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HR Has a Thinking Gap When It Comes to Hiring

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If you want a better job or want to hire better people you need to read this article by Harvard Professor Todd Rose in Fast Company How Job Descriptions Undermine the Hiring Process. Rose is the author of the new best seller, The End of Average. He specializes in the study of individual performance and is the co-founder and president of the nonprofit Center for Individual Opportunity. At the Harvard Graduate School of Education Rose teaches educational neuroscience.

Rose’s contention is that skills-based job descriptions do more harm than good. They don’t predict ability, motivation or performance since the context of the job is not considered. Rose defines context as the underlying circumstances of the job including the critical performance objectives, the culture of the company, the resources available and the hiring manager’s leadership style.

For example, Rose would consider something like, “Must have a CPA and 10 years of international reporting experience and be willing to travel 50% of the time or more,” as neither sufficient nor essential. Something like, “Lead the implementation of our worldwide reporting system on an SAP platform,” would be more appropriate. The idea is that if someone is both motivated and competent to do this work, the person has all of the skills and experiences necessary. Rose contends that by using skills-laden job descriptions companies create artificial barriers-to-entry preventing the best people from even being considered.

About a year ago Professor Rose contacted me to discuss this idea and wondered how I developed Performance-based Hiring. He wanted to incorporate some of the hiring concepts in The End of Average. The premise of his book is to demonstrate that society is accelerating its shift to more customized products and services and away from the outdated one-size-fits-all mentality of the 20th century. The shift is evident in fields as diverse as product design, education and medical care. However, as Rose points out, other than those companies now using approaches similar to Performance-based Hiring, HR is still using prehistoric concepts to hire people in the modern age.

In his book and in his article Rose provides an overview of how Performance-based Hiring can be a game changer for hiring stronger people. Here’s the instant summary:

  1. Rather than describe the person you want, describe the job you want done. When opening a new requisition define what the person must achieve in terms of performance in order to be considered successful. One example cited in the book is how Callum Negus-Fancey, the CEO of Let’s Go Holding in the U.K. (a brand marketing form) hired an HR leader by defining success as, “implement an HR system from scratch that could meet the needs of a bunch of highly creative out-of-control marketing types.” In the book you’ll discover how and why he hired a pharmacist for the job.
  2. Convert behaviors, skills and competencies into outcomes. During our first conversation Todd asked me how I convert universal competences like good communication skills into a performance objective. I suggested that any competency can be defined by determining how it’s used in the context of the job. For a customer service rep good communication skills means listening to the customer’s needs and figuring out a course of action. For an engineer it’s working with product marketing and explaining how design specs need to be modified to meet customer requirements. If you don’t have this context, assessing a person’s communication skills is based on the interviewer’s perceptions and biases. That’s how bad hiring decisions are made.
  3. Focus on thinking skills and comparable performance, not identical experience. As part of the interview it’s important to get an example of a comparable accomplishment for each performance objective. To handle any gaps I also ask candidates how they’d address work they haven’t done before to understand the person’s problem-solving, thinking and planning skills. I refer to this as the Anchor and Visualization questioning pattern. This is also a great technique to evaluate leadership and potential.

At the end of our conversation Todd asked me if I thought the current shortage of talent is attributed to a national skills gaps. “No,” I responded, “we have a thinking gap, and we’ll continue to have one as long as people are force-fitted into ill-defined jobs.” Todd agreed. His research proves it.