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Stop Hiring the Wrong People

Gallup offers some after-the-fact fixes which, as far as I’m concerned, are too late to do much good. To me the cause of the problem is much more obvious: The wrong people were hired in the first place!

Gallup contends that excess turnover and low employee engagement are a $1 trillion U.S. problem.


Gallup offers some after-the-fact fixes which, as far as I’m concerned, are too late to do much good. To me the cause of the problem is much more obvious: The wrong people were hired in the first place!

I’ve always contended that listing skills, experiences, and competencies as prerequisites for getting hired is the cause of turnover and low engagement by filtering on factors that don’t predict performance, fit or satisfaction. Worse, this approach inadvertently excludes the best people who progress more rapidly, learn more quickly and get promoted more often.

Shifting to a performance qualified filtering and assessment process changes the mix of who’s seen and hired by focusing on what people have accomplished with their skills and experiences rather than their absolute level.

Implementing a performance qualified approach starts when the requisition is opened by having hiring managers define the work that needs to be done as a series of time-phased key performance objectives (KPOs) describing the task, the action required and some measurable result. As long as it can be proven the person is capable of successfully doing this work, it’s obvious the person has the correct mix of skills and experiences. The proof involves asking candidates to describe major accomplishments most related to the KPOs and examining the person’s trend of performance over time.

While ability to do the work is essential, just as important are the fit factors. These include intrinsic motivation to do the job, fit with the hiring manager’s style, fit with the team and fit with the pace, politics and culture of the company. Over the years we discovered that fit with the hiring manager’s leadership and development style was the most important of these fit factors. If the hiring manager was supportive most problems with the other fit factors were manageable. On the other hand, when there was a clash of styles it didn’t matter if there was a perfect fit or not, the person would underperform.

Solving this issue happened a long time ago after a CEO asked me to read about Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model and embed the concept into our Performance-based Hiring interview training for hiring managers. I learned that Situational Leadership involved having managers modify their style to meet the individual development needs of the people on their teams. These needs ranged from hands-on training and supervision to more hands-off coaching and delegating.

As a recruiter I certainly wasn’t in a position to get hiring managers to change their styles. Instead, the path of least resistance was to find candidates who could work with the hiring manager’s existing and unlikely-to-change style. For example, for managers who weren’t interested in coaching or developing people it was important to find candidates who were self-directed and who didn’t need much coaching or development.

For our training and interviewing purposes this led to the development of the simple graphic shown. The top line represents the manager’s preferred style of dealing with subordinates and the bottom line the type of direction and support the new hire needed or wanted. The objective was to ensure there was a lot of vertical matching.

To figure this out, I’d first ask hiring managers to describe their best new hires and how much coaching, direction and supervision they liked to provide. Based on this I’d position the manager in one or two of the categories on the top scale. Over the years it turned out the best managers I’d seen fell into the “Coach-Delegator” type. These were the managers who were open-minded and willing to invest extra time in people with less skills but who had more upside potential. The “Delegator-Hands-off” type was not uncommon, but these managers wanted their new hires to produce right away. Regardless of style, to find the best match I asked candidates to describe their best and worst managers in relationship to situations where they excelled and where they fell short. This type of two-way analysis coupled with a clear understanding of the performance objectives of the new role went a long way to ensure on-the-job satisfaction and success after the hire.

Fixing problems after the fact always seemed short-sighted to me, especially when it was easy to eliminate the problem at its root cause. When it comes to hiring, mistakes seem to breed whenever there’s a lack of understanding of real job needs, candidates are filtered on factors that don’t predict performance or satisfaction, and when assuming personality and presentation skills during the interview are a good proxy for motivation, team skills and cultural fit. They’re not. And that’s why companies still make expensive hiring mistakes on the order of $1 trillion annually.