Does Lowering the Bar Always Mean Lowering Standards?

Recently, I’ve wrote about how IBM was looking to remove college degree requirements for many of their jobs.  The rationale behind this change was to remove employment hurdles that may be leading to racial discrimination while not being indicative of future job performance.

Since that post, we’ve seen how employees/job seekers are now in the driver’s seat in terms of employment choices and salaries in ways we have not seen in many years.  There are a lot of factors that are causing this, including:

  • People wanting to keep the autonomy WFH gave them.
  • An economy that was pre-COVID and is creating jobs faster than the population of the US is growing.
  • Social pressure on some companies to provide a “living wage.”
  • Generous COVID unemployment benefits, relative to pay, in low wage states.

At some point, companies are going to be challenged as to how they can fill some of their jobs.  Paying more almost always helps, but unless you are paying the most for people of a certain education/experience level, you’re eventually going to lose that battle.

When you are experiencing labor shortages for your positions, it’s generally best from a talent perspective to make you pool wider rather than diving deeper into it.  One way to do that is to recruit from spaces, schools, etc. where you haven’t before.  Another way to is to re-examine your degree and experience requirements.

Yes, that’s right, removing unnecessary degree requirements can improve your talent pool and reduce discrimination.  Here’s my favorite quote from the article:

“By creating your own dumb barriers, you’re actually making your job in the search for talent harder.”

Yes, this does put some more responsibilities on Learning and Development departments as well as hiring managers.  Some may see this as a return of more investment in employees.  Others may see it as a gap filler between what new hires are taught in school and what they need to know.  Future data will tell whether this improves engagement as well.

Note that this approach should not affect whatever validated pre-employment assessment you are using.  The knowledge, skills, and abilities required are not going away—only the assumption that the only way to obtain them is through a degree program.  There are instances where necessary skills are more readily obtained in school (yes, I’d prefer that my surgeon has gone to a medical college and served a residency).  But, there are many jobs, especially in computer technology, where this just is not always the case.

At some point, the labor market will swing back the other way and employers will have a bit more leverage.  However, we are at a unique moment where companies can alter their paradigms.  They have the opportunity to re-evaluate some requirements that will give them, and job seekers, more choices while reducing discrimination.  Or, they can try to dig their way out of a hole while they are still standing in it.

Company Culture During COVID

One of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  It speaks to the idea that we can come up with all of the great ideas we want to, but if there is not an alignment between the effort and the organization’s DNA, it is just not going to happen.  Likewise, it also means that strong cultures can help guide companies through good and difficult times because resilience can be part of what a company is all about.

I came across this amazing example of organizational resilience. It’s a story of how French monks have continued to make their centuries-old liqueurs. While I don’t recommend an intellectual property governance plan where only 2 people know the ingredients of your product, their experience has lessons for all of us.

Not surprisingly, they have a strong culture.  Besides being bound together by their faith, they have a very clear vision statement (Stat crux dum volvitur orbis [“The cross is steady while the world turns”]).  This allows them to see well beyond existing issues in guiding their business.

The monks make the liqueurs to support other monks and nuns all over the globe, so maintaining production is important to continuing their way of life.  So, what do to during the COVID crisis?  They pivoted their distribution from bars to home retail.  They showed solidarity and support for those who keep them in business by donating part of their proceeds to bartenders and providing alcohol to a local hospital to make sanitizer.  With their view of how they fit into the world (“We have to learn to live with the virus.”), they allowed their culture to guide them through this difficult time, as they did for many others. See their website for how they have navigated other crises during their existence.

Building this kind of culture takes time, but there are concrete steps that senior management and HR can take, including:

  1. Be clear about the culture you want.  This can be done through brief mission or values statements.

  2. Reference the culture when making important decisions.  For instance, “We are giving some of proceeds to bartenders during COVID because they have supported us during other difficult times and will continue to do so in the future.  We think about our business in terms of centuries, not months.”

  3. Reward those behaviors that support the culture.

  4. Teach the culture to new employees.  The best way to do this is for individuals to share stories about how they have experienced the culture.  Leaders should talk about how the culture has sustained the organization.

Culture emerges in organizations.  The question is whether it is allowed to grow wild or if it is cultivated.  When we are mindful of it, it can help guide decisions and lead to more productive enterprises.  Or, as the CEO of the monks’ business says, “When you have roots this deep, it allows you to forget the short term and project your vision far in the future.”

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?

What Are Your Company’s Selection Myths?

For North American sports fans, there is not a more public selection process than that National Football League (NFL) preparing for the annual talent draft.  This is the process for allocating new players (rookies) who have finished their college careers to the teams.  Players cannot sign a contract with any team they choose until after they complete their rookie contract with the team that drafts them.  Players not chosen in the draft can sign with any team.

Besides evaluating players based on their college games, the NFL teams also invite the top players to be evaluated at what they call a combine.  At the combine, players get interviewed by teams and are put through a variety of physical and medical tests.  Teams use all of this information to compare players against each other (by position) so they can make the best choices during the draft.

Of course, in reality, the top draft choices are made mostly based on the players performance in college.  Players at the best schools compete with and against other players who are likely to be drafted, so watching them perform in a game tells teams pretty much what they need to know.  And, as I wrote about last week, there is a big bias towards players who went to the “best” schools.  But, the teams do use information at the combine to inform them about players who they don’t feel they have good data on.  For instance, those who are recovering from injuries or played at schools that don’t compete against the top schools.

