Using pre-employment assessments in your hiring process can generate real business results. This Screen_Shot_2014-10-06_at_4.41.58_PMincludes reducing turnover, improving new hire performance and developing a better understanding of your hiring process.  

While some companies consider assessments too costly, every $1 investment in pre-employment assessments can yield $5 or more in return. Three terms your team needs to know to build a solid foundation for pre-employment assessment success: job analysis, validation, and reliability.  

Job Analysis 

A job analysis is a process of systematically collecting information about a job that specifies what it takes to perform that job well. This involves observing employees on the job, understanding the tasks that allow someone to complete the job, and how those tasks relate to successful performance. 

A job analysis helps you understand job competencies – the abilities, skills, and behaviors – needed to perform job successfully.  Every job is made up of a combination of competencies. For example, competencies for a customer service representative job would include computer skills, multi-tasking, stress tolerance, dependability, oral communication, etc.  Breaking a job down by well-defined competencies helps you describe and measure it.  

Validation  

Based on a statistical process, validation is the extent to which an assessment measures what it is intended to measure. It’s directly derived from identifying how scores on an assessment link to job performance. 

Understanding the relationships between assessment scores and job performance is important for compliance. If you face a challenge – from a government entity or a legal proceeding with an employee – you need to be able to show that you defined the job through job analysis. You also need to demonstrate that your hiring process relates to actual job performance 

Reliability  

An offshoot of validation, reliability is how consistently a test measures a characteristic. You want to ensure your assessments generate reliable results over and over.  

From a compliance standpoint, you need to ensure your assessments reliably measure characteristics that link to successful job performance.  

It is possible to come across assessment tools that do not provide the same results when measuring candidatesBe sure to test for reliability when evaluating and developing assessment tools. 

As the use of analytics becomes more popular, there is growing trend towards using only statistical analysis to create a hiring processPurely looking at the intersection of two data points to create an assessment may not be enough. You need to understand the full story of why someone will be successful and demonstrate the reliability of your assessments in your hiring process. 

Commanding a strong understanding job analysis, validity, and reliability will help you develop a hiring process that not only reduces turnover and improves productivity, but also meets compliance standards and increases the defensibility of your hiring process 

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What do organizations that continuously field great employees do in their hiring process?  Well, job simulationsprofessional sports teams, orchestras, and Broadway musicals require everyone to audition for the job.  Common to each of these types of organizations is the desire for excellence.  To help them ensure they will deliver a product that pleases their fans, they will typically require all potential team members or performers to audition for the job.  Unlike traditional interviews, which are all about “tell me” what you can do, auditions or simulations require potential future employees to “show me” what you can do.

For recruiting leaders hiring customer service, sales, or support employees, using a simulation can help you measure key job skills and abilities.

Realistic multi-media simulations allow job candidates to play the part of a fictitious service, sales, or support representative while auditioning for a job from anywhere in the world. This gives hiring managers a realistic preview of a candidate’s skills, such as computer, multitasking and data entry skills. Leading simulations have evolved from minimally interactive situational judgment tests to microcosms of service economy jobs, complete with training, interactive dashboards, timers, and branching that allows candidates to escalate or deescalate a customer’s emotional response based on how well they manage the interaction.

Simulations provide a company’s talent acquisition team benefits in five ways:

  1. Recreate job tasks critical to the performance required in any given job which provides you with an improved way to measure the candidate.
  2. Assess an applicant's aptitude for learning how to perform tasks required on a given job before they are hired.
  3. Assess a candidate's present ability to perform job related tasks by linking simulation performance to actual job performance using predictive analytics.
  4. Provide applicants with a realistic preview of critical job tasks so they have a better understanding of the job requirements and duties.
  5. Create an engaging candidate experience which promotes your employment brand. 

 

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0 to 90 day turnover is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations that hire hourly workers. Think of frontline service, sales, and shutterstock_118727401support jobs in contact centers, retail, hospitality, field services, and quick service restaurants.   

While turnover cost may range, FurstPerson has found that many CFOs are comfortable with using a variable cost of $4,500 per term for frontline hourly workers.  So, if you have 500 employees and 50% turnover, attrition costs your company $1.1 million per year. 

Potential Causes of Early Stage Turnover 

Our research and experience has shown that new hires leave during the first 90 days for one or more of the following reasons: 

  1. Candidate recruiting and sourcing strategies are weak and prevent the organization from developing a pipeline of better qualified candidates. For example, too much emphasis is placed on traditional sourcing via newspapers and job fairs. This leads to a job candidate pool of unemployed and underemployed individuals that have a history of job hopping.

  1. The job was not clearly explained to them or was oversold. For example, schedule requirements are glossed over and not clearly explained.  Once the new hire understands the actual requirements, they end up quitting.

  1. The new hire does not have the right work ability to perform the job. For example, they cannot multi-task and then struggle during training leading to either poor training performance or voluntary turnover.  FurstPerson data shows that candidates who struggle with poor work ability contribute significantly to “no call, no show” turnover. 

  1. They have poor prior work habits which leads to poor future work habits. The job candidate’s past behavior and experiences provide an indication of future turnover risk. 

  1. They cannot manage the interpersonal requirements for the job and leave because these requirements are overwhelming.

  1. The new hire’s interests and attitudes do not match the required job preferences resulting in a poor job fit. 

  1. The new hire is assigned to a Supervisor who lacks coaching and leadership abilities and behaviors. 

  1. Hiring process decisions are made based on casual observations or gut feel instead of predictive, data-driven analysis. 

