It’s All About Performance

Jan 16, 2008

It’s all about performance. Over the past four or five years, I have seen a steady increase in organizations spending time and effort to define and measure employee performance. Firms like Success Factors, DDI, and Authoria have had good commercial success in providing the tools and processes that make this easier to do. Oracle and SAP offer modules that ease the process of defining competencies and measuring employees on their contributions.

As the economy heads into a recession and profits are under scrutiny, this will become even more important. No organization can afford people who do not contribute and who cannot perform consistently at a high level.

But, what is often lacking is a connection between employee performance and the traits recruiters look for in candidates. Many recruiters just take the generic job description and base their interviews and selection on competencies that may not be aligned with the reality of the position. Defining a great performance and tying it back into the competencies, skills, and traits that candidates have is essential.

If we are serious about finding the best people with the most talent to recommend for hire, here are the five steps we have to take:

  1. Identify and Measure. First of all, we have to work harder than we do at identifying and measuring the low, middle, and high performers. We need to establish indicators of success and of high performance for each position we recruit for. Indicators could be the number of sales made in a month, the number of reports written that resulted in consulting assignments, the amount of revenue their group has generated, and so forth. This is hard work. There aren’t a lot of benchmarks to go by, but we all know more or less who contributes the most to our organizations. Our task is to quantify that and find a way to measure it. Focus groups of managers and customers can help define what constitutes good or poor performance. Recruiters, along with managers and customers, can put together tentative lists of criteria and measure current performers against them. Over time, it will become clear which indicators are most accurate.
  2. Develop Profiles. Once we have the indicators or criteria determined, we can work with managers and develop profiles of the high performers in each group. We can look for commonalities and traits during the screening and interviewing process that predict success. These could be competencies, activities they engage in, work methods, or processes. There are many firms that can help you determine these critical success factors (as they are often called), and even help you develop tests to identify them. If this is well done, often clear patterns emerge. For example, several years ago, a firm was hiring technicians to repair precision-manufacturing equipment. By using the process described above, it was able to identify several skills that led to success. It learned that people leaving the armed services who had been trained as mechanics had the highest success rate. Then, the company focused its recruiting on exiting service personnel.
  3. Find Them and Target Your Messages. The next task is to discover where these people are and what they enjoy doing. This is necessary so that you can target your advertising message and placement toward this audience. To do this well requires a focus on competitive intelligence (CI). CI is well known in the industrial world and many companies employ CI experts to ferret our information about production capacities and equipment installations at competitors. The same principles apply to recruiting. You can gather information from competitors, vendors, and suppliers about where good people may be located. You can certainly use your employee-referral program for the same purpose. And, every time you actually find candidates with the right profile and skill set, ask them where more people like them are. One of the most useful ways to collect information is to ask incoming new hires for referrals and for general information.
  4. Build a Database. Collecting and capturing this information is critical. The knowledge you gradually accumulate is valuable and should be put into a database that can be shared with other recruiters. This is a form of knowledge management and, when properly done, it can save thousands of hours of work and bunches of money. After all, headhunters rely on their own human knowledge-management systems (i.e., their brains) to do this all the time. Our challenge is to make this more broadly accessible and to keep it current. I like to think about these sorts of databases as the recruiters’ gossip place. It is an online forum for chatting about competitors, successes, and failures and for collecting bits and pieces of information that, alone, may not be valuable. However, when they are combined with other bits, they represent a treasure trove.
  5. Decide Whether to Recruit or Develop. The final step in this process is to determine whether there are enough highly skilled people to recruit efficiently and economically. Sometimes, it is actually cheaper to develop people internally. The recruiting function must become a talent agency, which is something it has not been. Talent agencies recognize talent and develop it for strategic purposes. We, as recruiters, need to take our knowledge of what high performance looks like and then, using market knowledge and competitive intelligence, make a recommendation as to whether we should continue to try and recruit the people who have “it,” or whether we should put together a development process.

The only limits are our own vision and our ability to work the politics of our corporate environments. One way to find employees with potential to move to new positions would be to open all of our screening processes to anyone and then select those who seem likely to be successful. The Internet and our recruiting websites make this very easy to do. The key is that recruiting is not only about finding talent, but it is also increasingly about developing it. If we are to move our profession upwards, these things I have described are what it is going to take.

Precision, measurement, quantification, and process rigor are elements I have been focusing on for some time now. Recruiting generally needs to improve in all of these, and now that economic times are getting tough, when could be a better time to start?

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