There’s only one problem:  There is very little data that supports that the “tests” given at the combine of predictive of success in the NFL.  This article about the problems in measuring hand size in quarterbacks provides just one example of that.

One can see how this all got started.  Quarterbacks need to be able to throw a ball well (with a lot of speed and accuracy) and to be able to hold on to it under pressure and having a large hand (as measured from the tip of the thumb to tip of the pinkie) would seemingly be related to both of those.  But, it’s not.  All quarterbacks grip the ball a little bit differently, regardless of hand size, to get the best results.  The article suggests that hand strength is the better predictor of quarterback performance and that it is unrelated to size.  But, those who evaluate quarterbacks just cannot let the size measurement go.

I am guessing that most of your organizations have an unproven selection myth, such as, “Our best managers have gotten their MBAs from one of 10 schools” or “Good supervisors are those who have worked their way up in our industry” or “Our most successful programmers had previous experience at specific companies.”  I used to hear, “Our best call center agents have previous experience before coming here” all of the time.  But, when I conducted validation studies in contact centers, it was rare that previous experience was a good predictor of future performance. These myths are easy to evaluate, but changing HR practices is harder.  It often requires good data and a shift in culture to change thinking.  However, moving on from myths is often required to make better talent decisions.

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.

Kobe the Mentor

I live in Los Angeles and the city is still coming to grips with the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and 7 others in a helicopter crash.  Like most humans, he left a complicated legacy.  His included: Championship basketball player, accused rapist, entrepreneur, a selfish driven competitor, devoted father, philanthropist, Academy Award winner, and mentor.  LA is a city of rediscovering and remaking yourself, and we gave Kobe that opportunity.

On the basketball court, he was more like Michael Jordan (his idol), but in his brief second act, Magic Johnson comes to mind.  Kobe knew that during his basketball career he could learn things that would help him for the next 40 years of his life and he prepared for that as he would for any opponent—with relentless determination.  In this forum, I want to talk about how he mentored others.

Kobe’s passion was his craft.  He wanted to dominate each opponent and play the game better than anyone.  This approach did not lend itself to friendship on the court, or sometimes even in his own locker room.  But, in the latter stage of his career and after he retired, Kobe wanted other talented players to try to achieve what he did.  His last public tweet was congratulating another player eclipsing him on the all-time scoring list.

He was particularly interested in reaching out to players (male and female, college and professional, basketball and other sports) who had suffered career threatening injuries.  He would recommend doctors, talk about his approach to rehabbing, and instill in them the confidence that they could recover and succeed.  You can go online and read the testimonials from all kinds of people he directly impacted in this way.  He wanted the best players to love basketball as much as he did so they could make the game better.

Kobe’s second act shows us that great mentorship is more than providing knowledge and advice.  Great mentors excite our passion and challenge us to be the best we can be.  We can look for those who do that for us.  And, like Kobe would want, we can be the ones who lights the fire for others.

How Often Should You Use Your Gut Instinct? How About Never?

Why do tests predict job performance better than interviews?  Because interviewers let their “gut instinct” cloud their judgment and introduce lots of related bias. 

This recent article suggests (without any data to back it up) that sometimes we should just trust our gut because it is better at predicting the future than our analytical mind, which is better at predicting the past.  Huh?  Our instant reactions to something make us psychic?

In Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow he summarizes decades of research on decision making.  He describes our fast, “gut instinct” thinking as System 1.  Let’s talk about a few of the reasons why this kind of decision making leads us to poorer decisions:

  1. System 1 thinking is highly influence by irrelevant numbers.  For instance, valuing something at a higher price if the first cost is presented at $50,000 than if the first cost is presented at $25,000.

  2. This level of thinking leads us to make judgments based on how easily we can think of examples.  When we can think of those instances, we give them higher probabilities of occurring.

  3. Our gut is overconfident—it assumes we have more control than we do.  Kahneman explains that System 1 decision making involves only our own experiences, which are a small and does not account for randomness.  Despite the article above saying that our gut instincts are forward thinking, it is just the opposite.  System 1 thinking assumes that what I experienced before is a far greater predictor of the future than it is.

If your instinct tells you that an upcoming decision is wrong, don’t just trust it.  Do some research and/or talk to others and see if you are falling into a System 1 pitfall. 

We rarely have 100% of the data we want before making business decisions.  But, throwing away what we have because going in another direction “feels” better is not a recipe for success. 

Let’s put this in a selection context.  Our gut tells us that people who are similar to ourselves in background and experience are the best hires.  Slower thinking tells us to look at other factors, such as skills and abilities before making such decisions.  And when we do so, we make better hiring choices.

Going with your gut instinct It may sound sexy and empowering, but it is not effective.  Our slower System 2 (per Kahneman) processing system, despite its own set of biases, is more likely to lead us in the right direction.

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.

The Wells Fargo Avalanche

My summer posting hiatus is almost up.  In the meantime, here’s a good read:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/wells-fargos-avalanche-dennis-adsit?trk=mp-author-card

Dennis beat me to the punch here.  5,300 people (at least) doing something wrong is not some individual act of malfeasance, Lucky Patcher for Android.  They only did it because a) they were encouraged/incented to or b) they had little or no fear of getting caught and punished for gaming the system.  That is the product of culture.

Thanks for coming by!

Please provide this information so we can stay in touch.

CLOSE