Removing Unnecessary Employment Barriers

Let’s play some DE&I trivia!  As many of you know, the landmark case in employment discrimination is Griggs v. Duke Power.  But, what was the aspect of Duke Power’s hiring that got them into court?

If you said their use of pre-employment tests, you’d only be partially right.  The decision was also based on the use of discriminatory educational requirements (in this instance, a high school diploma).  Interestingly, after that tests got a bad name, but companies continued to use school credentials with little or no problem.

As the US economy and culture pushed more and more students towards college, racial disparities in educational attainment have persisted.  Yet, companies rarely questioned whether asking for high school or college degrees for certain jobs really gets them better candidates.  In some cases, this requirement is a classic “like me” bias?

Of course, the only way to see if a high school or college degree is necessary for a job is to conduct a job analysis and compare that knowledge, skills, and abilities with a high school or college curriculum.  Yes, I want my surgeon to have an MD, thank you very much. Far too often companies have used degrees as a de facto job requirement without ever thinking about its impact on organizational performance (are we turning away qualified people?) or fairness.  This is particularly true in IT where there are many self-taught people in the field.

Due to a confluence of factors, some big companies have rethought their use of degrees as qualifications.  Besides this leading to potentially more diverse hiring, it will also save them money (but be an economic boom to the new hires).  Whether it would lead to less college enrollment and lower higher education costs is certainly possible.  More importantly, it would lead to a paradigm shift of associating all white collar jobs with college degrees.

One can argue that getting a college degree shows tenacity and commitment over a long period of time.  And I would agree.  But, there are other ways to show this as well.

Change only comes when we do things in a different way.  And solutions to long term problems often require big actions.  Removing high school or college degrees as job qualifications when they are unnecessary removes a significant barrier to employment for racial minorities that could have an impact at your company.

Moving From Counting to Progress

As I settle in to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play tonight in the National Basketball Association (NBA), my biggest concern will be about LeBron James’ health.  I won’t give a second thought to who is officiating the game and as to whether one of the officials is a woman.  OK, for the sake of this blog post I did check, and one of the 5 female NBA referees is working the game.

The reason I bothered checking was this article about female officials in the NBA.  The league is seen as more progressive than its North American counterparts (football, baseball, hockey, and soccer) when it comes to employment and social justice issues.  I was curious what the league was doing to encourage more women to become NBA officials and how they supported them.

The first thing that struck me was that the league establishes multiple pipelines for attracting referees.  If you have been a ref in one of them, you can get a look from the NBA.  And the league is not concerned whether they had officiated men’s or women’s games.  As long as you put in the time and you were good, you have a chance.

Once in the NBA, both male and female officials work both the top level and development leagues (the latter known as the G League) in order to gain more experience.  A little less than half of the full time G League referees are women.

So, the NBA throws out a large recruiting net (colleges, international leagues, etc.) and provides ample opportunities for the new officials to hone their skills, even when working with the top players.  Of course, the publisher of the article is also a broadcaster of NBA and WNBA games, so I wasn’t expecting any hard hitting accusations.  But, the NBA’s reputation for inclusiveness seems to have paid off in terms of the smoothness of the transition to having more women officiate games played by men.  It also means that the league does not have to bring out the trumpets each time a woman is a game referee.

The lesson from the NBA is that proper planning and culture can lead to diversifying workforces.  Taking steps to ensure high quality development and performance can make the revolutionary turn into the ordinary.

Adjusting HR to Robotic Process Automation in a Post-COVID World

Regular readers have seen my posts on how automation has impacted the skills required for jobs among hourly workers.  Since the beginning of the industrial age, technology has been used to reduce physical labor and repetitive tasks.  Whether it is in fast food or warehouses, technology has changes how humans fit into the labor equation.

The COVID pandemic has accelerated this process.  While futurists can disagree about how fast technology changes were coming to work, labor being forced to be away from the office has accelerated the pace in which companies have implemented robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) in order to meet customer needs and improve efficiency.  What is different now is that this technology is being applied more to salaried positions than before.  Whether the new jobs in creating this tech will be equal to the number of people displaced by it is an important question for future college graduates.  But these changes should also get companies thinking about their recruitment, validated selection, and training processes.

