I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how the National Football League (NFL) had to adapt their selection procedures to deal with the pandemic. To recap, the NFL selects new players primarily through a draft of eligible college football players. Leading up to the draft teams review the players’ performance in previous games, have them go through physical examinations, athletic drills, personality and cognitive tests, structured interviews, and background investigations. However, with COVID-19, the NFL ruled out many of these things for health reasons.
It is much too early to tell if the slimming of the selection tools impacted the effectiveness of any team’s draft. However, there are two observations that can be made:
- The order of the most talented players chosen was pretty much what was expected by experts back in January. 26 of the first 32 players drafted were predicted (by one expert), with 7 of the first 8 going to the predicted team as well. This is pretty typical.
- The lack of some the selection tools appeared to hurt those who attended smaller and/or not as well-known schools. Typically, about 18 players from such schools are taken in the draft. This year, only 6 were. With a lack of information, teams may not have known, or wanted to take a risk, on such players.
For the latter, this is not a case of re-arranging crumbs. Some of the best players in the NFL have come from these schools, so the teams lose a competitive advantage when they don’t properly identify relatively unknown talent.
What we saw is easily explained: Past performance is the best (but not perfect) predictor of future performance. The teams could evaluate how well players from the bigger schools performed against similar talent in college. The NFL did not have, and did not develop, tools to uncover the best players who did not have the opportunity to play against other very talented players. So, they relied on what they knew best. But, this resulted in opportunity costs for them and created a slew of players with chips on their shoulders.
Since this selection event takes place once a year, it is likely that the NFL draft will (largely) return to normal next year. But, what if it doesn’t? Or, in the future there is another interruption? The teams that find alternative (and equally valid) methods of evaluating talent will benefit. Your company should be thinking in the same vein during COVID-19 and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already affected businesses large and small. While as of this writing it is unclear we (in the US) are closer to the beginning or the end of business restrictions, we can safely assume that some businesses will not be bringing back all of their staff when the restrictions are lifted. This will lead to some tough decisions that have legal and performance implications. Since I’m not a lawyer, I’ll focus more on the latter.
In an idea world, companies have processes for measuring performance. Where objective measures are used, they are relatively free of environmental conditions. Where managers rate performance, they are relatively free of bias. If these represent your company, then you have an easy way to bring people back—top down based on their performance. Note that collective bargaining agreements may render any other process moot as they may have last in, first out provisions.
Let’s say for a moment that your evaluation processes don’t live in the land described above. Then what? Here are a few suggestions:
- Think about how the business is going to look as things recover. What parts will stay and which ones may go (or be dormant for longer)? This will help you think about the skills and abilities you’ll need in your staff.
- Have managers rate employees on the skills and abilities described above NOW. The longer you put it off, the less reliable the ratings.
- Be explicit about how the ratings match up with the work to be done. It is always important to document these kinds of decisions.
- Use the data from the managers to develop a recall list. That way you are bringing back the people who will help the business most first. This will help in retaining your best people if you begin rehiring before others.
You should also be thinking now about how you are going to communicate the re-opening process to your employees. There may not be enough data now for you to craft a message now, but HR should be considering different options so that when decisions are made they can be communicated quickly and effectively.
COVID-19 is, and will continue to, affect many parts of our work processes. One of them is how we select new employees. Yes, even with layoffs some companies are hiring now and most will be again before the end of the year. With social distancing and the acceptance of video-conferencing, we are beginning to accept that how we select candidates will change.
This does provide for a process improvement opportunity in what we do. Are all of the current steps we use necessary or are some based on myth? For instance, the National Football League is going forward with their big selection weekend at the end of the month, but there are concerns from those who evaluate the candidates that they do not have access to the tools that they normally would in doing their final rankings. I am guessing that they will find that some of those tools are for making people feel important in the process and do not really add a lot of value in finding meaningful differences between players. You may find that some aspects of your process are redundant or done for the sake of tradition rather than adding value.
Here are some selection traditions that we are going to have to let go of for a bit and the silver linings associate with the changes:
- Face to face interviews. Whether social distancing is officially with us for four more weeks or four more months, the hesitancy to be physically close to others will likely be with us for a while. People are becoming more comfortable and adept with video calls and we should continue to utilize them. Silver lining: In areas with heavy traffic, the video calls are easier to schedule for both parties.
- Virtual assessments. Whether it is for skills and personality testing, or role-plays, assessments have been moving online for several years and the current situation will likely convert some who have not yet made the switch. Silver lining: giving these assessments online is very efficient. The reduced cost improves their business impact and will make it easier to process candidates when hiring picks up again.
- Being ultra-professional. Being interviewed or assessed online was a way to put one’s best professional foot forward. Doing so from home, with kids and pets around, is going to chip away at the veneer. Silver lining: While I feel for the candidate who is trying to respond to a question with a barking dog in the background, I do think that interviewees will bring forth more of their authentic self. Whether this leads to a more valid process is an open question. But, hiring managers and HR will have a better idea of the “real” person being hired.
In HR we often talk about implementing change, but this is a time where we also need to be the leaders of it in our own areas. Let’s skip the denial of what is happening and ditch the resistance to new ways of evaluating candidates. I think we will be pleasantly surprised with the results.