How Corporate Staffing and Line Management Formed a Strategic Partnership

I recently had the privilege of working with a corporate staffing director blessed with unusual wisdom (he hired me to solve a problem). He worked in a highly conservative organization in the Midwest that did recruiting and hiring the traditional way: that is, start with work orders, place ads, screen resumes, phone screen potential applicants, send folks to line managers for interviews, and process paperwork. This is a story about how the corporate staffing director repositioned his department as a strategic business partner. The Job The company maintains a large customer service center staffed by three groups: 1) an incoming ordering and tracking group, 2) an incoming technical group that helps customers solve computer and point-of-sale terminal problems, and 3) an outbound sales group that makes sales calls to established customers. Successful job performance in the customer service center has been a pre-requirement to post for other jobs in the company. They are an employer-of-choice in the area and have a waiting list of applicants. The Situation Before Staffing had minimal involvement in the hiring process. For the most part, they placed ads, passed on resumes to line interviewers, and scheduled applicants for visits. They were not part of the interview process nor invited to hiring decision-making meetings. They only became involved with the applicant when it was time to discuss benefits and answer questions the applicant had at the end of the visit. Here is a summary of how hiring was done in the past:

  • The corporate training department developed a list of job competencies. Hiring managers and corporate staffing worked from job descriptions and prepared interview questions.
  • Trainers from the line department would phone-screen about 88 people in order to invite 44 candidates to interviews with line managers.
  • Line managers made offers to about half the applicants and 21 employees started work. Managers generally complained about the time it took to screen applicants and expressed general dissatisfaction with overall applicant quality.
  • Performance problems showed up early in training when applicants had trouble learning computer systems. Of 21 people hired, one failed training, four went on performance plans during OJT (one was let go), and three people quit. Production of the remaining employees fell along a normal curve of high to low.

The Intervention Here’s what we did to tackle these issues:

  • Research. We examined training records, performance reviews, and job descriptions to learn as much about the job as possible.
  • Learning about job competencies. We interviewed dozens of jobholders (from all three customer service positions), trainers, line managers, and even the head of the department. We translated this data into competencies and sent questionnaires to everyone in the department asking them to confirm the data we gathered.
  • Developing a system. We used all the information gathered from job experts to develop a system of tests, questions, and exercises that would measure each critical competency at least twice. We then gathered a group of administrators together and trained them to evaluate each candidate using the new tools.

Staffing Becomes Strategic Partner The new hiring process looked like this:

  • Trainers (from the line department) worked from a set of job-related competency lists. They used behavioral interview questions (with prepared answer guides) to phone-screen about 50 applicants for the sales-related customer service position. Of those screened, 22 were invited for interview.
  • HR now took the lead in conducting an additional set of interviews. HR also ran applicants through a sales simulation, a problem-solving test, a planning test, and a test of attitudes, interests, and motivations. Ten of the twenty-two applicants who passed this phase were forwarded to line managers for final interviews.
  • Line managers made offers to 9 of the 10 applicants sent by HR ó a 90% acceptance ratio.
  • The training staff reported that almost all participants behaved and learned like the top 25% of all earlier training classes. They moved quickly, learned technical and sales details rapidly, and often pushed the trainers to move faster. All employees passed training. When applicants transitioned to the job, sales trainers again reported that participants approached the sales task like the top 25% of prior graduating classes.

Conclusion We would like to argue that this involved some kind of magic sales test and training mumbo-jumbo. Sorry, that is just not the case. It involved hard work to gather information, determine the right competencies, choose tools to measure them, check to ensure test scores were associated with job performance, and conduct thorough training how to measure applicants. It also took the efforts of a staffing department leader willing to take a considerable risk to do something different. Maybe a side-by-side comparison would be in order:

Before After
Training department competencies Jobholder-developed competencies
Trainer screening interviews Trainer screening interview guides with answers

HR screening interviews

HR-administered sales simulations

Article Continues Below

HR-administered problem solving case

HR-administered planning case

HR-administered AIMS test

HR-administered typing test

Manager interview Manager interview
Range of high to low employees Top 25% employees

The payoff? What would your organization be like if it were staffed only with 25% top-tier sales employees?