Your Recruiting Success Depends on How Well You Manage Managers

Apr 24, 2008

In a recent ERE article I made the case that a tipping point was close at hand for converting recruiting and sourcing into a scalable and systematic business process.

As a judge for ERE’s annual recruiting awards, and someone who has worked with companies around the world, I’m convinced that most recruiting leaders are starting to realize the need for consistent processes, workforce planning, metrics, demonstrated results, a consumer marketing-based approached to sourcing, trained recruiters, and the effective use of technology.

The justification for a tipping point is based on the idea that many companies are now implementing these types of integrated recruiting and hiring systems.

In the article, I suggested that one huge obstacle remained: getting hiring managers onboard. A few readers believed this could never be systemized, and recruiting would forever remain more art than science. This article will demonstrate otherwise.

Here are the typical problems with hiring managers as they relate to the recruiting and hiring process:

  • They don’t want to spend time with their recruiting team.
  • They often make interviewing mistakes.
  • Many are not good at recruiting top performers.
  • They over-rely on skills and qualifications before seeing candidates.
  • They’re not willing to invest the time in exploratory meetings with passive candidates.
  • They won’t prepare for the interview.

There are probably other items that could be added to the list that are equally relevant, but the idea is that unless hiring managers are better managed, end-to-end hiring results won’t improve. The question remains?does it take art on the part of the recruiter to work through these issues, or can science prevail?

My success as a full-time headhunter for 20 years was based on overcoming these identical hiring manager issues. But when the process I used to pull this off is studied, it’s pretty clear there was little art or magic to it; it was all science.

In 90% or more of the cases where I prevailed, despite these exact hiring manager challenges, with hundreds of different managers filling positions from entry-level to executive, the methodology was always the same. When others (hundreds, not a few) used the same methods, they also had similar and successful results. This is all science.

Test This Theory Yourself

I recommend that you try out the ideas described below on your next assignment to see whether you get better results.

First, stop using traditional skills-based job descriptions to attract and qualify candidates. Instead, ask the hiring manager what he’ll be telling the newly hired person what she’ll be doing on the day she starts. The list of tasks and expectations generated by this line of questioning is referred to as a performance profile in Performance-based Hiring lexicon.

An example best illustrates how this works and how it can be systematized throughout a company. About 10 years ago I conducted a VP Marketing search for a high-tech telecommunications company in the Silicon Valley. It was the first of many searches for this company. The CEO was unsure that I was qualified to handle the assignment, but he started the discussion by telling me the person selected had to have 5-10 years direct telecomm experience, a BSEE from a prestigious school, and must have an MBA from an Ivy League school. Then he asked me what experience I had finding this type of person.

I didn’t answer the question. Instead, I asked him to tell me why a top person as described would want this job. He was flustered, but putting a client on the defensive is a good thing to do to gain a slight edge.

Once I had some reasonable big-picture strategy, I then asked the CEO what he’d be telling candidates their primary role would be in achieving these company objectives. It took about 15 minutes to get a reasonable answer. He told me the VP Marketing would be responsible for preparing a five-year product roadmap, taking into account the company’s technical expertise, the evolution of the Internet, and the key competitors, constrained by available financial and technical resources.

I then asked if I could find a top performer who had accomplished something comparable, but didn’t have the Ivy League MBA and the exact background, if he’d a least meet the candidate for an interview. “Of course,” was his response.

As a result of this “aha,” we placed six senior-level executives with this firm over the next two years. In each case we used performance profiles, rather than job descriptions, to define the real job. Eliminating job descriptions is the first step in managing managers, and replacing art with science.

Interviews as a Way to Collect Evidence

The next aspect of better ways to manage managers is to convert the interview into something more than a popularity contest or an assessment of technical or intellectual brilliance. This starts by recognizing the superficiality of adding up a bunch of yes/no votes of interviewers who are unprepared and making narrowly based assessments.

Instead, have interviewers use the interview just to collect evidence, not make a judgment. As part of this, narrow the range of focus of each interviewer from evaluating everything to evaluating just a few things (e.g., technical competency, organizing work, or managing outside teams).

A deeper (rather than wider) focus will naturally increase accuracy. Then for the yes/no decision, don’t add up the votes. Instead, have the entire interviewing team formally share their evidence in a deliberative manner. Since every other important business decision is made this way, this is not too far-fetched an idea. (Here’s an article for more on this type of hiring decision-making approach.)

A short time ago, I had the opportunity to present this evidence-based candidate evaluation idea to a VP HR of a Fortune 1000 company. He thought it wouldn’t fly at his company, since managers wouldn’t support it. I then asked if his company had a formal expense reimbursement procedure and if his managers supported this. He gave me a puzzled look, and responded with an obvious “yeah, what’s your point?”

I then asked a more reasonable question regarding the formality of his company’s capital appropriation request policy and how non-budgeted business expenses get approved. His answer involved using a very formal procedure directed by the CFO.

My question to him, and to you, is obvious:

“If the CFO doesn’t need manager support to implement expense controls, why does the VP HR need their support to implement a policy far more important?the hiring of top talent?”

While support is nice to have, good systems and appropriate controls are sometimes needed to offset inappropriate behavior. You’ll also get the support you need if the rules are easy to use and help managers make better decisions. It just might not be right away.

Managing managers one-on-one is art, but managing them all can be science. It starts by implementing two simple procedures. The first is to eliminate job descriptions for hiring purposes and replace them with a clear definition of what the person taking the job needs to do to be considered successful.

The second is to eliminate the crude process of adding up a bunch of poorly considered yes/no votes and replace it with an evidence-based assessment process. To enforce it, also make managers responsible for the quality of their hiring decisions.

This is not art. It’s just common sense coupled with sound business practices. And if you track your hiring successes and mistakes and see improvements in both, you’ll get all the support you’ve ever wanted.

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