At a recent sales manager training program on how to conduct a Performance-based Interview, the conversation quickly turned to how to measure and maximize quality of hire. One of the sales directors in the room was quite frustrated with his recruiting team and suggested the way he controlled quality of hire was by rejecting nine of 10 candidates the recruiters presented. The rest of the hiring managers then chimed in by saying how disappointed they were with the quality of candidates sent by their recruiters.

They suggested the primary cause as their recruiters’ lack of understanding of real job requirements. I suggested this was definitely part of the problem, but just as likely was a quality control issue: using inspection at the end of the process to control quality of hire rather than defining and controlling it at the beginning.

If you’re old enough to remember, back in the 1980s the Total Quality Management initiative became a global groundswell. This in turn spurred the growth of lean manufacturing, Six Sigma process control, and the Baldridge Award. The simple idea was that if you controlled quality at every step in the process rather than reject the results at the end, overall costs would decline and quality would be maximized. Since a process for maximizing quality of hire didn’t exist at the time (it still doesn’t), this same quality idea didn’t work quite so well for hiring people despite a great deal of effort.

The problem with hiring has not yet been solved since most companies are focusing more on efficiency and the avoidance of mistakes rather than an improvement in quality. Since my background is in manufacturing and engineering, I’d like to offer the following idea on how to address the quality of hire issue from a different perspective. It starts based on how top people find and select opportunities and ends by building quality of hire into the system at the beginning rather than inspecting it at the end.

Here are five steps to do that.

1. You need to have the right strategy before you create the right process.

According to business strategist Michael Porter–and commonsense–strategy drives process, not the other way around. Most companies use a “weed out the weak” strategy by default. However, in a talent scarcity situation you need to design processes based on an “attract the best” strategy. This video describes why recruiting departments have such a hard time making this conversion: The Staffing Spiral of Doom Catch 22.

2. Benchmark top performance, not skills, to define quality of hire.

Rather than define the job using a checklist of skills and experiences, it’s better to benchmark the process and results achieved by top performers doing similar work. This results in a performance-based job description. For example, “improve operating efficiency of the widget line by 10 percent by year-end,” is a more meaningful measure of quality of hire than having 10 years experience and a technical degree from a top university. Candidates should be evaluated against this standard using a Performance-based Interview.

3. Attract the best based on how the best find new jobs.

Top people are not looking for lateral transfers; most find their next jobs through networking, few will formally apply before talking with the hiring manager, and they’re very concerned with the career opportunity, the challenge of the job, the impact they can make and who they’ll be working for and with. If core hiring processes aren’t designed from this perspective, few top performers will be found.

4. Brand the job, not the company.

After a few years in the workforce, top people are less concerned with the employer brand and more concerned with the actual career opportunity. Recruitment advertising should be written to instantly appeal to the intrinsic motivators of the ideal candidate. Here’s a recent webcast summarizing how to implement this concept.

5. Manage end-to-end yield.

Identifying 100 great prospects is a waste of time if few are hired. That’s why it’s important to not only design an effective process to attract and hire the best, but also establish a feedback process control system to ensure the process is functioning correctly. These six metrics are comparable to any sales process that involves tracking cold leads, the conversion of these leads into interested prospects and closing the deal. For hiring and recruiting the big metrics are candidates seen per hire, quality of candidate by source, advertising and email conversion rates and referrals per call.

Of course there’s more to maximizing quality of hire than described here but if you don’t build quality in at the beginning of the process, you’ll never get it at the end. Consider that it took 30+ years for the U.S. to embrace the quality comes first initiative and realize that building quality in at the beginning is a far better process than inspecting it at the end. Let’s not waste another 30+ years to realize that the cost of maximizing quality of hire is free.