More and more employees in frontline service, support, and sales jobs are required to use technology to be able to complete their job tasks. The use of this technology requires multi-tasking ability. For example:
- Consider the contact center agent that needs to navigate 15 different screens, listen to the customer, enter data about the interaction, and suggest resolution to the customer’s issue or;
- Think about the retail employee using the hand-held computer to look up inventory levels of a product while escorting you to the aisle where it is located or;
- Consider the field service employee using a tablet to manage the order, log details about the problem, access technical information to solve the problem, and explain the problem to the homeowner while updating the order status and reviewing the next job.
When we interview an organization to understand their hiring challenges, a common concern is how to measure multi-tasking during the pre-employment process.
What is multi-tasking?
A job analysis is typically developed and used in best-practice implementations of pre-employment testing systems. A job analysis requires interviewing subject matter experts who perform the job daily and subject matter experts who manage others who perform the job.
Based on these survey responses, multi-tasking is defined as: Processes information quickly and manages several tasks simultaneously
Examples of these task items might include:
Simultaneously asks questions, listens for information, responds to the customer, and enters data and notes into the system, to complete the interaction within transaction time targets.
Navigates efficiently between legacy systems, reservation systems, Internet, and email, to access information quickly.
Checks email regularly for updates.
Works efficiently in order to complete up to 150 interactions per day.
Completes documentation while with the customer, if possible, to make the most effective use of work time.
Why is multi-tasking important to the customer contact environment?
Increasingly, working in a customer contact role requires working on a number of tasks at the same time with greater frequency of task-switching. While each job will vary, multi-tasking ability has become more important over the last five years.
In our view, multi-tasking is a foundation competency because it influences the ability of the frontline employee to incorporate other critical abilities and behaviors during the customer interaction. For example, if the frontline employee is struggling to manage two tasks at the same time, he or she most likely won’t be able to focus on the customer’s problem resulting in a poor customer interaction and experience.
How can multi-tasking be measured?
When we discuss how to measure multi-tasking, we focus on the pre-employment evaluation of a job candidate. How can the hiring manager confirm that the job candidate has the “right amount” of multi-tasking ability to meet the job requirements as set forth by the job analysis findings?
From our review of the definition of multi-tasking, we know that multi-tasking ability involves multiple processes happening at the same time. Therefore, measuring multi-tasking requires an assessment that can evaluate many tasks at the same time. Specifically, we want to think about the number of tasks, the time interval of the tasks, and the frequency of task-switching.
For example, a traditional behavioral interview does not allow the hiring manager to evaluate the job candidate’s multi-tasking ability realistically. The hiring manager could ask about multi-tasking during the interview, but to evaluate the candidate’s true ability requires a job try-out or audition. If you were casting a Broadway musical, you probably wouldn’t ask the prospective performer about her singing ability and just hope for the best. You would make her sing. The same approach can be used to evaluate candidates for customer contact roles.
These days, technology is making it easier to measure multi-tasking ability. Job simulations or automated work samples can provide effective measures to measure multi-tasking. In our experience, using automated work samples have shown significant results in measuring multi-tasking. In addition, the realistic job preview they provide to job candidates is beneficial to the hiring organization.
When selecting an assessment to measure multi-tasking, you should consider the following important factors:
The test should require minimal training in order to be successfully completed.
The test should not require any domain knowledge to be completed. This is especially important for customer contact roles when the hiring organization wants to be as inclusive as possible with the labor pool.
The test should require the candidate to draw on his or her prospective memory. Research has shown that individuals with better multi-tasking ability are also better able to use their prospective memory. Prospective memory refers to tasks that require retrieval and execution of an intention at an appropriate time or combination of circumstances, usually while another task is being performed. (Dodhia and Dismukes)
The test should measure multiple events or tasks at the same time.
The test should be objective.
What results can be achieved by measuring multi-tasking during the hiring process?
Job experts tells us that multi-tasking is important, but what kind of business results can hiring individuals with better multi-tasking ability generate? Our experience has shown that adding the evaluation of a job candidate’s multi-tasking ability during the hiring process can help increase early-stage retention and improve new hire job performance overall. Retention improvement and better new hire job performance can generate substantial financial payback to organizations.
As was discussed earlier, the critical reasoning behind this is that a new hire with adequate multi-tasking ability can focus on training, the customer, and problem resolution more clearly. New hires with lower multi-tasking ability fumble through training and struggle managing the customer interaction.
Multi-tasking ability has been linked with the following critical performance metrics:
New hire job retention