In Pursuit of Mediocrity

Most organizations have hiring systems designed to select mediocre talent – and then spend a lot of time wondering why they have so many mediocre employees!

They don’t THINK they have systems designed to achieve mediocrity, but they do, and their blindness to how their system is designed to hire mediocre talent is an indicator of how broken their systems are.

One study I recently saw suggested that you have a 14% chance of making a good hiring choice using traditional interviewing methods; but if you took the stack of resumes, threw them into the air, and snatched one out of the cloud of paper fluttering to the ground, you have a 17% chance of making a good hiring decision. In other words, RANDOM SELECTION will produce better hiring results than the process you are probably using.

You may know that one of the most reliable indicators of who will win a presidential election, based on our almost 250-year history as a nation, is the height of the candidates. reports that in presidential elections since 1888, the tallest candidate has beat the shorter candidate in every single election except for when FDR beat Wendell Wilkie, who was a half-inch taller, and both of George W. Bush’s elections when Bush was a bit shorter than Al Gore and John Kerry. Our clear height bias in presidential elections has been confirmed in studies of organizational hiring and reward systems. One such study suggests that if you have two employees of the same race and gender who have identical education, identical training, identical experience, and identical track record of success, the taller candidate will make $417 more per inch of height differential. No one really believes height (or any of our other biases) has anything do to with performance, but the brutal reality is that these unacknowledged biases really do cause us to make poor hiring decisions.

Jim Collins says one of the first things an executive must do to hire great talent is to acknowledge that they are incompetent at hiring great talent (and yes, he was talking about you and me). A few key steps will help you begin pursuing excellence instead of mediocrity in your hiring processes.

  1. Rethink your rules for hiring in at entry level.
    Many organizations require hiring managers to go through all sorts of hoops to hire above bottom of range. Rarely is great talent found at the bottom of the range. If your processes make it harder to hire exceptional, by definition you are encouraging your organization to hire mediocre.
  2. Use validated psychometric assessments to understand the candidates better before hiring.
    For example, great customer service is delivered by people with personality styles which exhibit empathy, who are good listeners, and who authentically care about meeting the needs of other people. All of which are easily assessed in psychometric assessments. Improving our customer service is as easy as using psychometric assessments, which measure the very things we want in the person we select. We must quit relying on our intuition (and hiring the taller candidate) and instead use the tools that will help us actually hire excellence!
  3. Implement behavioral interviewing processes instead of traditional hiring processes to produce better indicators of how the employee will actually perform, not just who has the best resume.
  4. Require all interview panelists to receive behavioral interview training within the previous 12 months.
    Just as with any other core competency, being a great interviewer doesn’t just happen — it requires training and equipping to do it well. Hiring is the single highest risk activity the typical manager engages in. It deserves more preparation than just putting it on the calendar.
  5. Always use at least two interviewers of equal stature to bring different perspectives and insights through which to evaluate the candidates.
  6. Place an emphasis upon reference checks and have someone who has been trained to conduct effective reference checks do them.
    It is still true — the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Yet, reference checks are typically rote exercises which yield very little meaningful insights because they are conducted by individuals with no training or expertise in this critical step of the process.

The stakes are too high to keep pursuing mediocrity in the way you are doing business!

Ron Holifield

Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources

3 responses

  1. All good suggestions.
    I will suggest 3 more:
    1) Look through the applications and resumes yourself, and select the “1st cut” yourself; don’t let a computer select the first cut from among candidates who accidentally or intentionally included the right “buzz words” on their application;
    2) Hire Attitude and Excellence, not specific skill. Steven Jobs would have had great difficulty getting hired as a government I.T. Director because he had “never done it”. No, he had never done government I.T., he had done excellent I.T. Which do you want ?
    3) The most insightful interview question (Jack Welch, Disney and Southwest Airlines agree) is “Tell me about your last 3 jobs and your last 3 bosses”; then listen, not for what they say about their job skills and experience, but for the attitude and tone that they exhibit regarding whether or not they “liked, enjoyed, respected” their last 3 job experiences. What they feel about those experiences is the same thing that they will be feeling and exhibiting about your organization in 6 months, should you hire them.
    David Childs, Ph.D.

    1. Great suggestions, David!

      A lot of people rely too much on the resume. Attitude, demeanor, and other intangibles have equal importance.

      Thanks for you comment.

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