Make Hiring a Process, Not an Event

For most companies, sourcing is a .5 Sigma process. If you’re familiar with Six Sigma, you’ll quickly understand the difference. A Six Sigma process has one failure in one thousand. A .5 Sigma process has about seven hundred failures in one thousand. This is not good. Poorly written ads, weak interviewing skills, unfriendly websites and systems that inadvertently screen out the best all contribute to the dismal showing. Despite the stated goal that hiring is #1, at many companies the walk is far from the talk. It doesn’t need to be this bad. Hiring top people is too important to relegate to the bottom end of the most ineffective business processes. Just think about this: Accounting, even with the bad rap it has been getting lately for being “fudgeable,” is probably 90% or better in terms of accuracy. Order processing is probably 98% or better. Customer service is probably in the high 90% range, according to satisfaction surveys. If hiring is #1, it should be a formal business process, one that has at least the same attention and budget as every other less important business process. While Six Sigma is unrealistic for the recruiting and hiring process, I believe a realistic goal is Two Sigma. This means the process is about 80-90% effective in consistently delivering and hiring top candidates for every position. How much would this type of process be worth having? This is the business case that each recruiter, recruiting department head, and HR executive needs to make to justify the recruiting department’s role. Certainly having better people in place will improve sales, increase the introduction and launch of new products, reduce costs, improve efficiency, and increase the market value of the corporation. For small companies, the impact is in the range of millions to tens of millions of dollars, and in the multi-billion dollar range for large firms. This is so obvious that making a business case is almost unnecessary. Why is it then that HR and the recruiting department can’t get any budget, but manufacturing, distribution and the Six Sigma practitioners can? I suspect either that an effective business case hasn’t been made or that the powers-that-be don’t trust the HR or recruiting department to deliver the projected results. Let’s start making the case and delivering some quick results. Taking lessons from our Six Sigma black belts, here are some reasonable goals for our Two Sigma recruiting and hiring process.

  1. Highest possible quality candidates
  2. Just-in-time delivery
  3. Lowest possible cost
  4. Fewest mistakes

These goals are in rank order, meaning that the higher ranking goals take precedence over a lower ranking one. For example, quality is more important then both time to hire and cost per hire, and time to hire is more important than cost. If you speak to Six Sigma process experts, they’ll tell you this list is reasonably comparable to the goals they have for manufacturing, purchased parts, customer service and just about every business process. Why should recruiting and hiring top candidates be any different? Here are the six most important areas to consider as we build this Two Sigma hiring process. These are the biggest bottlenecks or constraints in the hiring process. If you don’t solve these problems first, nothing else really matters. They have the most impact in terms of consistently recruiting and hiring top people. We’ll get into each of these factors in more depth in subsequent articles, but the list itself serves as a useful summary of where we’re headed.

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  1. Get everyone involved in the hiring process to agree to the job description. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll never find it. To do this you must throw away the typical job description and instead describe what the person must do to be considered successful, not what the person must have. You’ll eliminate most of your hiring errors if you can pull this off. The most important part of this is to get everyone to agree. If you can’t pull this off, everything else is pretty much a waste of time. See my article on performance profiles, or read chapter two in my new book, Hire With Your Head – Using POWER Hiring to Build Great Companies (September 2002, John Wiley & Sons). This is the “P” in POWER chapter. (This is definitely a plug, but it was the #3 bestselling book in the world on Amazon for 48 hours because of chapter two.)
  2. Use a consistent hiring process for every class of search assignment. Make the sourcing and hiring process replicable. I’ve discovered that you just have to be reasonably good at everything?? writing ads, maximizing the employer referral program, networking, and the like?? to hire great people most of the time. Hiring is not an art, it’s a science.
  3. Hire the best recruiters you can. Something will go wrong no matter how good a process you have. The recruiting team must be able to handle any challenging search assignment without making excuses. Unless you’re an employer of choice with compelling jobs, the quality of the people you hire will directly reflect the quality of your recruiting team.
  4. Optimize your tracking systems and career website to match your needs. If your jobs aren’t as competitive as they should be, or if your company reputation isn’t stellar, the career website must be designed to overcome these core deficiencies. But don’t over-design the website. You only need to be good enough to attract the best people. This is one area that people think is the magic cure. It’s not. While it’s an important piece of the puzzle, it can be overdone.
  5. Revamp your recruitment advertising to match your candidate demographics. If your advertising doesn’t attract enough top candidates, fire your advertising agency today. Accept no more excuses. If they have no idea what they are doing, and if you don’t fire them, then you must accept responsibility for their failure. This is one of the reasons why top executives don’t trust the HR or recruiting department to do the right thing. You will establish credibility by taking bold action and making tough decisions. We spend too much money on recruitment advertising in a vain attempt to hide the flaws in our hiring systems. Fixing everything else coupled with targeted just-in-time advertising works best.
  6. Make sure everyone who has a vote understands the basics of performance-based interviewing. You can’t afford to do everything described above and then have some incompetent interviewer judging the competency of a great candidate. This is a complete breakdown of the whole system. First, make sure that everyone with a vote was in the meeting described in step one above on preparing the performance profile. Next send them my article on interviewing. Then make sure a good recruiter coaches this person through the interview and assessment process. Filling gaps liked this is why having a good recruiting team is so important.

Over the course of the next several articles, I’ll focus on what it takes to make hiring a consistent process?? and what you actually need to do to make some of the changes noted above. You might want to start by building a high-level process map of your current hiring and recruiting system. In it, describe what works and what doesn’t. Then put in priority order what needs to be changed or improved. Email me ( for a copy of our ten-point checklist. We’ll use this as a guideline in subsequent articles. Building a Two Sigma hiring process will fundamentally change how you bring top people into your company. If you’re not an employer of choice, or if you continually need to reach out to attract enough top talent, implementing such a process will enable you to establish real value for you and your recruiting team. It will take hard work and a desire to be best. Enjoy the challenge. These are some of the underlying trait of all top performers.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).