While I am Likely to be Wrong, Allow me to Continue

Interviews are worse predictors of job success than you think.  And I do not care if you don’t think very highly of them as you read this, it’s still lower.  Yet, there is an insistence that they are better than they are and no company I know of is willing to give them up.  Why is this?

Of course, it’s because doing them is ingrained in our corporate cultures.  Thomas Edison (supposedly) conducted the first one.  However, note in the example that it was a test and not an interview, which ensured that it could not be less valid, even with the ridiculous questions cited.  Obviously, if a guy as smart as Thomas Edison was doing it, it must be right.  Then again, he was not trained in understanding human behavior.

The problem with interviews (besides just these) is that they are fraught with noise.  As I’ve written about before, interviewers (which are all of us) are loaded with biases which skew a good deal of information that we get from the person being interviewed.  Of course, the person being interviewed is likely to have prepared for the questions.  In fact some millennial job seekers I know informed me about how they are rarely asked a question they haven’t seen online and when they do get one they post it immediately.  From all of this pre-work, the interviewer is getting canned answers that may not reflect the person.  Of course, this may be a fine attribute if hiring someone who is not supposed to give his/her opinion on anything.  However, it does hurt the validity of even the best structured interviews.  As an aside, if you MUST interview, please make it highly structured and use it as a lever to find out about the person’s job related skills.

So, what is a company to do?  Go on a blind date with candidates?

I would suggest making your hiring decision BEFORE you interview.  Let the interview be the last bit of data that might break ties.  For instance, be sure that someone you are hiring for a customer facing position can actually make eye contact and put a few sentences together.  Or, use it to double-check the person’s availability for your work hours, give them a tour/realistic job preview, etc.  This allows HR or the hiring manager the last look without adding unpredictive noise to the process.  And think about how much time you will save!

It is not your fault that interviews do not predict performance.  The question is what are you going to do to prevent them from messing up your hiring process?

Is Seeing Really Believing?

Something I hear frequently from clients is, “I wish I had a day/week/month to see my candidates do the job.  Then I would make fewer hiring mistakes.”  It is, of course, an intriguing idea.  We test drive cars before we buy them.  Why not try out people before we hire them?

There is a long history of sampling work behavior in selection systems, whether it be using Assessment Centers to hire/promote managers and executives or having people make things for craft positions.  The accuracy of these types of assessments is good, falling somewhere between cognitive ability tests and interviews.  For candidates, the appeal is that they feel that they can really show what they can do rather than have their job related skills or personality inferred from a multiple choice test.

The issues in using a job tryout would include:

  • Paying the person for their time. There is an ethical, in some cases legal, issue in having a person work for free.  So, be prepared for your cost per hire to go up significantly.
  • Candidates would either need flexible schedules or plenty of PTO to participate in such a program.
  • Having meaningful work for the candidates to do. If you are going to narrow the gap between what the assessment and the job look like, then you would have to have projects that impact process, customers, etc that you would be willing to have a short-term contractor do.  Or, that you already have them doing.
  • Determining how to score the job tryout. Most organizations do a pretty poor job of measuring job performance over a full year, let a lone a couple of days.  Developing scoring criteria would be key for making good decisions and avoiding bias.
  • Having someone who is not your employee perform work that could affect your customers or the safety of others will make your attorney break out in a cold sweat.  This is should convince you not to do job tryouts, but you will have to sell that person on the idea.

What got me thinking about job tryouts was this article.  I was impressed that the company had thought through the problems in their selection process and came up with a creative way to address them. They certainly handle the pay issue well and they currently have the growth and profitability to make the program worthwhile. What is left unsaid, but communicated through some derisive comments about multiple-choice tests, is that they feel that using tests would not fit their culture well.

My concerns were that they are more worried about “fit” than skills.  This also translates into not having an objective way to evaluate how well a person did.  This leads me to believe that they would run into the problem of only hiring people who are just like them.

Lastly, they have a pretty high pass rate that “feels right.”  If I worked for them, I would be concerned that a lot of time and effort is being spent confirming what was seen in the less valid interview.  This is particularly true in a company where metrics are important for everything else.  Having people work for you for a few days and not having an objective way to measure how well they did is not going to lead to better candidates than a series of interviews.

Advances in selection tools will likely come from start-up companies who are not bound by tradition when it comes to hiring.  The tech sector presents a lot of opportunities to improve valid selection systems by their nature:  They are setup to disrupt and they gather a lot of data.  This presents a great platform for seeing what people do before you hire them to do it.

Learning to Manage

I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with a client who has told me some sort of story about how they promote from within, but have a problem with the supervisors and/or managers not being able to let go of wanting to do the technical work instead of managing the technical work.  It is not hard to understand.  People get into a field because of their interests or passion, rarely for their desire to manage others.