One of my clients does back office processing of financial information.  This is exactly the kind of thing where RPA can eventually take over some the tasks currently done by their analysts.  Currently, we test job candidates for their willingness to follow procedures and their detail orientation (among other characteristics).  If RPA were applied to this job, we would need to analyze what the skills, abilities, and personal characteristics were still valid and what any new ones would be.  This would likely lead to the elimination of certain parts of the current test and emphasizing others. This would likely impact recruiting and training as well. In a broader sense, when organizational change comes, the updating of recruitment, selection, and training of employees usually is done (seemingly) as an afterthought.  As companies apply RPA and AI, and nearly all of them will in one way or another, they should be prepared for the impact on how employees do their work, not just whether they will still have a job.

Making Work From Home Work

OK, let’s all take a deep breath and say it out loud, “Work from home is not going to be temporary.”  There, we did it.  Now let’s talk about it.

We need to acknowledge that WFM is not going to be one size fits all from an organization’s standpoint.  Some companies will look for as many people to return to the office as soon as possible as their CEOs swear that productivity and creativity can only occur face-to-face.  Others, after realizing the cost savings of reducing their office footprint, reduced stress of employees not commuting, and maintained productivity will encourage it going forward.

Eight or so months into WFM, we also need to acknowledge that it is not for everyone.  Some people (well organized introverts) thrive in the environment while others (people with a high need for affiliation) struggle in it.  And there are many who are in-between.  They would like to interact and work with others a few days a week, but appreciate those days where they can work with fewer distractions and in a safer environment.

Given these variables, how can we adapt to WFM or make it work for organizations and employees?  Let’s walk through some big steps and see where the key points are.

  1. Organization Design.  This is the time for companies to look at their WFM experiences and make policy decisions.  Some of this should be business driven (Are we productive with what we are doing now? Do COVID-19 impacts on our business support how much space we have?). There should be employee input via a survey, or some other method, that allows everyone to have his/her/their voice heard.  Don’t assume you know what everyone wants and be sure to stay away from just a couple of anecdotes.  From this info you can then develop go forward policies.  Oh, and don’t worry—not everyone is going to like the new policies.  Just like before COVID-19 when there were people who wanted to work from home but were not allowed to.
  2. Implementing Change.  Most WFM policies I’ve seen have been done on the fly—which is not a criticism.  Rather, most employees saw the impact of COVID-19 so there was not the resistance to change that we normally see when organizations choose to pivot.  However, as you transition from a reactive state to the new normal one, you’ll need to use your change management techniques, such as:

    a. Be transparent—describe to employees the data you gathered and why WFM policies are either going back to pre-COVID-19 or changing.

    b. Describe the benefits of the change from an employee’s perspective.

    c. Have resources (technical, informational, skill development, etc.) available that support the change.

    d. Measure the impact of the new policies so you can make future decisions based on data.
  3. Recruitment.  Once a WFM policy is in place, you’ll want to be able to describe it clearly when attracting new talent.  Your WFM requirements, or lack thereof, will be attractive to some and repellent to others.  And that’s OK.  Just be sure to let people know what they are in for.
  4. Selection.  Remember before when I talked about which people thrive or suffer in WFM?  This is important information to use when selecting new employees going forward.  You will want to review your job descriptions and competency models to be sure they include any changes that would come from your WFM policies.  For instance, if you are moving to a model that allows or mandates a lot of working from home, you will want to include characteristics like need for autonomy in your selection protocols.  Be sure to validate any tools you use to measure this and other skills/abilities/personal characteristics.
  5. Training and Development. Despite the occasional video conference faux pas, I think most of us were pleasantly surprised how quickly people gained skills at using this software.  Those in the learning and development area have also adapted their materials and approaches to video.  You should be providing training on how to get the most out of not only video conferencing technology, but other tools that allow people to collaborate across distances.  In a WFM environment, some people will benefit significantly from instruction on how to be productive in a home environment.  Also, continue to keep up with professional and leadership development so that people do not stagnate.  There are a lot of great online training experiences out there and without travel expenses the true cost has gone down.
  6. Performance Management.  An employee concern about WFM has been, “How will I get promoted?”  The manager’s concern is, “How will I get productivity?”  Of course, these two things go together.  WFM has exposed poorly designed performance goals and objectives.  It is likely that your business has changed post-COVID.  It is a good time to revisit your performance standards and measurements as well.  As before, develop S.M.A.R.T. goals, but now with an extra emphasis on measurable, especially if people are participating in WFM.  This helps to minimize lack of face time issues as employees can more easily demonstrate their performance. 
  7. Coaching and Feedback. WFM minimizes spontaneous interactions between employees and their managers.  This means that they both need to make additional efforts to schedule conversations to stay in touch.  This will help with the visibility employees want and the accountability managers are looking for. There should be some structure to these conversations so that they cover current performance as well as career development.
  8. Managing the Change.  Whether you think we are closer to the beginning or the end of the pandemic, we can all agree that there are going to be more changes to business and WFH before it is behind us (e.g., another wave of cases, kids going back to school or back to distance learning, etc.).  Just as you want to gather employee and other stakeholder information when forming policies, you will want keep track of how attitudes towards the policies, the pandemic, and the business shift.  Acting on these issues as necessary will help you maintain or increase employee engagement and make policy adjustments.

