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How Best-In-Class Companies Hire Differently

By Joseph Skursky (1537 words)
Posted in Human Resources on October 10, 2013

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I heard someone comment the other day about round pegs not fitting in square holes and it reminded me of a specific area where confusion exists in hiring.


Most people know that square pegs won’t fit in round holes. That’s easy. 


Obviously, square pegs fit in square holes and round pegs fit in round holes. That’s even easier.


But round pegs will generally fit in square holes – they just don’t fully occupy them. 


What does this have to do with hiring?


If you put someone into a role that they can’t fully occupy with their ability, it’s impossible to set them up for success. As a result, making them accountable for certain aspects of their job will be difficult at best, often met with resistance to the very notion of accountability. Without accountability, organizational performance will be unpredictable.


Because accountability and engagement go hand-in-hand, hiring round pegs for square holes creates organizational underperformance. To provide a sense of how widespread this problem occurs, consider that a 2013 Blessing White report indicates that 60% of employees are less than fully engaged. 


This is curious language from the report. Why did they say, “less than fully engaged?” 


Simply put, too many companies are trying to fit round pegs in square holes. How can we surmise this? The report goes on to say that 15% of employees are actually disengaged. That gap of 45% points toward employees in roles that are not a perfect fit. 



How to Distinguish Pegs and Holes

Let’s first discuss the hole – or in this case, the role. You must measure what the role requires. This is a departure from traditional job descriptions that require more work on the front end of the hiring process. The extra work will pay extraordinary dividends, resulting in greater clarity as candidates are reviewed. 


What does the role require for success? Let’s say that you’re hiring a sales person for a consultative-type sales role. Naturally, you want someone with really great listening skills – not too aggressive in a “salesy” way, effective at asking relevant questions that draw out the prospect’s pain. 


But there’s more to a top performing consultative sales person than just that. Here are some other things you would want to measure:

  • Conceptual thinking

  • Practical thinking

  • Problem and situation analysis

  • Theoretical problem solving

  • Results orientation


By defining these characteristics at the beginning of the hiring process, you can shape your job marketing to attract the right candidates. More importantly, you’ll know what to look for as you carefully consider the real qualities of each candidate – not being dissuaded by mere charisma. 


The best way to measure the candidates to determine how they match against the success requirements of the role is the use of assessments in the hiring process. Let me be clear that all assessments are not the same quality, reliability, or consistency of results. 



Best-In-Class Use of Assessments

In a 2013 study by the Aberdeen Group, they documented the usage, methodology, and results of companies that use assessments as part of their hiring and development process. The results are noteworthy. 


To start, Best-In-Class use assessments 57% more than all others. By itself, that wouldn’t be enough to convince anyone that the mere use of assessments is worth doing. Let’s focus for a moment on the outcomes.


The results to the overall organization are worth considering:

Organizational goals achieved – 

Best-In-Class 72%

All others 42%


New Hires meeting performance goals – 

Best-In-Class 64%

All others 38%


Employees highly engaged – 

Best-In-Class 59%

All others 40%


That’s a 48%-71% better performance for Best-In-Class than all others. But simply using assessments isn’t enough to create such dramatic performance differences. 


Beyond just using the assessments, Best-In-Class companies do 2 other things that set them apart:

  1. Customize the interview to the candidate

  2. Customize both the onboarding and even the role to the new hire


This puts into practice what the late Peter Drucker said about hiring, “to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” In other words, hire for strength and when you find substantial strength in a candidate, create systems or have other people around them so their weaknesses won’t negatively impact the organization. 


By customizing the interviews, you can validate the strength implied by the assessments. In the process, you should discover their weaknesses so your performance expectations are as clear as possible before making the hiring decision. 


When you follow this model, customizing the onboarding process just makes sense. Particularly considering how critical the onboarding process is for both immediate and long-term success. I’m convinced that without this step, the Best-In-Class companies would not achieve such high marks in their new hires meeting performance goals. 



Customize the Role to the Talent

Once you know you’ve found truly spectacular talent, it’s well worth the extra effort to fit the role around the talent. Focus on making sure that they get to do what they do best at least 80% of the time. The result is remarkable and a true testament to “Hire Hard, Manage Easy” in practice. 


Here is just one example:

Years ago, I was a Regional Sales Director for a company. When I was first promoted to this position, our region was in 5th place of the 6 regions. Our objective was to both bring in new business and then get the customers actively using it for additional profit.


There were 32 sales reps on the team – all were quality people, but many were failing in either bringing in new business or in nurturing the clients through increased usage. 


We conducted internal interviews and then split the team into groups of 3 with 1 Hunter and 2 Farmers per team. Following some initial success, we began to have intra-team collaboration so everyone could get better faster in their respective roles. The Hunters became even better at developing new business, and the Farmers had more usage and fewer cancellations than ever.


Within 7 months, revenue had doubled and we moved into 1st place with a 41% margin over the 2nd place region. 


This is a simple example, but the message is clear that customizing the role to the talent can pay off both quickly and substantially. 



Draw New Lines for Success

Most roles can be customized if you think outside the existing box. When your focus is on finding talent that you can put your finger on what makes them tick, the shape of the role becomes much clearer. 


The right assessments will also address the primary motivators for the individual employee so leadership can press the right buttons every time. If you’ve gone through all the steps of customizing the role to perfectly fit the new employee, what leader wouldn’t also want to know how to get the best performance based on “hidden” key motivators?


When you apply the intelligence gained from competent assessments, the capabilities and limitations can be targeted throughout the interview process to tailor-fit the role to the talent. Knowing both capabilities and limitations can help fit the “hole” to the “peg” for quick and sustainable results. Applying this model will create more engaged and productive employees with the only X-factor being how they are led. 



{#/pub/images/JosephSkursky.jpg}Written by Joseph Skursky, President of Market Leader Solutions   

For almost 20 years, Joseph Skursky has been growing businesses and advising leaders in companies across North America. His model of Leadership, People, and Execution provides a clear roadmap to grow almost any business. It has been field-tested and proven effective for over 9 years. Joseph Skursky helps companies hire with confidence, manage without frustration, and increase both productivity and profitability. His “Hire Hard, Manage Easy” system  has earned the respect of colleagues and clients alike. More importantly, it delivers consistent results.


Do you have a question for Joseph?  Please visit our Human Resources Community, he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (1)

Bob Gately posted on: October 12, 2013

Hello Joseph, thanks for the article.

"This is a simple example, but the message is clear that customizing the role to the talent can pay off both quickly and substantially."

Hiring managers could hire employees who already fit the job, i.e., they have the talent for job success..

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