These turnover factors show up at various risk points during the first 90 days of employment.  A systematic pre-employment hiring process focused on each potential cause of early stage turnover can help organizations reduce 0 to 90 day attrition.

                                
Potential Turnover Cause
Employment Risk Period
Solution

Candidate recruiting and sourcing strategies are weak and prevent the contact center organization from developing a pipeline of better qualified candidates.

0 to 30 Days

Shift recruiting sources away from traditional strategies like newspapers and job fairs.  Focus on internet based sources and employee referral programs.  A critical element is how the recruiting team executes on these programs, not just having the program.  You should also consider maintaining an "always-on" recruiting process so you have candidates in your pipeline.

The job was not clearly explained to them or was oversold.

0 to 30 Days

Implement a checklist that is reviewed by the recruiter and the job candidate.  The checklist covers each critical element about the job.  Both the candidate and the recruiter sign it at the conclusion of the visit.  The checklist forces clarity with the candidate.

The new hire does not have the right work ability to perform the job.

0 to 30 Days

A job simulation can help you measure a job candidate's ability to learn and apply new information while completing mock job scenarios.

Not only does a job simulation have a strong degree of face validity, but it can measure competencies (multi-tasking, computer navigation, decision logic) that are hard to evaluate elsewhere.

They have poor prior work habits which lead to poor future work habits.

0 to 30 Days

A biographical data assessment can systematically review competency factors like dependability.  These assessments have been proven to reduce early stage turnover. 

A strong review of work history via an application blank can eliminate those candidates that potentially may not meet your needs.  One caution is to over-emphasize work history at the expense of competencies.  By over-emphasizing work history you can potentially shrink your labor market.

They cannot manage the interpersonal requirements for the job.

31 to 60 Days

A behavioral phone interview, simulation, role-play, or in-person interview should help you evaluate the job candidate against these criteria.

A job simulation can specifically provide the job candidate with an immersive experience of performing the job giving them the chance to exit.

Personality assessments can also help you determine if the candidate has the right interpersonal competencies to be successful on the job.

The new hire's interests and attitudes do not match the required job preferences resulting in a poor job fit.

31 to 60 Days

A job related personality assessment can measure job fit and job preferences.  FurstPerson has found correlations between personality assessments, job tenure, and operational performance.

The new hire is assigned to a Supervisor who lacks coaching and leadership abilities and behaviors.

61 to 90 Days

Spend even more time evaluating your Supervisor candidates against the job requirements to be a Supervisor.  A strong frontline performer doesn't necessarily become a strong team leader.

Person to person role play scenarios can be effective at evaluating candidates for Supervisor roles.  Round out the hiring process by using problem-solving tests and personality assessments.

Hiring process decisions are made based on casual observations, gut feel, or emotions.

0 to 90 Days

Incorporate predictive, data-driven analysis to make initial selection decisions and validate that these models provide incremental improvement in the hiring process.

 

Each of these solutions can help reduce the potential turnover cause in your organization. The collective use of these strategies increases the probability of making the right hire.  

In summary, many HR leaders that employ sizable frontline worker populations accept turnover as just the cost of doing business. Real world applications of key hiring strategies have demonstrated that early stage attrition can be reduced. Reducing 0 to 90 day attrition by 20% or more is not uncommon. The key is to apply best practices embedded in solid research and analytics. The return on investment can be substantial. 

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Towers Watson recently released their 2014 HR Service Delivery and Technology Survey. The Towers Watson survey shows that spending on HR products and technology is increasing for the first time since 2011.

The top three areas for HR technology spending, according to the survey, include:

The investment focus in HR Data and Analytics is notable. Unlike other corporate functions like IT and Operations, HR has not had the analytical tools and decision science to easily quantify investment opportunities.  Technology, through improved software tools and reduced cost of data, is changing this.  For HR leaders responsible for pre-employment hiring and assessment, investing in HR Data and Analytics is important for three reasons:

 

  1. Investing in HR Data and Analytics will help create transparency.  This allows HR leaders to gain visibility into processes and results that used to be murky.  For example, which recruiters deliver the highest candidate quality?  Are the most engaged employees also the best candidates?   Which trainers take similar talent pools (i.e. new hires) and get superior results compared to their peers? The result – HR Leaders will be able to better justify additional investment in HR tools and services.
  2. You will gain improved monitoring by investing in HR Data and Analytics.  HR Leaders will be able to monitor the inputs and outputs to their pre-employment hiring processes and post-hire processes to track progress against benchmarks and be alerted when goals are not met.  For example, monitoring the steps in your fill rate process will allow you to compare the number of candidates meeting your quality of hire thresholds compared to your benchmarks based on historical data.
  3. HR Data and Analytics tools allow you to forecast the future.  Using historical data and current trends, HR leaders can ask “what if” questions to determine potential business impact.  As an example, consider the impact on revenue performance by being able to adjust the pass rate during the assessment process.  With the right analytics portal, you will have candidate data, current scoring model data, and performance data.  Tweaking each of these inputs will allow you to compare the trade-off of a lower pass rate, recruiting impact, and revenue gain to see if the change is sustainable in your business.

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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.

 Blog_post_1_-_Graphic_1

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. 

 Blog_Post_1_-_Graphic_2

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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