The Race Toward Average

A focus on benchmarking risks creating mediocre talent acquisition processes and departments.

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Mar 7, 2024

It starts from childhood: Who’s prettier, taller, thinner? Who has better grades? Who got more recognition or medals? In the business world, too, we strive to be the best. We all want to compare ourselves to others, but benchmarking against others doesn’t always propel you forward.

In the recruitment process, benchmarking often holds companies back, leaving them striving for — or at least satisfied with being — average. If I compare myself to others, and they aren’t doing a great job, do you want to be like everyone else? Does it motivate you? Does it motivate your organization?

(As an important aside: There’s value in knowing the benchmark for salaries. When candidates are undecided about a salary, we need to ensure that we’re in a competitive position in the market. However, it’s crucial to be competitive not only in terms of salary but also in other aspects. After all, there will always be someone offering a higher salary than you.)

I am often asked, “What does the benchmark say about various recruitment metrics?” For example, time to hire, time to fill, source of hire, distribution, and more.

Take employee referral programs, which yield the strongest and best-performing sources of hire globally. The average benchmark is around 25% to 30% of hires coming through this channel. But you’ll also see that at the strongest organizations that number is 50% and is sometimes over 60%.

What’s more, they hit these numbers often without paying employees for referrals. On the flip side, organizations that paid their people for referrals show a decrease in success with this source of hire.

The question becomes: Would you rather emulate employers that are average or those that are leaders?

The answer is obvious, and sports provide a good parallel. In most sports, the focus is not just on beating the competition. It’s also about breaking one’s own record.

Take Jim Hines, for example. He was the first to run the 100 meters in fewer than 10 seconds (at the 1968 Olympics). Until then, the conception was that it was impossible to break the 10-second barrier. Hines focused on competing against himself, running as fast as he could, rather than just faster than competing runners. (It’s worth noting that after, five more athletes ran in less than10 seconds that same year.)

The larger point is that comparison should be to oneself, setting a better goal each time.

At a talent acquisition conference a few years ago, a TA manager presented a case where 50% of reqs closed through the company’s internal transfer program. The organization recognized this as a strong source of hire and was successful in improving the number to 80% of the hires that year (and subsequently to 84%)! Meanwhile, the market average was 20% to 25%. If the company had stuck to the benchmark, they would have assumed they were at the top of their abilities (as well as above the benchmark) at 50%.

Again, every employer should focus on itself, track its own metrics, see what works well for the company, strengthen that, then see what works less well, and investigate it. Ultimately, this entails setting ambitious goals and ensuring that your aim is to meet (even surpass) them — not merely hit some benchmarking number.

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