Performance-based Interview

Why Identifying Performance Objectives Is the Most Important Step to Hiring Top Talent

In their landmark study — First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do DifferentlyGallup introduced their Q12 employee engagement survey. The Q12 describes in priority order what the best managers do and need to do to create high performing teams. Number one on the list? “Clarify Expectations Up Front.”

Whether you’re a sourcer, recruiter, interviewer, or hiring manager, one way you can live up to this value of providing clear expectations from the get-go is to take the time to fully understand the job you’re trying to fill. And you can start this process before you even write a job description by creating a list of performance objectives for the role. I’ve been doing this throughout my 40+ year career as a recruiter and trainer, including in my very first search project for a plant manager many years ago. In that case, I walked the factory floor and identified the six things a potential hire would need to fix over their first 6-12 months, in order to be considered successful.

Here’s how you can clarify expectations for your candidates, plus some examples of how to identify successful performance objectives for the jobs you’re looking to fill:

Identify critical performance objectives before writing your job description

More recently, in fact just two weeks ago, I worked with a Board consisting of investors and founders for a $150 million food manufacturer who were getting ready to hire a new CEO. After a few hours of wrangling, we finally agreed on these two critical performance objectives:

  • Build for the future. During the first year, return the company to a 10% EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) while building the infrastructure to support rapid expansion into this fast-growing new food category.
  • Understand before doing. Spend the first 30 to 60 days learning the business, meeting the team, meeting the customers, and understanding the culture. Ensure all future changes preserve these critical relationships.

Last week, I worked with the founder of a recently funded startup looking for a head of engineering. I asked him what the biggest thing is that the person has to accomplish in the first year to be considered successful. This is what we came up with:

  • Build a working product. Within one year, lead the design and development of a fully functioning and scalable beta version.

I then asked what the candidate would need to do during the first six months to ensure this major milestone was successfully completed on-time and on-budget. This included tasks like building the team in a few months, architecting the design, and developing a working prototype in half a year.

This week, I’m working with a recruiter and some hiring managers on developing a performance-based job description for a customer success manager for a complex business process application. Here’s what we came up with as the major objective:

  • Grow the client. Within six months, ensure all accounts are progressing toward full-utilization of the system and are in a position to begin adding the optional feature set. The goal is for 80% of all accounts to be fully functioning within 120 days and that 50% of these accounts will purchase at least two upgrades during the first year.

Just about every job can be fully defined by six to eight performance objectives like the above, describing the major objectives and their critical subtasks. Here’s why this is essential information for everyone involved in the hiring process, including the candidate.

Every role in the hiring process benefits from a clear list of performance objectives

Sourcers: You don’t need to be a Boolean expert to find people who meet the performance objectives that you’ve agreed upon with everyone else in the hiring process. By being creative, it’s easy to find 15-20 highly qualified people who have the right titles, worked for comparable companies, who have progressed rapidly, and would see the job as a good next step in their career. These steps increase the likelihood the candidate will respond to your message and that the hiring manager will want to see them.

Recruiters: Persistence is critical in order to engage with at least half of the 15-20 prequalified people the sourcer has found. Then during the first conversation, figure out if you can make a strong case that one of your openings puts the person on a better career trajectory than other opportunities being considered. If not, get at least two prequalified referrals and be sure to have a conversation with your candidates to ensure they could handle your list of performance objectives.

Hiring Managers. Since hiring managers need to clarify job expectations after the person is brought onboard, they might as well do this before the hire. Not only will this simple step save time, the hiring manager will also be able to choose from a stronger pool of more diverse talent.

Interviewers. When members of the hiring team don’t know the actual performance requirements of the job, they overvalue first impressions and assess people on factors that are too generic to make a difference.

Candidates. The strongest people won’t waste time with recruiters or hiring managers who can’t answer the question, “What are some of the tasks and challenges involved in this role?” That’s why every candidate should ask it early in the interview to ensure they’ll be accurately assessed.

It has been proven time and again that clarifying expectations upfront is the key to successful management. What’s surprising is that it’s not a prerequisite for hiring. Unfortunately, too many people are still hired based on their depth of skills, first impressions, and if their salaries are consistent with the budget. And until this changes, nothing will change.