Hiring Post-Recession: 4 Laws to Keep One Man’s Trash from Becoming Another Man’s… Trash

TeamworkThere’s an old saying that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  True or not, there’s an even wiser saying that “A good recession is a terrible thing to waste!”

Consider all the companies you know who have issued “layoffs” over the past several years.  Think through the stories you’ve heard at dinner parties or around barbeques about how the poorest performers were cut first - the “C” player slough that most employees were amazed still had a job.  Next came marginal contributors, the “B” players who made a bit of difference in the organization.  Finally, “A” Players began to disappear as companies “cut to the bone” to stay alive.

For many companies, only this last round, layoffs of the A Players, were true layoffs where the company had intent to recall these key resources.  The first two rounds were “layoffs” of the “wink and a nod” flavor as if to hint the unspeakable: Thank you for your service, which wasn’t that good to begin with, and thank goodness for this recession, because now when we’re ready to rebuild, we won’t be stuck doing it with you. Good bye, and good luck.

Speaking of luck, as the recession is continuing to ease, it’s time for you to wade into this sea of humanity and hire.

As you do, how are you going to make sure that you find hiring treasure in that sea of resumes, instead of winding up with a “C” of another flavor?  Here are the Four Laws of Recruiting Success I advocate to find top talent:

Law #1: Define the Position with Crystal Clarity
Por favor, repita: “A job advertisement IS NOT THE SAME THING as defining expectations for the position.”  Also, “It’s not fair to expect what you haven’t yet defined.”

Sometimes it feels like I’m speaking a different language when I stress this, but I hope you understand that a “job posting” (advertisement) is primarily a marketing tool to get potential candidates excited about the company and the position.  By contrast, a “Position Description” is a formal management document which clarifies joint expectations about the position and its performance, and by which an employee’s performance can be judged.

At minimum, it should include: 1) a statement of how the position provides value to the organization, 2) listing of accountabilities, 3) performance metrics against which the position will be measured, 4) experience level requirements, and 5) working conditions.

This is a critical tool to walk through with any semi-final or finalist candidate – as well as any employee to whom you haven’t yet provided such information – to ensure that they have an accurate understanding of what you mean by the position and what it takes to be successful.

Law #2: Identify Success
Speaking of success, a best practice that I insist on with my clients is to take the time to define what is required of a candidate for maximal success.  Usually, those who manage the position, report to it, cooperate with it, or have performed it in the past can provide expert information in this regard.

But I don’t mean “experience” for success.  I haven’t found too many hiring managers that aren’t smart enough to hire people with job-related experience… who still don’t “succeed” in the position and end up terminated.

I mean job-related attributes a candidate must have in addition to smarts and experience in order to truly succeed in the company and the position.  There are four we routinely examine:

  1. Competencies, or, what general skills (e.g. “Self Management” vs. “Presentation Skills”) are necessary to perform well at this position.
  2. Behaviors, such as how a candidate approaches problem solving, interacts with people, deals with policies, and works within systems.
  3. Motivators, including a candidate’s need for authority vs. a motivation to make money.
  4. Acumen, such as how a candidate makes decisions about themselves and the world around them.

While the examples within each of the four categories above are just the tip of the iceberg, taking the time to think about your positions in this light can open the door to radically more productive interview questions.  And if you want to speed the process of finding the best candidates, assessment systems abound to help you pinpoint the above.

Law #3: Process of Transparency
This is my favorite rule, and why I prefer to recruit only for consulting clients where I know the organization.

Everything about a good process is designed to take down defenses on all sides immediately.  The sooner that happens, the sooner the truth comes out – truth about the candidates, the truth about the company.

My two favorite tools for making that happen are:

  • Video Interviewing.  Types and flavors are varied, but when I use it, the goal is to give the company a sense of how the candidate would solve a real issue.  En vogue now, video interviewing is something I’ve incorporated for years, resulting in faster and more accurate yes/no decisions.
  • Assessments.  Mentioned above, assessments are great for more than pinpointing whether the candidate is right for the job.  They also help the candidate decide the reverse: whether the job is right for the candidate, and who wants an employee that doesn’t like their job?  Most of all, used properly, these tools help all involved drop defenses and know each other much faster.  The result is more time is spent talking about more critical issues related to the job and the company’s future.

These tools help both sides move rapidly into conversations that matter in determine whether the opportunity is a mutual match.

Law #4: Multi-Point Mutual Match
And that match should be multi-point.

I find best results happen when the following stars align:

  1. Pre-Screening Match – I always get any critical questions like pay requirements, relevant required experience, etc., answered affirmatively in writing by candidates up front.  Any unexplained or out-of-bounds changes in answers are sufficient grounds for disqualification.
  2. Resume Match - The candidate need not have done this precise job before, but they have experience that makes them prepared and trainable to superior performance.
  3. Fit to the Job – It’s one thing to assess candidates as described above.  It’s quite another to assess the job itself and have a well-defined picture of the attributes the job requires for success, and then to compare finalists to the job.  This resulting “gap analysis” is quite a compelling tool in identifying who not only has good experience, but the best fit for your culture and the actual demands of your position.

Of course there are more, but these are some of the key matches where I find I differ from most hiring managers, and where I find maximum improvement upon implementation.

Bonus Law – Law #5: Automate
If there’s one bonus I could leave you with, it’s one word: Automate.  There are three simple reasons why it’s inexcusable not to automate the above process as much as possible.

