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Improving Selection From A Recruiter’s Point Of View

slackerby John Wentworth
Wentworth Recruiting

“My job is to fill jobs!” roared Sandy, Acceleration Service Logistics Division’s recruiter.  “How can I do that if Corporate keeps putting walls in my way?  My managers want butts in the seats, not a lot of psychobabble excuses why we can’t do it!”

Jim, the Acceleration Service recruiting director, took a long breath.  “Does it matter if they are the right butts?”

“Yes and no,” Sandy said in a more nearly normal tone of voice.  The red cast to his face, which revealed both agitation and high blood pressure, had receded.

“Whaddya mean yes and no?”  Jim growled.  Now his face was starting to redden.  “This guy should not be a recruiter,” he thought to himself.  “He’s all butts in the seats, loud, disruptive and just against, against, against.  He’s setting me back like a big rock.  And I happen to know that he’s not the only person with high blood pressure around here.”  Jim had been hearing about the managers Sandy was serving having high hypertension issues along with other stress related problems.  “Probably their crummy employees,” he thought to himself.”

“I mean that half a loaf is better than none.  A working employee, even if they are not that good, is better that no one in the job at all.”

“Does your management agree with that?” asked Jim.

“Yes!” said Sandy.

By now, Jim had a headache.  It was close to quitting time, so he excused himself and headed to the parking lot, his rental car and the hotel.  On his way, he stopped in the General Manager’s office, buttered up her admin and got an appointment with the GM the next day.

“Ms. Hockney, good morning,” Jim smiled warmly as he shook the GM’s hand.

“Nice to see you, Bucko.”  Sarah Hockney was smiling, too.  They were not old friends, but their prior interactions had been warm and productive and they liked to kid each other.  Jim and his wife had, in fact, babysat Sarah Hockney’s two daughters one evening.  She and her family had been in town for a corporate office event and the event coordinator had dropped the ball on a local babysitter.  The event was for GM’s only, not staff people like Jim, so he and his wife offered and she gratefully accepted.

Sarah had been at a different division then and Jim had helped her with some recruiting problems, too.

“What brings you here to grace those of us who are not worthy with your presence?”  Sarah asked.

“I got a problem,” Jim told her.

“Is there ever any other reason someone comes 1,000 miles to visit me?”

“I guess not.  Sorry.”

“The nature of the terrible beast, my job.  What’s your problem?”

“We have an approach toward recruiting.”

“I know.” 

“It’s an approach that’s unusual in many people’s experience, but it is not only backed by research but also done with great effect in enough other companies that a knowledgeable and thinking person would not characterize it as odd or weird or fringe.” 

“Just in case I was thinking about characterizing it as odd or weird or fringe.  You will remember that I’ve seen it work.”

“Ya never know about general managers!  It’s pretty well substantiated in our company, too.  We have driven up productivity and driven down turnover significantly in the divisions that have bought into the program and actually used it.”

“So let’s say, just for the sake of this discussion, that since I’ve seen it work I happen to be a believer in your recruiting voodoo, why are you telling me this?  I have other people standing in line to complain to me, you know.  You are not the only one who wants to drink at the fountain of my soothing and my problem solving wisdom!”

“Your boy, Sandy, ain’t having it.  Specifically, his view is that a crummy employee in the seat is better than no employee in the seat and he says you agree.  And, I assume, Sandy’s boss concurs.”

“And, although I think I know the answer, the problem with my alleged logic is?”

“It’s a false dichotomy.  Your only choices are NOT “no employees” or “crummy employees”.  I can move the quality of the employees from crummy to excellent and keep up the pace of hiring so the seats stay filled with butts, in Sandy’s lovely language.”

“What’s Sandy’s real problem?”

This question reminded Jim of why he had liked working for Sarah so much.  She had a very firm understanding of how people worked and which presented issues were real and which were smoke or subterfuge.

“Sandy’s real problem is that he grew up as a volume recruiter.  He gets off on lots of short cycle activity.  He’s probably a little ADD or ADHD and just does not have the blood chemistry for elongated selection cycles.  He also gets off on the kudos he gets for filling a lot of jobs very quickly.  He looks like a hero and who doesn’t like that?  He also, frankly, has a kind of anti-smart bias, so anything that smells of research, or statistics or disciplined process hits him wrong and fires off his distrust.”