An organization’s challenge is to either create technical career opportunities or help those who are technically proficient to successfully move into management.  But how?  Here are some tips:

  • Clearly identify the skill sets required of managers and note how different they are from those required of technical workers. One of the places I would start is with Delegation and Holding People Accountable.
  • Make the management skill sets part of your internal recruitment AND learning and development process.
  • Require internal candidates to demonstrate management skills before being promoted through an assessment center or other valid selection process.
  • Start people at an appropriate management level, regardless of how technically proficient they are.

While I’m not one to think that sports are necessarily a good analogy for the business world, I found this article to be an exception.  It describes how John Elway,

a multiple Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Denver Broncos, learned management skills from the ground up.  He wasn’t made a Vice President of the team after he retired.  Rather, he honed his business skills in another field and then transferred them to a low level of football.  It wasn’t until he demonstrated success there that he was giving the big opportunity.  The time spent out of the spotlight clearly led to many learning experiences.

What makes the story powerful is the understanding that while there were some technical skills which would translate for him from the field to the front office, Elway (and his bosses) understood that others would have to be learned.  The organization was willing to let him take the time to learn how to manage and lead in a non-technical role.

The lessons for the rest of us are that:

  • Management skills are different from technical ones (e.g., the best sales person is not necessarily the best sales manager). We can use valid tools to identify which of our technical experts possess them.
  • Management development is a journey, as is the acquisition of any skill set.

What Implicit Bias Looks Like

The idea of implicit bias has been making its way into the business vernacular.  It involves the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  As you probably gathered from the definition, implicit bias is something we all have.  They are little mental shortcuts we have which can lead to discriminatory behavior.

Examples of implicit bias are found throughout the hiring process, including recruiting, interviews, and performance appraisals.  I think that you will find this interview very helpful in understanding how these biases creep into our decision making. 

It really breaks down the abstract to the actual behaviors and their impacts.

At this point of the blog is where I normally come up with a prescription of what to do.  The only problem is that there are no good empirical studies showing how to reduce implicit bias.  There are some lab studies with college students which support some short-term effectiveness, but some police departments swear that they are a waste of time.  So, the jury is still out.  But, there are some things you can do to reduce the opportunity for bias:

  • You can (mostly) decode gender out of job postings.
  • Take names off of applications before they are sent for review. The law requires that race, gender, and age information be optional on applications to help avoid discrimination.  For the same reason, you should redact names on applications and resumes before they are evaluated (if they are not already being machine scored).
  • If you are using pre-employment tests that do not have adverse impact, weight them more than your interviews, which are likely loaded with bias. If you insist on putting final decisions in the hands of interviewers, use a very structured process (pre-written questions, detailed scoring rubrics, etc.).

All humans have implicit biases—we want to be surrounded by our in-group.  A reduction in these biases, or at least fewer opportunities to express them, will likely lead you to a more diverse, and better performing, team.

The Challenge in Finding Good Performance Data

In validating tests, getting a hold of good individual performance data is key.  But, it is also one of the more difficult parts of the process to get right.

Intuitively, we all think we can judge performance well (sort of like we all think we are good interviewers).  But, we also know that supervisor ratings of performance can be, well, unreliable.  This is so much the case that there is a whole scientific literature about performance appraisals, even as there is currently a movement within the business community to get rid of them.Facetime For PC

But, what about objectively measuring performance (for every new account opened you get $X)?  If the Wells Fargo imbroglio tells us anything, it’s that hard measures of performance that are incented can run amok.  Also, while they are objective, single objective measures (sales, piece work manufacturing, etc.) rarely reflect the entirety of performance.  Lastly, for jobs where people work interdependently it can be very difficult to determine exactly who did what well, even if you wanted to.

So, what’s one to do?

  • Establish multiple measures of performance. For instance, call centers can measure productivity (average call time) and quality (number of people who have to call back a second time).  Don’t rely on just one number.
  • Even when a final product is the result of a group effort, each individual is still responsible for some pieces of it. If you focus on key parts of the process, you can find those touch points which are indicative of individual performance.  Again, look for quality (was there any rework done?) and productivity (were deadlines met?) measures.
  • Objective performance measures do not have to have the same frequency as piece work or rely on one “ta-da” measure at the end. Think of meeting deadlines, whether additional resources were required to complete the work, etc.
  • Don’t get bogged down in whether or not a small percentage of people can game the system with objective measures. We seem OK with rampant errors in supervisory judgment, but then get all excited because 1 out of 100 people can make his productivity seem higher than it is.  If you dig into the data you are likely to be able to spot when this happens.

