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The Hidden Reason New Hires Underperform

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As part of our Quality of Hire initiative working with companies around the world on implementing Performance-based Hiring, I always ask hiring managers if they would hire someone who met the following criteria:

  • The person has a track record of accomplishments comparable in scope, scale and size to what’s required to be successful in the new role.
  • There is clear evidence the person’s performance has been consistently in the top half of his/her peer group throughout the bulk of the person’s career.
  • The person has been assigned to participate and lead important teams similar in scope and makeup to the actual job requirements.
  • The person has the capacity and track record for solving comparable job-related problems and making complex business decisions likely to be faced on the job.

The hiring managers in these training classes always agree they’d hire someone who met this criteria. These factors are shown in the top of the graphic below.

Quality of Hire Talent Predictor

I then suggest that if a person is evaluated based on past performance doing comparable work and he/she has been successful based on the above criteria, the person obviously has the right mix of skills and experiences required. Some of those hired will have more. Some will have less. But in most, if not all, cases this mix will be different than what’s written on the original job description. In fact, the best people will have less. That’s why they’re the best people – they accomplish more with less. And diverse candidates by definition will have a much different mix of skills and experiences. That’s what makes them diverse candidates.

I conduct this back-and-forth discussion to prove that filtering people on having some arbitrary set of skills and experiences is the second worst possible thing companies can do to find and hire strong people.

Instead they should first define the work that needs to be done, the teams the new person will lead and work with and the problems and decisions the person needs to make to be successful. Then they need to find people who are both competent and motivated to do this work. This is how you hire stronger, self-directed team players who meet their performance objectives year-in and year-out.

The hiring managers in these training classes always agree this is a far better way to find and interview job candidates.

However, once I get this agreement, I say it’s not enough for evaluating the person’s likely success in the new job. Something very, very big is missing. And in most hiring decisions, it’s missed most of the time.

Competency is Not Enough. Job Fit is the Key to Making Better Hiring Decisions.

The short term for what’s missing is job fit: fit with the job, fit with the hiring manager and fit with the environment.

Job fit relates to work the person finds intrinsically motivating. If the person is not naturally motivated to do the work required, he/she will need too much direction and will likely underperform.

Managerial fit relates to how the person needs or wants to be managed and how well this matches to how the hiring manager manages and develops people. If the hiring manager’s style clashes with how the person wants to be managed, he/she will quickly become demotivated.

Environmental fit relates to the culture and pace of the organization. If the person can’t deal with the pace, how decisions are made, the politics of the organization and the depth of resources available, the person will underperform.

In the rush to hire, or to get an offer and accept it, these long-term fit factors are typically ignored or superficially assessed. Often they’re never even defined. Worse, they’re assessed based on some casual conversation based on communication skills, affability, first impressions and/or some superficial DISC-like test that overvalues preferences for true intrinsic motivation. A better approach is to first discard reliance on skills- and experience-infested job descriptions and replace these with performance-based job descriptions that define the work as a series of 5-6 critical performance objectives. As part of this define all of the fit factors emphasizing the hiring manager’s style, especially if it’s odd, extreme or quirky.

During the interview dig into the candidate’s major performance accomplishments and get evidence the work that needs to be done maps to work the candidate finds intrinsically motivating. Then determine the impact the hiring manager had on the person’s performance and the environment where the person thrived. Collectively, this is how you should evaluate people. Done properly, you’ll raise quality of hire, improve on-the-job performance, increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

Candidates need to reverse engineer this advice by asking interviewers to define the work that needs to be done, the company environment and the hiring manager’s leadership style. Then they need to provide examples of work they’ve done that best matches these needs. Most important is to not accept offers based on compensation, convenience or to meet some short-term needs. Making long-term decisions using this type of short-term criteria is a sure fire recipe for making the wrong career decision.

I’m now working with Harvard professor Todd Rose, the author of The End of Average, on developing techniques to better predict on-the-job performance. So far, it’s clear the fit factors are the most important. It’s equally clear they’re the ones rarely assessed properly.