“I have to confess,” said Sarah, “that I’m not too current on the state of things.  What kind of shape are we in for staffing?”

“Low vacancy rate.  High turnover.  How’s your productivity?”

“Spotty by department.”

“Wrong employees in the problem departments.”

“A perfect storm.  What do you need from me?”

They sat down and worked out a plan.  The obstacles were Sarah’s direct reports who probably did not understand the cost and damage associated with low performance and turnover, and did, in fact, pressure Sandy to fill the seats with butts.  Also: Sandy’s boss, who should have solved Sandy’s problem by now.  And Sandy.

Their assets either were or were not the numbers, depending on how they turned out.

Sarah and Jim sat down with Sandy and his boss and together laid out a study design that HR would follow: how did the low performing units’ productivity and turnover compare to productivity and turnover in the high performing units?  What hard costs could be associated with their turnover that were not associated with those of the well-performing organizations?  Lastly, what soft costs were they incurring?

They were lucky in that there were a couple of work units inside their division that had low turnover.  Their management was good, so productivity was high, as was morale.  Errors were low, on time and attendance was high.  Each work group had a high social cohesiveness, even to the point of one unit having monthly bonkers games that rotated from one employee’s home to the next and were excuses for elaborate pot lucks and everyone having lots of fun.

Turnover can be given a hard cost and was.  Where there was hardly any turnover there were hardly any costs associated with recruiting, low productivity or training.

The costs to the departments that had high turnover and low productivity could be calculated and were.  The numbers turned out to be a very strong asset.

The department managers and HR were all present when Sarah presented the results of the study.  They differences in cost between the high turnover and low turnover departments were staggering.  HR had also counted the number of employee relations issues from each group of departments and calculated about how much time was spent on each and the resultant cost.  Same story.

And one could feel the differences, just walking through the departments.

Sarah had discussed the findings before the big roll out with everyone in the meeting, so there were no surprises, and no surprise at the plan Sarah and Jim presented at the end of the meeting: keep tracking costs; use commitment measures to quantify morale; begin applying testing and statistical analysis to evolve, over the next year, employee selection profiles that correlated to people staying employed and doing well on the job.  The plan was to make changes slowly, making sure that the seats still had butts in them, just better butts over time.

As they implemented the plan, recruiting got a little harder, as Sandy had said it would, but another recruiter was brought into HR to help.  Better selection meant that they had to kiss more frogs to get a prince.  And so they did.  The additional recruiter allowed them to increase the volume of frog kissing so that could meet their quota for princes.  As the quality of the employees rose and turnover dropped, the cost associated with dealing with turnover dropped, more than offsetting the cost of the new recruiter.  This project was producing a net reduction in expense by shifting money and effort from coping with the results of bad selection to minimizing bad selection.

They reduced the gauge of the selection mesh continuously, as they had data.  The data described candidates numerically across at least 20 requirements and measured performance in the same way.  They then just discovered which profiles stayed the longest and got the best performance scores.  Those success profiles became the selection targets.  They ran this cycle several times during the ensuring year, each time getting more prediction of on-the-job success, and more success.

The managers of the previously high-turnover departments needed counseling to accept that the inflow of new employees was as good as it actually was.  They were having a hard time believing it.  Several of them had been experiencing health issues.  Those issues had resolved themselves as their workforce drove better departmental performance.

Sandy’s blood pressure was down, too, but it had taken a career change to do it.  He just could not deal with 20-30 requirements per job plus testing, plus the analysis.  But everyone recognized that he was a good soul and a hard worker, so they found him a job in logistics management where he got the satisfaction he needed and was doing a fine job.

Sarah had to fly to the corporate office and took the occasion to seek Jim out and invite him and his wife to dinner.

“I just wanted you to know what a talent your husband it,” Sarah told Jim’s wife.  “He pulled off a near miracle in my division, and it’s all because he was able to guide us to start hiring the right people.”

“He cooks, too!”  Jim’s wife volunteered.

“But with no salt,” Jim said.  “Blood pressure you know.”

“If you just hired the right people, that probably would not be a problem,” Sarah grinned.

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