The Road to Business Success

That great document, the US Declaration of Independence, states, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …..’

That may be true in a constitutional sense. However, it self-evidently is not true in terms of talent, capability and temperament.

In great orchestras,people play their instruments well to a high standard. In great choirs, people sing in tune and blend well with others.

To be successful in business and beat your competition, your people need to perform like a great orchestra or choir. They need to play their ‘instruments’ really well and blend seamlessly.

To help achieve this you need to manage your recruitment processes by selecting ‘square pegs’ for your available ‘square holes’.

Let’s look at how I’ve done that successfully over the years.

You need to address up to ten separate areas.

1 - Don’t Overcook the Job Spec

Get the job spec right.State the title and responsibilities. Describe how it fits into the business. But don’t overstate the qualifications and necessary experience.

I once had a client who had a very high turnover of staff in their QC Lab. It turned out that the Lab Head, looking for the highest standards, always advertised for university graduates with at least two years’ experience of QC work.

However, such graduates need continued challenges. In a QC Lab, where the majority of analytical work is routine, they were quickly bored and moved on.

Once the Lab Head changed her policy and went for college graduates rather than university, the alignment was more precise. The turnover level then dropped to just a few percentage points.

Always advertise the minimum qualifications and experience that are appropriate for the job. That way it’s much easier to align skills and values on both sides. You thus recruit and retain a much happier workforce.

2 - Use a Clever Application Form

Go online for your recruitment contacts. It’s then easy to tailor an application form for each job spec.

Use the form to force candidates to demonstrate relevant skills and competencies. Ask them to give examples of problem solving and achievements.

This significantly improves the screening process and saves time at interview.

3 - Can They Actually Do the Job? (Aptitude)

Check candidates’ practical skills with an Aptitude Test. I’ve used lots of these in the past for welding, sewing, assembly, etc.

They’re easy to organise. Candidates that look good on paper don’t always produce the best quality practical work.

Assess candidates’ fitness if the job requires a high degree of physical activity.

Use a colour-blind test for jobs involving electrical or colour sensitive work. Apparently, one in six males is colour-blind in the red/green spectrum.

I once analysed a very complex process.The operators had to establish the completion point by the colour of surface waves on a crystal.

We found that one operator was colour-blind in the red/green spectrum. There was simply no way he could accurately establish the completion point.

The local manager commented, ‘I often wondered why his quality was poorer than the others.’ There’s no polite answer to that.

4 - It Makes Sense to Measure Intelligence

Run all applicants through an alpha/numeric Intelligence or Psychometric Test prior to interview. Such tests are readily available online.

If any part of a job requires judgement, then your successful employees must have an intelligence level above average. Otherwise, they cannot use judgement. They’re simply not capable of doing so.

Over the years, I’ve used these tests rigorously with all applicants. If the job requires judgement, then I’m looking for the candidate to score a minimum of 55% up the scale given by the test.

These tests assess candidates against a key skill required in the job. They are therefore essential for success.

5 - Will They Fit In With the Others? (Attitude and Personal Qualities)

Where you rely on teamwork, new employees must fit in well with the existing workforce. Therefore, run all candidates through an appropriate Personality Test prior to initial interview.

I’ve used these tests for years with good results. There are many available online, now usually built around the Big Five personality traits.

Some years ago, we used a test that measured an applicant’s level of Objectivity, Agreeability and Co-operation.

On one occasion, the HR Director asked me to approve a new PA for one of the senior managers, even though she had scored very low on Co-operation.

He explained that everyone had checked out the low score in their interviews. None had sensed any lack of co-operation. With everything else OK, he suggested that it was a rogue result and that we should hire her.

I therefore signed off the recruitment.

Within three weeks, that department was in turmoil. The new PA refused to co-operate with anyone other than her senior manager.

We let her go and started over again. This time we took the results of the personality test more rigorously.

Some companies go even further. In one client of mine in Denmark, where self-directed teams drive the operations, new recruits go through a final check by the other team members.

6 - Do They Really Understand the Technicalities of the Job?

Run all candidates for technical roles through a Mechanical and Electrical Comprehension Test prior to interview. Again, these are readily available online.

In the same way as before, set the minimum standard required. In this case, usually not less than 80% correct answers.

You’ll be amazed at the low scores from some Engineering and Science graduates.

Such tests assess a candidate’s feel for the technicalities of the job. Clearly, someone with a more natural feel for the job will be more successful.

For non-technical roles such as Finance, HR or IT, create an equivalent test to suit your needs. Such tests are not so readily available online.

