Matters Column

Don’t limit yourself to outdated and easy business practices

October 7, 2016
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In this age of technology, people believe most questions can be answered. We have instant assessments on everything from credit scores, election surveys that predict who will be president, to knowing what designs on an ad will be most appealing to college graduates over 42 years old. Some results come after only talking to 35 people in a particular pub, because they have been right for every election since Roosevelt, while others come from computer analysis of “big data.” There was a recent study that watched 130 preschool teachers’ eye contact observing white and black children to see who would be most disruptive and, indirectly, trying to prove the teachers’ inherent bias that is not recognized. These are useful tools for making decisions. But are there assessments that can help us know which candidates or employees will be most effective in the positions that are required to make the organization successful?

There certainly are a variety of tests available that claim to measure certain attributes and, therefore, determine who is qualified for the position. However, if you begin to examine how the tests are used, it begins to raise some questions about appropriate use. For example, potential new hires for a position often are given a test deemed to weed out the unfit, but the same organization is not giving the test to existing employees who would be considered for the same position. The hiring manager is obviously making the decision on internal candidates using different criteria.

Another interesting practice is how the various tests get chosen. They frequently are a response to a number of bad hires. The use of the test is added to the other routines that have been put in place. There rarely is any review of the existing practices or changes or training involved in the hiring process. In fact, the tests frequently are chosen because someone said they were good and, therefore, suggested as applicable for all organizations and any job that remotely looks like it is in the same category. The end result is instead of an added value tool which is integrated with other practices, the test becomes a knockout device and overshadows the other assessment inputs. 

The Bigger Implications

Why does this happen? I believe it is tied to a mentality of drifting toward easy decision making. If the test shows they don’t measure up, we just move on to the next candidate and don’t have to waste time talking to them. Never mind that we might be missing good candidates, it might be discriminatory or it only applies to 20 percent of the job, which is often ill defined in the first place. Then there is the issue of the demographics of the test takers. There have been extensive discussions about testing being used to judge the effectiveness of teaching practices, as a result of the No Child Left Behind legislation and all the unintended consequences. If the child isn’t learning, it must be the teachers’ fault, so you need to get rid of them. Questioning the tests just doesn’t seem to get considered.

Employment Demographics

Let’s go back to the demographics of the test takers. The tests that are being used in most instances are tests that were developed many years ago and applied to job requirements probably decades old. The external candidates whom we are applying these tests to mostly are classified as millennials. People remark millennials are a different sort of employee with different values and bring different skills to the workplace. So, why would we believe our semi-antiquated tests are going to give us valid profiles for employee selection? We certainly don’t take the time to validate the tests under new conditions. (Just a reminder: You likely are in a very weak position to defend your decisions should you be challenged in a legal proceeding.)

Now, add the fact the new demographics also includes an ever increasing and a much more diverse population in ethnicity and values. If we stick to the knockout test mentality, the “qualified” pool of applicants likely will become ever smaller, making good outcomes for the organization more difficult.

The Strategy Option

This now gets to the heart of the matter: getting the right employees into the right positions within the organization and the even more important element of retaining such key employees. We are talking about one of those “trending” ideas called employee retention. We’ve written about this topic before, so I won’t bore you with the details, with the exception of two points. Retention is, among other things, dependent on the supervisor and on the integration with other employees. It frequently is said employees don’t usually quit their job, they quit their supervisor. The role of the other employees is a bit more complicated, but in general terms, employees need to have a feeling of being part of the group. They have to share and believe in common values and are supportive of common goals and recognize people contribute to these goals in different ways. This requires a strong on-going process of acculturalization. That is assimilation of some degree, while maintaining personal values and beliefs. Not an easy process.

If the selection process doesn’t recognize or deal with the more diverse work force, it becomes a hard uphill battle to obtain and retain the talent you need. This is why it is important to examine what you do with employees after they are selected, oriented and sent to work. The on-boarding process has just started at this point. In fact, you might be better off if they quit in the first two weeks, if they are unhappy. At that point, you have only lost the recruiting costs. A year down the line, you have invested in these people with process training, customer and product knowledge, maybe even competitive knowledge and strategy development. Turnover at this point can set you back. So, making sure your organization (not just management) is actively helping integrate all employees into a workable and desirable team becomes instrumental; one where those cultural differences from a diverse population are understood, accepted and embraced as a good thing rather than something that keeps the team made up of groups that think in terms of “we” and “they.”

Summary

If you want to compete in an environment that is more competitive every day, you can’t look inward or use tools that are not in your best interest because it is easier. You need to be aware of the world around you, near and far — apply the full range of your experience on sensitive and critical matters. If you want to be successful and effective, you can’t live in your own reality. 

Ardon Schambers is principal at P3HR Consulting & Services.

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