Illustration by Nikki Muller
This is the third of my three-part series of articles on how to make great hirings.
To recap, hiring great people is the responsibility of every senior leader. Why? Because it’s the single most deliverable competitive edge. If hiring great people is as tough as everybody says, you have the decision to make—succumb to this excuse, or use it to leverage your own position. While others blame the market, lack of resources, or find excuses for their struggles, this is a great moment for you to step your hiring game up.
Previously, I suggested ways for your hiring process to succeed. At the heart of this is a bespoke company method that you can build, develop, and refine until you have a model that works every time. Success will depend on collecting data and having an evidence-based approach. But what do we mean by that? Well, it’s about accumulating information in the broadest sense of the word and weighing it accordingly.
Understandably there will often be resistance:
“But hang on, we’re hiring people, not building an algorithm, aren’t we? This all sounds so dry and lacking in emotion. I need to look into the eyes of candidates and like what I see. Chemistry matters: they must feel like the right person. I want to imagine working with them, knowing they’ll fit within our culture. They need to understand the way we do things around here. We run panels of interviewers who combine their experience to select the best candidates. We want to know about their personality and what makes them tick. What is their background and their passion? We want to judge their fitness, energy, and compare with what we require. Data alone can’t do that!”
Of course, I hear you: and these are very important factors. But there are several compelling reasons you should not rely on observation alone for hiring. Namely: it doesn’t really work that well.
Remember the statistics in my previous articles? Here’s a reminder. Up to 50% of new hires leave within two years and many others underwhelm: in these unfortunate cases, neither party lived up to expectations.
Although companies may run deeply flawed recruitment processes (probably in the loosest sense of the word) they believe what they do is as good as it gets. There’s no belief in a better way—they don’t know what that looks like. Consequently, they stay with the process they know.
Nobody likes to think they have a “tick box” mentality. We all consider intuition and gut feel are of overriding importance. We believe we “know it when we see it”—but with hiring, we don’t. We just think we do. And we apply a disproportionate weight to our feelings. We selectively assemble any data or information we’ve collected to support our case. We collaborate with colleagues and convince them we know what we’re doing. This is why the hiring failure rate is so high: buried in our DNA is the very necessary requirement to make snap judgments. It started with fight or flight. But over thousands of years, the triggers for mental shortcuts have continued to grow. We just can’t help ourselves—we love judging people on what we see before us!
No one is immune. You would think medical panels would be the gold standard in hiring, being composed of highly-qualified professionals who can make life-saving decisions. Yet I’m afraid it isn’t always so. There is much evidence to suggest that confirmation bias and groupthink are very much at play. Of course, medical candidates undergo rigorous tests to ensure the data produced accurately measures suitability. Yet the influence of the interview panel, usually the last part of the process, often trumps the collected facts. So much so that the evidence is ignored, misused or portrayed as insignificant. Because when the esteemed panel sees someone they like, they appoint them. Their opinions are often weighted far and above that of the data. (This is why “blinded interviews” have been suggested to reduce this type of bias.)
Given the choice between a data-driven decision and a human opinion, you should take the data route, every time.
Of course, human contribution is critical in the hiring process. But it’s important that bias is acknowledged and that personal views are weighted and capped to arrive at the best possible decision—not for it to take an overriding precedent in who gets hired.
To do this successfully requires the leadership team to acknowledge their imperfections and rethink what they currently do. Executives who embrace this thinking will avoid the traps of bias and misuse of data and evidence. They will recognize facts are there for a reason and that hiring is the competitive advantage that can only be realized by embracing an evidence-based process that works nearly every time. Only then will you have the best possible chance of building a model that provides your company with a significant edge over the rest.