Recently we had a discussion with an organization about where to place pre-employment assessments in the hiring process.  Some recruiters felt that the assessments should be at the end of the process after the candidate had been reviewed and interviewed by a recruiter.  Other recruiters felt that the assessments should be at the beginning of the process.  They are objective, calibrated against performance, and always available given online access.  In our experience, letting pre-employment assessments handle the “heavy lifting” to filter candidates at the beginning of the process has more value and better predictive results. 

An interesting article in the Harvard Business Review confirms this approach based on an analysis of 17 studies of applicant evaluations.  In the May 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Nathan Kuncel, David Klieger, and Deniz Ones discuss their analysis and the results which show that an algorithm, or equation, outperforms human only decisions by at least 25% when it comes to candidate selection.  

The results below show the percentages of above-average employees hired through algorithmic systems versus human judgment.  The results below represent improvement over chance. 

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 The authors also discuss additional research they conducted with Brian Connelly of the University of Toronto. The authors concluded that “people are easily distracted by things that might be only marginally relevant, and they use information inconsistently. They can be thrown off course by such inconsequential bits of data as applicants’ compliments or remarks on arbitrary topics—thus inadvertently undoing a lot of the work that went into establishing parameters for the job and collecting applicants’ data. So they’d be better off leaving selection to the machines.” 

What do you think?   

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Pre-employment hiring or talent acquisitions consists of six functional processes that drive towards the goal of finding, hiring, and keeping new employees.   

Each function sets the stage for the next one.  Planning identifies who to recruit.  Recruiting puts a call to action message in front of those potential new hires.  Screening filters the candidate pool, while selection tests them to see if they “can” and “will” do the job.  The offer process attempts to gain the “sale” and the on boarding process welcomes them into the organization.  The most successful talent acquisition teams leverage data, process, and results tracking to drive quality of hire improvement.   

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But many talent acquisition professionals do not have a decision-based approach to help manage day to day responsibilities unlike other business functions.  For example, the science of finance helps the accounting function make better decisions.  The science of marketing helps drive better sales function results.  But many human resource groups do not have a science-based approach that helps drive better results by understanding how hiring links to performance improvements on the production floor.  That gap is painfully felt in the talent acquisition process.  To achieve great hiring results, the process needs to be managed and executed by setting metrics and then managing relentlessly towards those metrics to improve your quality of hire. 

One business process analogy to use is supply chain management.  Supply chain management is about getting the right materials and products to production and the point of sale at the right time. The talent acquisition process is similar but our experience shows that most supply chain process owners are more concerned about the inputs, rather than activities, into the process that impact the organizational outcomes like reliability and failure rates.  Supply chain managers constantly seek measurements of the process that provide feedback on how to improve the process.   

In our experience, many talent acquisition organizations don’t track the inputs, outcomes, and process improvement like this.  Many hiring organizations are only concerned with activities.  These activities may include sending out an employee referral flyer or posting jobs to the local unemployment office.  They are busy but the activities are not tracked or linked to performance outcomes.  Unlike the supply chain model which links inputs to quality outputs, accountability in the hiring process is limited.  Imagine what an automobile manufacturer would say if 65 percent of the sourced parts were defective. 

To improve your talent acquisition process, consider thinking like a supply chain manager and organize your pre-hire model around key processes, data, and results.  The chart below provides a comparison between supply chain models and talent acquisition models. 

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Source: Supply Chain Council. 

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If you are considering moving top performers home as either a reward or to pilot a home agent model, you Blog_Post_2_-_Graphic_1should consider evaluating them for the home agent role.  Just because they are successful as a brick and mortar agent does not mean they will be successful in the home agent role.  In our experience, many organizations move employees home and then see deterioration in performance because they are not fit for the remote agent role.  FurstPerson research, as noted earlier, shows that competencies required for successful brick and mortar performance are not the same competencies required for successful home agent performance.  This demonstrates that agents who are successful working in brick and mortar customer care positions might not have the same success if they performed their jobs from home.  An agent’s success in their brick and mortar location may not have required him or her to demonstrate autonomy or perseverance or time management to the extent that he/she would need to in an at-home environment.  Contact center organizations should therefore take care to ensure that agents being sent home (often as a reward for successful brick-and-mortar performance) are actually equipped for such an environment; otherwise, what is intended as a reward may actually be setting the agent up for failure.

Before moving agents home, ask the following questions:

  • Are they the self-motivated ones that strive to out-perform their peers and their own historical performance because of the satisfaction it brings them, not the praise they may receive from others?
  • Are these the “low maintenance” call center agents? Do the supervisors give them little supervision or direction to complete their job responsibilities? Will this still be true when they work-at-home?
  • Do these call center agents typically learn new systems, platforms, or programs more quickly than others
  • Do they have a natural interest in technology and can therefore help (not impede) remote trouble-shooting?” 

Sending successful on-premise agents into an at-home setting without evaluating their readiness for such an environment is like promoting the best agents to supervisory positions without assessing their leadership potential. Certainly on-premise agents can be successful in the at-home space, but if you don’t evaluate their potential for success specifically in that environment, you might be setting them up for failure by sending them to at-home jobs. 