When I hear people say that you cannot measure individual performance well, I cringe.  Of course you can.  You just need to know where to look and focus on what is important.

 

 

Curious About Openness

One of my favorite personality scales to administer is Openness to New Experiences. It is one of the “Big 5” personality constructs and is supported by a great deal of research. People who score high on this scale seek new experiences and to engage in self-examination. They draw connections between seemingly unconnected ideas. People who score low are more comfortable with things that they find familiar.

I bring this up this week because I have heard from a few clients who want to hire people who are “curious.” Also, I came across this interview where the CEO was talking about looking for curious people. Note that he’s dead wrong in thinking that Openness is not related to intelligence. Why is it that people go out of their way to denigrate cognitive ability testing when it is THE most accurate predictor for most jobs? OK, that’s for another post on another day.

Part of this trend may come from gaming. Being successful in gaming requires searching in any place available for that clue, weapon, whatever that allows you to get to the next level. It is also a welcoming environment for failure. But, those who show curiosity, problem solving ability (at least learning the logic of the programmer), and the desire to keep learning will be successful.

Measuring curiosity as an outcome is an entirely different story. However, it should include spending time on research, a willingness to fail, and using unique sources of information when developing a solution.

I am intrigued (curious?) about this interest in Openness/Curiosity and I plan to follow-up on it. Is Openness/Curiosity important to your firm or practice? If so, what are you doing to measure it in your candidates?

What Millennials Want. JK

Every generation gets over researched, and Millennials are no exception. I say over researched because it’s easy to stereotype younger workers based on this data. It’s almost like sewing on their Myers-Briggs type. Generations of workers are shaped by the culture of work, and vice versa, so it can be interesting to look at some of the data.

We cannot start and manage companies in the “gig” economy while simultaneously complaining that millenials don’t want to stay at the same job for a long time. Just like we should not criticize people for job hopping during boom-and-bust cycles in the tech sector. A more stable employment environment leads to more stable workers (see post war America).

So, among the many things employers can do to reduce turnover is create an engaging work culture and one that shows that you care. Think of it like products you purchase that don’t compete on price, but do so based on quality and value.

This article talks about what some small businesses are doing to reduce their turnover among younger workers. Many of you may be thinking that these ideas don’t apply to your bigger company, but they really do. If your managers have an “ownership” mentality,    Download BlueStacks App Player for PC and the company has policies that support it, they can implement many of these programs.

One of the intriguing approaches was looking for workers from non-traditional career paths. When I’m asked to validate tests, I’ll often use biographical history items (asking about experiences). Clients always think that experience in similar fields is important for candidates to have in order for them to successful in the new company, but it is rarely the case. As this example shows, skill, ability, and drive are much more important than traveling the “right” path.

Whatever your approach to lowering turnover, remember the best takeaway from the article is, “For any incentives to work over the long term, employees must be invested in a company and its mission.” And that means a company must be invested in the career plans of the millennial employee.

For more information about creating a more engaging work environment, please contact Warren Bobrow.

The Culture of Over the Top Customer Service

There are several approaches that companies take with their customer service:

  • Necessary evil. This is when they figure they have to have it (by expectation or regulation).
  • A cost of doing business. Companies take this approach when they still take orders online and need to provide some support for returns, etc. This is a transactional approach.
  • An opportunity to build the brand and the business. Companies take this approach to cross-sell and build lifetime customers.

Intellectually, most contact center execs would like to see themselves as in the third category. But, doing so presents an amazing challenge in terms of culture and money. This article talks about what some companies have done to use their contact center to gain market share.

Though we normally think of a company’s culture as an internal issue, it does influence how it treats its customers. Think about the last time you contacted a bank versus a tech company. Or, a legacy firm versus a start-up. Whether or not it is by design, these are different customer experiences. That’s the company’s culture at work.

 

The article describes how Dollar Shave Club consciously brings their culture to their contact center. They are linking the image they portray in their ads to their customer service. The goal is to extend their brand to every touch point with prospects and subscribers.

The article draws a dichotomy between scripted (implied: boring) and unscripted (implied: exciting). I don’t buy this. There are plenty of unscripted contact centers that are not very exciting.

Another issue is really how much judgment the agents have and how this affects how you select them. When agents are heavily scripted and following a decision tree, they don’t get to use much judgment, but they need to be very conscientious. When agents are unscripted, judgment is much more important. When you add the culture component, then you must ensure that the person’s personality fits your organization. Each of these represents a different set of attributes that you need to consider when recruiting and hiring.

Interestingly, it takes more training to get people to execute a culture in an unscripted call center than to follow rules in a scripted one. I would imagine that this training also has a lot to do with the limits (or lack thereof) of the customer interactions and indoctrinating the culture into the reps. This leads to a more consistent (or controlled, as Zappos says) customer experience, even without scripts.