7 - Plan the Interview in Detail

Plan a one-to-one interview with the candidate. It’s by far the most effective. Always ask ‘open’ questions to avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.

Avoid daft questions such as, ‘If you were an animal, which would you be and why? ’In a business context, such questions are just ridiculous.

Take note of responses. You’ll need them to compare candidates. Make sure to briefly describe the candidate in your notes so that you can remember him or her later.

Once you ask a question, wait for the candidate’s response. Don’t dive in to break a silence. You’ll learn a lot when a candidate can’t answer a simple question.

In the first third of the interview, after the introductions, cover a few points from the candidate’s application form. This helps them to feel more comfortable and relaxed.

Ask how much they know about your business. Expect candidates to comment sensibly, indicating areas of interest. Anyone that cannot should receive short shrift.

Then describe the job in more detail than in the advert. Give appropriate metrics, so that the candidate gets the measure of the job.

In the second third of the interview, start to go deeper. Most jobs in business are (or should be) part of a customer/supplier relationship. Thus ask candidates what they believe is the most important element of customer service in that job.

You’re looking for an answer that includes Quality, Delivery or Cost. It doesn’t really matter which they state, because you then take their response, dig deeper into why they said that, and probe their experience.

The aim in this section is to establish whether candidates have personal standards in these three aspects, by which they can assess whether performance is good, bad, or indifferent. The lack of such standards, and experience in achieving them, is the biggest single weakness in candidates today. Yet, it’s a key measure of the candidate’s potential in the job.

Then in the last third of the interview, bring them back from the depths by asking about off-work activities and interests, how they view the future, and answer any other questions they may have.

Finally, describe the next stages in the selection process as appropriate.

8 - Assess Managerial and Supervisory Candidates in More Depth

You cannot fully assess the crucial interpersonal skills of managerial candidates from just an interview. Use an Assessment Centre run by an independent consultancy firm that specialises in them.

It usually comprises group tasks and role simulations. Use it for your short list.You’re far more likely to select a more successful candidate.

The costs of an Assessment Centre pale into insignificance compared with the costs of hiring the wrong person.

Attend the Assessment Centre, and be part of any interviews. Together with the senior judge, give detailed feedback on performance to each candidate at the end of the day.

For middle and senior manager appointments, always have the final endorsement from the line manager two levels above the candidate role. That final step often turns up some surprises. Don’t miss it.

9 - Always Give a Qualified Decision on the Day

Always give the candidate your decision on the day. ‘Yes’, move on to the next stage, or ‘No’, it ends here. Most importantly, explain why in detail.

In my experience, candidates will accept your analysis for a ‘No’ decision if you explain clearly what’s required to be successful in the role, and how they failed to meet these requirements.

Remember, an unsuccessful candidate just might become a customer. One of my best customers was a chap that I turned down for a senior role. However, he was sufficiently impressed with the fairness and validity of the decision that eventually he came back and did a lot of business with us.

The final decision on hiring should always be dependent on satisfactory references, medical, and subject to satisfactory performance over an appropriate probationary period.

Always check references. These days, it’s better to check by phone to avoid a bland written response.

Also, always do a quick check on stated qualifications. It’s easy to do and picks up those who have gilded their CV.

Medical issues are more sensitive. Have a section on the application form asking the candidate to indicate whether they have any medical condition that could affect their ability to do their job or affect their interaction with other staff in any way. Check on any stated condition with your medical advisor as appropriate.

No matter how rigorous your selection process, you cannot be fully confident about a candidate’s performance until you see him or her performing in the role.

Thus, you should hire all staff on an initial probationary contract – say for six months.

The cost of having the wrong person in a key role can be enormous to the business. You have a responsibility to all other stakeholders to avoid such instances.

10 - A Word of Caution

Most countries have rightly passed laws to prevent discrimination in employment based on gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation. These are in turn based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, these laws do not require you to recruit or employ an individual who is not competent, capable and available to perform the essential functions of the post concerned.

By following a strict and rigorous routine with all candidates as outlined above, combined with objective judgements, you should be able to demonstrate that your recruitment decisions are based solely on candidates’ competence and capability in the role, and do not discriminate on any grounds.

However, case law in this area is constantly developing. So, check with your legal advisor on employment affairs for clarification in any particular instance..

I hope you find the above guidelines help you to implement your change programs more smoothly. Enjoy your success. You can become the best in your business.

Apply the thinking in the ‘Elite’ Business Series of books here under the Books tab, and Beat the Competition!

Let me know how you get on.

If you need any help or advice, contact me at jim@oneoftheelite.com 

Thanks for visiting,

Jim McCallum

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