Our work lives have always involved managing change and COVID-19 has made this more pronounced.  It is now time to do so in a more thoughtful and forward looking way.  We can do this more effectively by recognizing that some changes, including WFH, are not temporary adjustments, but are permanent in one form or another.  HR benefits employees and organizations when it recognizes the wide-spread impact of WFH and adjusts its practices and manages the change effectively.

Is Color-Blind Hiring Enough?

I have written previously about blind auditions and interviews.  These are ideas that are now gaining a bit more traction as companies look to reduce potential racial discrimination in their hiring practices.  Others look at these measures as misguided and that taking race into account is the only way to diversify hiring.  I understand that the author is an arts critic trying to make a point about the industry he covers, so being a provocateur is an important part of the article.  However, he proposes ideas that I think should be evaluated.

First is that, basically, all applicants for playing positions at top tier orchestras are all pretty much the same.  I am sure that all of those people in the suburbs who pay top dollar to go into the city to listen to an orchestra would be thrilled to know that they can really stay closer to home and hear essentially the same thing for a lot less money.  But, the author then goes on to say that there are (potentially, as he does not manage an orchestra) other aspects of being an orchestra member that should be considered (e.g., being a good educator and openness to new musical experiences).  The implication here is that these are job duties where there are meaningful differences and can be used to screen applicants.  His point is a good one—we can do a better job of hiring when we consider how job duties have changed when creating selection systems.  And, some of these changes may lead to more diverse selections.

He brings up a good point when he says that the problem with diverse hires occurs well before the audition stage in that few Black or Latino kids get interested in symphonic music.  In the case of those who enjoy the music, they don’t have the same access to training as white kids who also want to make a career out of it.  Whether it is for jobs that have traditionally discriminated based on sex or race, developing interest via training or mentoring programs is one of the long-term solutions to hiring a more diverse workforce. 

The last point addressed is representation—the idea that the racial diversity of an orchestra should reflect…well, what should it reflect?  The people who listen to the music?  The orchestra’s ticket buyers? The city/town where the orchestra is located?  The pool of applicants?  This is where people get queasy about hiring diversity.  We start wading into the murky waters of quotas, tokenism, and how finely we define representation.  The goals may be noble, but it is the process that counts.

I would argue that representation should reflect the diversity of the qualified applicants rather than some pipe dream about how popular a white European art form is to modern day American youth (see this article for a somewhat divergent opinion).  In the near term, that means creating and maintaining unbiased selection systems that reflect what the job truly requires.  In the longer term, it means developing pipelines to all students who are interested in careers where there is and/or has been systematic discrimination. 

Some companies may feel that in the current climate they have to do something now to improve their diversity and they should.  Additionally, they should address systemic hiring discrimination, which requires more foundational changes.  These can include programs that make their industry welcoming to all (e.g., providing classroom experiences) and training/mentoring programs for those who are interested in careers who have come from groups that traditionally were excluded from jobs with them.

Blacks Welcome to Apply

The aftermath of George Floyd’s murder has many of us asking, “What can I do better?” when it comes to ending racism.  This is critical in that racial bias in hiring have changed little in 30 years.  HR and I/O psychology play a unique role in that we create the processes that allow for equal employment.

