after the system has been deployed.
  • Technology. A variety of innovative technologies have been used to automate the hourly staffing process. Examples include interactive voice response (IVR) applications using 1-800 numbers, fax-back reporting of assessment results to managers, and in-store kiosk, notebook, and phone-screen computers to support walk-in job applicants. Each of these technologies offers it own unique strengths. They also all pose their own unique brand of challenges and obstacles. If you are interested in using one of these technologies, try to work with vendors who have considerable experience with similar technological applications. Also be prepared to work out the wide range of bugs, problems, and other technological hiccups that will invariably occur during deployment.

The best way to avoid problems associated with choosing the wrong system is to use a thorough and well-structured request for proposal (RFP) process. This process includes the following basic steps:

  1. Make sure the RFP clearly lays out your needs and operational constraints. The RFP should detail specific operational, technological, and financial requirements. It should also address concerns and requirements related to the impact of assessments on the organization’s employment brand.
  2. Send RFPs to the right potential vendors. There are over 60 assessment companies currently in the market, each with its own unique capabilities. Make sure you contact the ones that can offer the most appropriate solutions for your needs. A bit of homework at this stage of the game will help ensure you don’t waste your time talking to vendors who are not able to meet your specific needs.
  3. Use a well-structured process to review the RFPs you receive. It is particularly critical to involve people from different areas of your organization in the review. Key stakeholders may include members of operations, information technology, line human resources, and staffing. You may also want to involve your legal department to make sure they are comfortable with the proposed solutions. It is also a good idea to have at least one person on the team who understands how to evaluate the scientific design and validity of assessment tools you may be considering.

The Risk of Negatively Impacting Applicant Flow Any time you change the steps candidates complete to apply for a job, you should consider how this will affect the flow of applicants into your organization. Online staffing systems are generally praised (and sometimes cursed) for increasing the number of applications companies receive in response to job postings. However, hourly job applicants represent a relatively unique group of job seekers. Hourly job applicants have traditionally applied by simply walking into the place where they want to work and requesting a job application. They often fill out the application on the spot, and may even be hired during the same visit. Introducing staffing automation can substantially change this process, particularly if it requires applicants to go online to apply via the web. One of us recently spoke with several recruiting and operations managers about what would happen if applicants for their hourly retail store positions had to apply online outside of the store, instead of completing an onsite application. This prompted us to search for data that might shed light on this issue. Our search led us to David Scarborough, Ph.D. David oversees the data analytics for Unicru, a company with a long history of providing hourly staffing systems. Dr. Scarborough shared several interesting statistics that relate to the importance of allowing hourly candidates to apply on-site. Here is what he found:

  • Analysis of over two million hourly applications revealed that two out of three applicants live within five miles of the work location. This suggests that most hourly candidates do literally “walk in” to apply for jobs, and that requiring applicants to apply off-site could substantially decrease applicant flow.
  • Additional analysis of 180,000 employees drawn from across 43 companies revealed that 87% of hourly employees live within 10 miles of their place of work. This suggests that one of the critical things that is important to hourly employees is convenience. Hourly employees are unlikely to tolerate long commuting distances between home and work. This suggests that efforts to use the Internet to share hourly candidate pools across locations and promoting “cross town” hiring could lead to higher turnover levels. In essence, hourly hiring practices should encourage recruiting applicants from the communities close to where they will be working.

We also came across another study relevant to the issue of using the web to hire hourly candidates. A 2003 study conducted by Pew Research reveals that over 40% of people in the United States still do not use the Internet. Furthermore, minorities tend to use the Internet significantly less than non-minorities. Taken together, these statistics suggest that switching from a process that allows “walk in” job applications to one that requires people to access the web on their own is likely to lead to a loss of candidates, and may also disproportionately decrease the number of minority applicants. In sum, removing the ability of hourly applicants to apply for jobs on-site may have considerable negative affects on the level and diversity of applicant flow. To avoid these negative effects, make sure your staffing process does not require hourly applicants to access the Internet on their own outside of your work location. Efforts to automate the hourly staffing process should utilize one of the many available technologies that support onsite applications. These range from fax-back systems for processing paper-and-pencil application blanks to in-store kiosks and phone screening. Which technology makes the most sense will depend on your companies unique needs and constraints. Decreasing Hiring Manager Responsibility The final risk we want to note is the danger that automated staffing systems pose to hiring managers’ sense of “felt responsibility” over the hiring system. It is common for hiring managers to react negatively to automated staffing systems. At best, this negative reaction takes the form of hiring managers refusing to use the system. At worst, it results in hiring managers abdicating responsibility for hiring quality employees, instead simply blaming the staffing system for any staffing mistakes. To avoid these problems it is important to educate hiring managers on the strengths and limitations of the system, explain why it is being used and how it can help them, and actively respond to any questions and concerns they may have about the system’s effectiveness. Also, make sure that the system is not presented to hiring managers as “doing the staffing for them.” Ultimate responsibility for recruiting and hiring quality employees must remain with the hiring manager. One client addressed this concern during deployment by stating that the staffing system was not intended to decrease the total time hiring managers put into staffing, but was instead designed to ensure that this time was used more effectively for recruiting and screening the best talent. We want to conclude by re-emphasizing our strong support for automating hourly staffing processes. Although the risks identified here are real and significant, they can all be overcome through paying attention to the design and deployment of the staffing system. In the end, the benefit automated staffing systems have on hiring efficiency and quality of hires far more than outweighs the manageable dangers posed by these risk.

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