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When you are hiring for a home agent role, you are first hiring for a customer care, support, sales, loyalty, or collections role.  You must first understand if the candidate fits the hiring profile for these jobs.  Then, you must understand if the candidate can perform the job while at home. 

Contact center jobs consist of abilities, skills, motivations, and behaviors.  FurstPerson research, based on nearly 3,000 subject matter expert (supervisors, incumbents, trainers, and managers) surveys from 16 countries and five continents, uncovered 15 universal competencies (see chart below) that are important to success for six of the most common contact center jobs (customer care, inbound sales, technical support, customer retention, collections and outbound sales), regardless of whether the job is performed in a home or traditional office.  These 15 competencies reflect personal responsibility, effective communication, emotional control, as well as comfort with change, technology, and simultaneous work activities.

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Note:  B&M = Brick-and-Mortar contact center environment; W&H = Work-at-Home environment; N/A = no data available.

These 15 competencies are important for both brick and mortar and work-at-home jobs.  However, a job candidate that possesses these competencies still needs to also have the right behavioral and motivational make-up for work at home.  The same FurstPerson research also confirmed that autonomy and time management are two competencies that rate as more important for performance in an at-home environment than in a brick and mortar contact center. 

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This makes perfect sense, of course.  At-home contact center agents are often working alone, without supervisors and co-workers observing their activities (though their performance is usually monitored remotely).  Several other customer care agent competencies were also rated higher for home agents than for brick and mortar agents:  Perseverance, Multi-tasking and Detail Orientation.  Again, these are all characteristics and skills which one would assume to be important for an at-home agent to be successful in their job. 

Successful customer care agents working in brick and mortar centers must often share many of the same skills and abilities as those in home-based environments.  With regard to behavioral competencies in particular, FurstPerson research shows that the most successful customer care agents in both brick-and-mortar and at-home environments are those who demonstrate compliance with rules and policies.  But some key competencies for one environment are not necessarily the same as those for the other environment.  When you are hiring customer care agents for a brick and mortar site, finding candidates who demonstrate accountability and openness to feedback in addition to their other key competencies will likely improve their chances for success in your organization.  In comparison, candidates who show themselves to be more autonomous, detail oriented and able to manage their time well may outperform other agents in an at-home environment. 

Thus, the most successful agents in any customer care role will be those who demonstrate the key competencies best suited not only to the customer care job itself, but also those best suited to the particular environment in which they will work.  Taking both factors into account will increase the chances of finding agents who best “fit” your particular customer care role, which can lead to higher overall performance, lower levels of attrition, and a competitive edge in the war for talent. 

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Recruiting speed and hiring for quality are two of the biggest challenges facing firms that employ frontline customer contact employees.  By quality of hire, we mean the organizational standard that defines satisfactory job performance.  By recruiting speed, we mean how fast the hiring process can move a candidate from point of contact through the pre-hire and onboarding processes to an accepted job offer.

Though the economic downturn has seen increased unemployment and created more job candidates seeking work, these challenges still remain.  Despite the downturn, companies continue to hire frontline service, sales, and support employees.  Even with significant unemployment, the challenge stills exists to find individuals who can be successful working in frontline service, sales and support jobs. 

Many companies hiring customer contact employees get stuck in a dangerous place – the intersection of a slow recruiting process and low quality of hire.  These companies do not have a measurable understanding of their internal quality of hire and the recruiting process is cumbersome.  They enter a high risk area – only able to hire candidates that represent a lower quality of hire.  The goal is to avoid the high risk area of slow recruiting speed and low quality of hire.

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Why does quality of hire and recruiting speed matter?  FurstPerson experience shows that the best qualified candidates find jobs faster.  As the chart below shows, the best qualified candidates tend to find jobs within 5 days.  As the recruiting speed slows, the labor pool of higher-quality candidates sourced for this position will shrink, wasting time and money, while the best candidates find other positions.

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Research published in Personnel Psychology  (“The Effect of Job Offer Timing on Offer Acceptance, Performance, and Turnover”by William Becker, Terry Connolly, and Jerel Slaughter) discusses how job offer timing can impact job acceptance.    The article found that job offer timing can impact overall job acceptance.  While the study did not review hourly workers, their research concluded that job seekers are more likely to accept employment offers made earlier in the company’s hiring process than later.  In other words, extending the offer as soon as possible is better than waiting.

Companies hiring frontline customer contact employees but lacking competitive hiring processes risk losing job candidates to those organizations that can define and identify high-quality candidates quickly and have a faster recruiting speed, allowing them to present the offer early in the process.  Looking at it another way, as the chart above demonstrates, if your recruiting organization can identify how the job candidate meets your quality of hire requirements and do it quickly, you have the first choice of candidates.  If not, you may be faced with candidates that don’t meet your performance standards resulting in selecting candidates that are not the best job fit for your position.

