Valid Virtual Employee Selection

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Can Tech, Workers, and Burgers Co-Exist?

One purpose of technology is to make labor more efficient. This was not news to the inventor of the first wheel or the latest and fastest micro-chip. Western society has been pretty comfortable with this because it really makes things go faster and has eliminated some very physically demanding jobs. Of course, tech also creates higher paying jobs (though not as many) than the ones that get replaced. But, where do customers draw the line?

This article describes the effect that tech is having on McDonalds. Note that this is the only description of the issue I’ve seen online, so I’m a bit skeptical of the premise that this is the reason people are quitting work at McDonalds at higher rates than before, especially considering the low unemployment rate. There are those who think that this kind of automation is being driven (or at least accelerated) by local minimum wage increases. However, automation has always been designed to reduce labor, so that’s not a big surprise.

Yet, Walmart is appearing to be having the opposite experience with tech in its stores. I think the big difference is that the impact of the technology there is to allow employees to focus on what they already do well rather than leading to a change in necessary skill sets.

New tech always has growing pains and I am sure that fast-food chains will get this figured out pretty quickly. The bigger questions to me are:

1) Whether they will understand that they have changed the cognitive complexity of the jobs, and therefore need to change their hiring practices.

2) If service is really part of the equation for fast food customers.

When you change tech in any job, you need to change organizational behavior to adapt. Part of this equation is training, but the other half is ensuring that your selection systems are still valid. This change has led to an increase in behaviors such as quickly shifting between ways people can order while maintaining attention to detail. This requires a somewhat different skill set than handling one order at a time using one process. The tech won’t work as well if you do not have the people who can run it correctly.

As for the second question, the U.S. economy is filled with examples of service employees going away. Whether it was the transition away from pumping your own gas to checking out your own groceries, we are pretty good at serving ourselves. This leads me to believe that the increasingly automated fast food restaurant will be here more quickly than you think.

Should HR Use Social Media Blinders?

Every couple of weeks I come across some sort of article or opinion piece about whether or not HR departments should use social media sites when recruiting or selecting candidates. The articles usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Of course you should, dummy! Any data is good data. How can you pass this up?
  • Using social media data is a one-way ticket to court and is immoral! Every bias companies have is out there and you’ll be discriminating against people, whether you want to or not.

The latest one that caught my eye was definitely in the second category. Not surprisingly, the author uncovered research data that showed that certain information found on social media would bias employers. Sort of like everything we know about how information about race, age, gender, religion, etc in resumes and interviews leads to bias. No surprises here.

People who think all social media information should be ignored seem to have this idea that HR departments spend a lot of time snooping candidates’ social media. Maybe some do, even if to check work history on LinkedIn, but that attitude strikes me as paranoid.

We do know that social media activity does correlate with personality traits which are predictive of job performance, so there is likely some valid data out there. My biggest issue with using social media to recruit or make selections is the self-selection bias. Not everyone uses social media or uses it in the same way. So, while there might be predictive information within a sample of candidates (those active on social media), it is less reliable for the population of candidates (everyone you may be interested in, whether or not they are active on social media).

As with any selection tool, you’ll want to make the playing field level. If you want to read about candidates’ business history, let them know that you’ll be taking a look at their profiles, connections, etc on LinkedIn (where they’ll have their “professional” face on). If I’m hiring for a programmer, you can bet that I would be interested in the open source code contributions they have made.

We’re at the tip of the iceberg as to what valid information can be gleaned from social media. By the time we find out, the platforms we use now are likely to be obsolete (what, we can soon use more than 140 characters on Twitter?). But, the “rules” for using social media information should be the same as any other selection tool:

  • Is what you are looking for job related?
  • Is the information gathered reliable, or just one person’s opinion about what it means?
  • Would the information potentially have adverse impact against protected groups?
  • Is this really the best way to learn whether the person possesses that knowledge, skill, ability, or personal characteristic?

What, if anything are you doing to evaluate candidates online?

For more information about valid selection methods, contact Warren Bobrow.

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