None of the suggestions below require lowering of standards.  Rather, it provides a framework for applying standards in an equitable way.  Science and good sense points us in this direction with these actions:

  1. Widen your recruitment net.  If you recruit from the same places, your workforce will always look the same.  There is talent everywhere—go find it.  Whether from a high school in a different part of town or a historically black college/university.
  2. Make Resumes Anonymous.  The science is very clear that anonymous resumes reduce racial and gender bias.  It is not an expensive process to implement and works for all kinds of business.
  3. Examine minimum qualifications carefully.  Whether based on job experience or education, these can serve as barriers to black job candidates.  The ground breaking employment discrimination lawsuit, Griggs v. Duke Power, was based on an invalid requirement that supervisors needed a high school diploma.  Don’t get me wrong—I want my surgeon to be an M.D. But, do your entry level positions really need a college degree?  Do your managers really need to be MBAs?  If you analyze the relationships between education/experience and job performance, you are likely to find that they are not as strong as you think.
  4. Use validated pre-employment and promotional tests.  As a rule, validated pre-employment tests do not adversely affect blacks and are certainly less biased than interviews (see below).  This is particularly true for work sample tests (show me what you can do) and personality tests.  However, cognitive ability tests, especially speeded ones, may lead to discrimination.  If you use them, analyze your cutting score to ensure that it is not set so high that qualified candidates are being screened out.
  5. Reduce reliance on interviews.  Interviews can be biased by race and ethnicity.  And, more often than not, they are far less valid than tests.  We need to convince hiring managers that they are not good judges of talent—very few people are.  Remember, interviewing someone to see if s/he is a “good fit” is another way of saying, “this person is like me.” 

  6. Make your interviews more structured.  This can be achieved by asking candidates the same questions and using an objective scoring methodology.   Adding structure to the interview process can reduce bias (and improve validity).

You may already be doing some of the above.  I would encourage you to do all of them.  The outcome is fairness AND better hires.  What could be better than that?

Hiring Because They Are Like Me

We all have a bias about being around people who we perceive to be like ourselves.  Social psychologists refer to this as our “ingroup,” which are people with a shared interest or identity.  Being around our ingroup gives us a feeling of belonging and comfort.

Where this affects business is in hiring and promotional practices.  We want to be surrounded by our “ingroup”, so we hire/promote people who remind us of us.  One of the places this really happens is when it comes to where a person went to school.  Besides having a shared experience, we subconsciously (or maybe not so subconsciously) assume that attending that school gives him/her/them the same positive attributes that we give ourselves.  What this does is limits how big of a net we cast when recruiting.

At least one company is taking a different approach.  Rather than hire M.B.A.’s from a few schools, they’ve decided to recruit from 80 colleges/universities.  To do this, and manage costs, they have also decided to move from in-person interviews to video interviews, which may be turning off some candidates.  Given how much millenials and Gen Z like to Facetime and video chat with friends, I find this a little hard to believe.

It will be interesting to see if the quality of those hired is affected by the new approach.  I’m guessing not.  The incremental gain of recruiting from the “top” schools should be more than offset by the addition of new perspectives and skills.  And, who knows, maybe when big companies start to care more about the quality of the students and less so about hiring from their “ingoup”, MBA programs will become less expensive.

Adjusting Your HR Strategy When Your Company Decides to Train For Basic Job Skills

There is a presumption that the US education system will provide employers with workers that possess requisite job skills.  Companies are then responsible for providing more advanced ones through apprenticeships, job training, and leadership development.  But, what if job seekers do not possess the skills for tech jobs?

This article describes what lengths some employers are going to get people in their talent pipeline.  In many ways, there is nothing new here.  It comes down to searching for talent where they previously hadn’t and providing training rather than expecting people to come with skills.  It’s the latter that I find most interesting.

When designing selection programs, particularly for entry level positions, we tend to focus on what knowledge or skills the candidates needs on the first day.  Those expectations are higher if we expect someone to come with experience than if we are going to be providing a lot of training.  This has important impacts on how we select candidates, including:

  1. Use of aptitude tests rather than knowledge tests.  Aptitude tests are terrific measures of basic skills and are quite valid.  However, speeded ones can lead to adverse impact, so they require good validation studies, meaningful passing scores, and adverse impact analyses.
  2. Alter interview questions so that a wide variety of experiences can be used to answer them.  If you are hiring people who don’t have experiences in your industry, you should be asking valid questions that people with little or no job experience can answer.  For instance, instead of, “Tell me about a time when you led a team project at work and…” use “Tell me about a time when you had to influence a group of friends and…”
  3. Focus on reducing turnover.  Training is EXPENSIVE, so hiring mistakes in a boot camp environment are very costly.  Take special care in developing realistic job previews and other ways that allow candidates to decide if they are not a good fit.  Collect information (previous experiences, referral sources, school majors, etc.) that may be indicative of future turnover and validate them.  These can be part of very useful pre-employment processes.