Leading customer contact organizations achieve fast recruiting speed and quality of hire evaluations by pushing proven (i.e. predictive) hiring processes into automated, objective systems that are calibrated against key performance outcomes and linked into an integrated employee lifecycle.  These organizations do this by leveraging the following:

 

  • They use a quantifiable job analysis process to systematically identify the key knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors (competencies) associated with the job in order to perform satisfactorily.  This enables the hiring team to target who they want to hire.
  • Based on the job analysis, they use pre-employment assessment tools before an interview to qualify the job candidate.
  • The assessment tools, which include work samples, problem solving assessments, and personality tests, are calibrated against specific job performance results so that an objective and predictive pass/fail decision can be applied automatically against each candidate. 
  • They understand that in hiring for a customer contact job, assessment tools tend to be more predictive at measuring job performance than the results of a traditional interview.  They are certainly much better than traditional screening questions like education, work history, and other standard knock-out questions.
  • Since recruiting is (and should be) a contact sport, the interview is structured and based on the job analysis. The goal of the interview is to reduce variance and structure it so that it is predictive of some job performance.  Because candidates have been filtered, recruiters can focus on the better qualified candidates, saving them significant administrative time.
  • The entire process is web-enabled and linked to key performance systems, which means the process gets smarter as time goes on.

Hiring hourly workers in customer contact positions will always be challenging.  Customer contact organizations that understand their recruiting processes and candidate qualification processes can make the right changes to improve overall hiring speed and quality of hire accuracy.  This can create a significant competitive advantage in the local labor market as well, by getting the right talent into your organization faster.

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Smart hiring managers know that to find the right employees for their organization, it’s important to look beyond an applicant’s basic technical skills.  They also need to evaluate and measure candidates’ behavioral competencies.  Beyond the job description, which lists the specific tasks, functions and responsibilities for a position, competencies are the skills, abilities, or other behavioral characteristics needed to successfully perform the tasks, functions and responsibilities of a position.  These can include specific technical skills such as typing speed or computer ability, or more behavioral skills or characteristics such as stress tolerance or adaptability.

Understanding the relationship between job competency and the skill sets of an individual are vital if the right person is to be placed within the correct working environment.  When job competency is not properly evaluated, either in the behaviors required by the position, or in the abilities of the applicants for the position, the end result is often negative for both the corporation and the employee.

We’re going to look at one job family, Customer Service, as an example.  For simplicity, we’ll also just focus on customer service in a contact center environment but the same approach can be applied to customer service in retail, hospitality, etc.  In this example, we’ll define one competency and discuss how to measure that competency during the pre-hire process.

To understand competencies, it is helpful to ask your hiring team some questions:

  • What competencies does a new hire need to demonstrate in order to be successful on the job?
  • Do these critical competencies differ by function (sales, collections, customer service, and technical support)?
  • Do these critical competencies differ by environment (in-office, remote, field, corporate)?

For Customer Service jobs in contact centers, compliance is consistently rated a critical competency by subject matter experts.

In general, compliance means conforming to a rule, such as a specification, policy, standard or law.  In psychology, compliance refers to the act of responding favorably to an explicit or implicit request offered by others (Cialdini, R. B. & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-621).  In a contact center, compliance often takes the form of following rules, policies, and guidelines and can be measured in a number of ways.  When attempting to evaluate a job candidate’s likelihood of demonstrating compliance on the job, an organization can use work samples or job simulations that require or prompt rule-following behavior, for example, or they may utilize a questionnaire or self-report measure (often a personality assessment) to gauge the candidate’s tendency to follow rules.  When attempting to evaluate a customer care agent’s level of compliance on the job, an organization may examine objective metrics that relate to following rules or policies, such as attendance, absenteeism, tardiness, or schedule adherence, or they may ask supervisors who regularly observe the agent’s behavior to evaluate the extent to which the agent demonstrates compliance on a day-to-day basis.

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When building a high performing hiring process, one of the first tasks is to define the job.   Sometimes this is referred to as a job analysis.  A job analysis is the most comprehensive way to understand specific “can do” and “will do” components of your service, sales, and support job.  Conducting a job analysis should be part of your pre-employment process.

According to "Testing and Assessment: An Employer’s Guide to Good Practices", published by the U.S. Department of Labor, a “job analysis is a systematic process used to identify the tasks, duties, responsibilities and working conditions associated with a job and the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics required to perform that job."  George Thornton III in Assessment Centers in Human Resource Management provides some of the output from a job analysis.

The job analysis provides:

  • A list of the competencies needed to be assessed
  • Examples of behaviors that clarify the competencies
  • Suggestions as to the types of exercises that resemble job situations
  • Suggestions for problem content to be used in the exercises
  • An indication of the level of proficiency required for the competencies
  • Standards for scoring applicant performance in the exercises
  • Documentation of job-relatedness of the assessment process (for use in the event of a lawsuit)

Conducting a job analysis requires several steps:

  • Plan your process, resources, and timeframe
  • Gather and analyze all current information about the job available in the organization (descriptions, ads, training materials, performance plans, etc.)
  • Choose a representative sample of job holders
  • Gather demographic data on the job holders
  • Gather information from the job holders' supervisors
  • Gather information from the senior managers
  • Establish a preliminary list of competencies
  • Obtain ratings of the importance of the competencies
  • Select and validate the final list of competencies

 You can learn more about building a better hiring process with our infographic – 7 Steps to Better Hiring.

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