Measuring Quality of Hire: Good Idea?

Some things don’t need explanation: don’t touch the stove, always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, and don’t eat a garlic pizza before going on a date. The reasons for these are obvious. I went to a recruiter’s meeting a last month. There were about 60 or 70 people in attendance (about 15 of them were looking for jobs). During the course of the meeting, they posted their number-one most important recruiting metric: quality of hire. After a long discussion, it turned out no one knew how to measure it (next month, I expect to see 20 more people looking for jobs). Playing Russian Roulette with an Automatic? You don’t need research studies to show that recruiting is often a hit or miss proposition. People who look good in interviews may or may not be the same ones who show up for work. Do you really want to install metrics that show recruiters are doing a lousy job of controlling quality? Managers already believe that; they often think recruiters waste their time and send them too many unqualified people to interview. Sure you want numbers to support that claim? You had better be in control of what you measure; otherwise, the grand plan for measuring employee quality might turn out to be a really bad idea. What Is Quality of Hire? We all know quality-of-hire metrics won’t come from performance appraisal data. Appraisals are either creative works of fiction or forced distributions that artificially push people over the top or to the bottom. Bottom line: appraisals are too error prone to be useful. What about job performance? In some jobs, such as sales, production or piece-work, it is easy to evaluate performance. You either produce X widgets or not. Barring unusually bad luck (UBL) or unusually good fortune (UGF), there are only a few obstacles between what an employee does and the results he or she produces: Action > UGF > UBL > Results In managerial and professional jobs, where there are long lag-times between what people do and observable results, there are many more opportunities for measurement error, such as economic conditions (EC), budgets (B), staff problems (SP), and so forth (ASF). Action > UGF > UBL > EC > B> > SP > ASF > Results Evaluating employee quality under these conditions requires different tools, such as rater feedback forms, behavioral examples, or management tools such as “balanced scorecards.” There are some statistical tools that help identify and control error, but, above all, evaluation requires knowing what and how to measure both results and the behaviors that lead to results. You Have the Tiger by the Tail ó Now What? Okay, so you worked real hard and finally publish trustworthy quality-of-hire numbers. Surprise! They stink. What’s Plan B? Controlling quality of hire requires a complete change in processes. I’m sorry to say, your job is about to get harder (and more valuable). Specifically, in addition to all the seeking and searching you already do, you will have to learn how to:

  1. Get highly comprehensive definitions of job requirements
  2. Abandon the casual interview
  3. Responsibly use and validate a wide variety of different hiring tools

Okay, you might be thinking, this is kid stuff. When is this blockhead going to tell me how to do it? Sorry, folks, in this field there is no one-minute-manager, cheese-moving, or other simple-minded solution lurking in the shadows. Never was, never will be. If these tasks were easy, everyone would already be doing them. Interviewing is simple-minded; trustworthy evaluation is highly complicated. Here Is Your Future: Ready? Most job-req data comes from manager discussions and job descriptions. But how often does this data provide all the information we need to define job requirements? Managers usually know more about results than they do about performance (unless they also do the job), so in addition to talking with managers, you must interview jobholders (four to six, depending on the job) to learn what the job really takes. Then, it’s a good idea to confirm your findings using questionnaires. You will also have to review your final results with senior managers to see if these folks are planning on changing the job direction. By the way, you might also want to roll-in training materials, performance expectation, and job descriptions just to cover any bases you might have forgotten. There is no other way a recruiter can get enough data about the job to develop a decent target. This is an area where internal recruiters have a natural advantage (even though they seldom take advantage of it). Oops. There is a “teeny” problem with gathering job data. People tend to talk in terms of either job details (e.g., “First, I choose the oldest dated meat patty, then I turn on the burner and wait for it to warm up, then I lay the patty on the hot grill and wait for one side to brown…”) or “quick-speak” (e.g., “I make the burgers.”). The first provides considerably more details than you can use. The second gives you nothing. Probing, clarifying, and translating interview data takes skill, long-time experience, and a systematic approach. It cannot be canned and is almost an art form. Okay, so we have collected, translated, and confirmed information from job-content experts, i.e., we have a workable “job target.” Now it’s time to evaluate applicants. Evaluation requires knowing which tools measure what. Do we use behavioral interviewing, situational interviewing, mental ability tests, interpersonal simulations, personality tests, motivation tests, or abstract ability tests? Do we put these tests into a multiple hurdle format to minimize processing time? Do we need to revalidate a test to see if it still relates to the job or can we transport the validation results from another similar position? What is our legal exposure and how do we adjust for it? Will there be adverse impact? What should we do about it? Most of all, how do we measure how we are doing? Earning Your Place at the Table Well folks, here are the mean-street facts:

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  • Respect for recruiters and HR professionals depends on their ability to make strategic people contributions.
  • Making contributions requires measuring quality of hire.
  • Measuring quality of hire depends on having accurate job targets and solid candidate evaluation tools.

It is wishful thinking on the part of any recruiter or HR staffer to think he or she will ever be invited to the management roundtable based on banging on a can and “demanding to be recognized.” This is like eating refried beans before going to a symphony ó you could find yourself auditioning for the horn section. Earning management respect and gaining strategic membership requires making measurable contributions that everyone recognizes are essential to business success. Hunt-and-peck pre-screening services and benefits administration are never going to qualify ó and installing metrics that clearly identify recruiting effectiveness will cut in both directions. Are you prepared to draw formal attention to your professional performance?