  1. Reduce “fluff” applications. Have you had the experience of posting a job and being flooded with 150 resumes?  If not, your time will come.  My most recent recruitment re-confirmed that when I use recruitment automation, the bar to apply is raised high enough that as much as 50% of the “me too” applicants are weeded out.  I automatically get more serious applicants.
  2. Built-in recorded, defensible process.  Do you suppose job applicants are feeling more or less sensitive toward bias and unfairness in the hiring process during times of higher unemployment?  Either way, the right automation makes following an EEOC and OFCCP compliant process easy, and transparently reassures applicants they’re in a fair system that wants to make sure they’ll enjoy the position as much as it seeks to make sure they’re right for the job.
  3. Save time = Save money.  What if you could cut as much as 75% of your staff’s time spent reviewing resumes, doing proper documentation (that you’re probably not doing now), and getting to a better hire?  That equals time and money.

 Finally, A Little Secret

In truth, if you stop and think about the hiring trap most good managers are in – hiring for experience and firing for bad attitude, lack of fit, and poor execution – the recession doesn’t matter.  Most have been caught up in this hiring trap all along.

But as I said at the beginning, “A good recession is a terrible thing to waste!”

So if I can use it to call attention to this opportunity, to make known that there is a better way to hire no matter the season and the conditions, then my purpose here is met.

Managing for Challenging Times

DeclineEvery economic cycle poses unique challenges, meaning some businesses are hit harder than others, but nobody escapes forever.  Whether it’s election year uncertainties, mortgage meltdowns, credit crises or some other scare, forces simply conspire from time to time to generate a unique blend of self-induced societal hysteria easily rivaling the effects of any Starbucks five-shot venti mocha latte in the blood stream of the average business owner.  In short, it’s easy to be left feeling frazzled, frenzied, and more than a little paranoid about how to make a business not only survive but thrive in challenging times.

The cop-out answer is to declare that you must plan, and you must start in good times.  That’s true… but isn’t a good answer if times are already lackluster.  And as the sign on my office wall points out, “Thinking is Good.  Doing is Better.  Accomplishing is Best.”  Planning by itself is nothing more than mental exercise.  The key to thriving in challenging times is establishing a meaningful course, monitoring progress, and constantly taking corrective action to get there.

Focus on an Established Outcome.
Every business owner ought to have a clear sense of business direction – vision, mission, values – guiding strategy and daily operations.  (If not, seek help and get this foundation in place.)  In challenging times, your operative word should be “anticipate.”  If the goal is to modify course based on changing conditions, a crucial first step in anticipating, identifying, and coping with change is to first fix more firmly on the desired outcome.

Then attention can turn to identifying how to adapt. The classic way to do this is to take an honest look at the plusses and minuses of the business, as well as the opportunities and challenges presented by the competitive environment.  Known as a SWOT analysis (i.e., Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), this exercise is a standard and powerful way to rapidly identify challenges and brainstorm solutions.  Most importantly, it gets us thinking throughout the business as well as outside the business in an attempt to predict the future.

Use the discoveries of SWOT and other analyses to determine new or changed initiatives for the future based on anticipated conditions.

Set Your Goals.
The really scary thing about setting goals is as soon as they’re set, you’re underperforming.  Until you hit them! Budgets.  Quotas.  Metrics.  Words that strike fear in the hearts of many.

The simple truth is most of the issues that can be identified with a business can be grouped, turned into trackable data, and have a goal attached.  Obviously, profit can receive a goal like “up 10%.”  Less obviously, the issue “Customers are unhappy,” can be turned around into the goal, “Customer complaints down 10%.”  Even less obvious, an initiative to “Improve work quality” can be tracked as “Dollar value of re-work.”

Look carefully.  I find that a lot of people fall into the trap of only looking at financial data, but the metrics above go much further to include Customer and Quality measures.  I could go on to include other categories of measures and several within each – and you should, too.  Instead of focusing only on the bottom line, consider the things that are critical to making your bottom line happen: Productivity; Use of Resources; Client Satisfaction; Business Development.  Perfect those factors and the bottom line will happen.  Put another way, keeping watch over fiscal measures alone is nearly never enough.  Refocus on the broader perspective, or get help doing so.

Measure Performance and Correct Course.
Remember the sign that said “Accomplishing is Best?”  Correcting course is the way to get there.  As you take action on the initiatives that you think will get you to your goals, do so with two commitments in mind.

First, that you will absolutely commit to a regular, objective review of the progress you and your team are making.  At least monthly.  Get together, look at the numbers, talk about what goals have been achieved and – most importantly – what to do about those that are not being accomplished.  The purpose of this meeting is to hold each other accountable for result.

Second, commit to results, not initiatives.  Give every idea its fair chance of success.  But be absolutely ruthless in your willingness to cross an initiative off and come up with something new to try if results aren’t happening.

These commitments take steadiness and incredible objectivity, but they’re absolutely critical to making progress.

A Brighter Tomorrow.
Sometimes it’s possible to get away with simply taking a casual approach to business and seeing what each day will bring.  And trust me… I see plenty of people with that attitude.  Challenging times are the worst of times for that approach.

Hone your direction.  Set goals.  Check and vigilantly tune your performance.  And ask for help when you need it.


Dustin Walling is Principal of Dustin Walling Associates, a Seattle-based management consulting firm providing strategy and operational consulting to small and medium businesses.  For article topics, questions, or comments, Dustin can be reached at http://www.DustinWalling.com.



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