What this approach really presents is a change in HR strategy from one that relies on people to be able to start on day one to taking time to get them up to speed.  By having recruitment, selection, and development leaders involved in the execution, organizations can adapt their tactics for identifying and selecting talent and have a smoother transition.

Skills of the Future

The nature of work has always changed and will continue to do so.  This report from the World Economic Forum outlining trends and predictions came out a year ago.  I find its conclusions as true today as they were when it was first published.  It is a bit of a long read, but does break things out by country which shortens the time required a bit.

The net of the study is in the table below.

The Declining skills are instructive.  Not surprising, the list contains skills which are being automated (management of resources, quality control, manual dexterity, etc.).  Others are in response to a change in workplace culture which places higher value autonomy (management of personnel).  We can have a separate conversation as to what it means that active listening is on the Declining list.  What that leaves us with (see the Trending column) are the skills that are becoming more important in the near future.  Innovation and learning top the list with plenty of problem solving skills.  Seeing emotional intelligence on the list made me throw up in my mouth a bit, but there is no surprise about social influence.

The practical aspect of the report is to get us thinking about the skills that we really need for jobs in the 2020’s.  As we automate more, how does that change our expectations of employees?  At McDonald’s, automation means more interaction between staff and guests.  With managers being freed from coordination and time management, what is it that we will want them to do?

Here’s how to keep up:

  1. You probably need to review your job descriptions more often than you think.  And you should definitely do so after introducing new technology.

  2. Updated job descriptions should feed into your recruitment process.  Be sure that you are not advertising for yesterday’s jobs.

  3. The Trending list throws down the gauntlet as to how we select candidates.  Whether it be updating tests, interviews, or what we look for on resumes, knowing that we need more creativity and leadership, and less management, from those who direct the activities of others is a BIG difference.  If our selection tools are to be valid, they need to keep up with changing jobs.

By making these updates, we can drive the recruitment and selection of employees with the right skill sets.  It also provides us with a framework of being ahead of futures skill changes.

Are we Biased AGAINST Top Talent?

We all want to believe that we are looking to recruit, select, and develop top talent.  We spend lots of time reading and writing articles on the topic.  But, what if hiring managers are not interested?

This article throws a bit of cold water on the topic.  It documents a study where hiring managers were shown to doubt the organizational commitment of those deemed the most capable.  It was almost as if they were saying, “Why would someone really good want to work for us?”

There are several issues at work here.  But, what they boil down to is a bias among hiring mangers that negatively affects their selection processes.  Sure, I can imagine anecdotal evidence (“Yeah, we hired that one really bright person, but she jumped ship as soon as she got a better offer.”), but I don’t think that this is a data driven decision.

What this also underlines is the importance of developing a culture that encourages top talent to stay.  There’s no question that selecting the right people will drive business performance.  And having a culture that acknowledges and rewards high performance will do so as well.  When hiring managers feel that top talent will not stay, it is really an indictment of the culture rather than an accurate prediction of management’s view.  How can you fight this?

  1. If managers do not think top talent would be committed to your organization, they should NOT be involved in hiring. 
  2. Those who are doing the hiring should be able to provide a realistic preview of the organization, but should also be able to succinctly describe why people stay.  And I’m not just talking about a good cafeteria.  They should be able to provide examples of people who have found challenging work over time in the organization.
  3. If you are speaking with hiring managers who show an anti-talent bias, ask them what needs to be changed so they would believe that top talent would want to stay.
  4. The best way to fight bias is with data.  You should be able to study turnover rates by talent bands (contact me for tips on this).  This way you can either show people that top talent does not leave any faster than other employee groups or demonstrate to executives that this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Organizations should strive for selection processes that identify top talent and cultures that nurture them.  Do not let bias against hiring top talent work against these two initiatives.

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