The ROI calculation of the extreme customer contact centers described in the article is pretty straight forward.

1) What are the additional costs in spending 7 weeks to train reps versus 2-3 weeks? The additional thought here is whether the training cost per seat per year is the same, factoring in turnover rates. If unscripted agents stay long longer, then maybe the training doesn’t cost that much more. You can reduce the training time and turnover with valid selection procedures.

2) How many more reps do you need in an unscripted center, which will lead to longer handle times? If this approach leads to more first call resolutions, then some of the costs will be mitigated. If unscripted call lead to more variance in your handle times, how do you accurately schedule agents?

3) Does this approach lead to more sales and/or the development of customers for life? The key word here is more. If scripted service leads to the same amount of sales, then the extra investment in unscripted training and FTEs is not worth it. It’s easy to say that the unscripted approach feels better, but that doesn’t pay the bills. You need to track the impact on sales (or at least conversions). Note that the most of the companies cited in the article using unscripted calls are living off of investor money rather than revenue.

Your contact center is an extension of your business model and culture. Be mindful of how they impact the strategy behind your center. Most importantly, keep focused on the steak and not the wow sizzle.

For more information on the link between culture, selection, and your contact center, contact Warren Bobrow.

Is There a Customer Service Gene?

In working with clients on developing pre-employment testing systems, I’ve heard the expression “The Customer Service Gene,” or some variant of it, dozens of times. I like it because it transmits the idea that some people have it and some do not. It casually underlines the idea that there are some things you cannot train away. But, having good genes only provides potential. They only translate into high performance if nurtured through good training, coaching, and performance management.

I thought about what makes up the CSG while reading this interview with Jonathan Tisch. One thing that has always struck me when analyzing call center work is that there are only so many types of customer issues an agent encounters, but the customer’s circumstances are much more variable. The best agents are those who can be empathetic to unique circumstances while applying problem solving skills and creativity.

We also have to consider that there may be several sets of CSGs and that those which are the “best” really depend on the situation. For instance, there’s good data that suggest that those who call a contact center have different customer service expectations that those who text/e-mail. The former is looking for more of a personal interaction whereas the latter’s criteria for a good experience is getting the problem solved. Both sets of agents need to be creative problem solvers, but only one also has to have superior interaction skills.

The good news is that there are valid tests that assess candidates on these attributes that are cost effectively. Using them will help you identify who has the appropriate CSG (or at lest a lot of it) for your contact center.

For more information on the Customer Service Gene and validated pre-employment testing programs, please contact Warren Bobrow.

Yes, We Are All Biased, But We Don’t Have to Be

Nearly all judgments we make about people are subject to some bias. We carry around these mental shortcuts so that every social situation doesn’t have to consist of obtaining all new information. I will leave to the evolutionary biologists to fill in the details as to why we do this.

From a practical point of view, these biases invade our work related decisions, such as deciding who did better in an interview, which employee should get a special assignment or a higher performance evaluation, etc. Of course, these biases go both ways. Employees are making the same types of judgments about their boss, interviewer, etc.

We have good ways to minimize these biases in hiring tools (evaluate tests scores by group to ensure that different groups are scoring equivalently, adding structure to interviews, using objective performance metrics rather than ratings, etc.). However, these biases also extend to how we communicate broadly.

Take a look (or listen) to this story. It describes steps that a company took to widen its applicant pool (BTW: This is my favorite way to combat adverse impact). Through a data analysis of language in job postings it was found that certain words/phrases would encourage or discourage certain applicant groups. Changes were made and applications increased.

The article addresses two uncomfortable truths:

  • We all have biases
  • They cannot be trained away.

The second one is a bit tougher for my friends in OD to deal with because a core tenant to diversity training is that if we are aware of our biases we can some how eliminate them. The research indicates that this is not the case.

However, in recruiting and selection, we can take steps to reduce bias from the process, including:

  • Careful wording of recruitment notices so that they don’t send unintended messages that would lead members of certain groups not to apply.
  • Using selection tools which minimize human bias, such as validated pre-employment tests. Perhaps this also means using audio, instead of video, for evaluating interviews, assessment center exercises, and work sample tests. Many symphonies now do this when evaluating musicians.
  • Adding as much structure as possible to interview protocols.

We know that good selection techniques have a higher ROI than training. Likewise, it is more cost efficient to implement good practices to mitigate bias than to train it out of people.

What are you doing to reduce bias on your selection/promotion procedures?

For more information on valid pre-employment testing, structured interviews and other fair selection techniques, please contact Warren Bobrow.

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