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Fiorenze on HR management

September 2006
Reenergize Hiring Practices

MOST MANAGERS have come to realize that their most troublesome personnel problems are almost always rooted in poor hiring decisions. Poor performance, employee conflict and countless other workplace problems too often confirm a manager’s “gut feeling” that something was not right, even before the employee was hired.

And with so many experts offering conflicting advice on how to “hire smart,” it’s no wonder that the number one complaint of commercial printing industry managers is the inability to “find the right people.”

Recently, these managers have been swamped by ads and direct mail touting scientific—or scientific-sounding—approaches to the hiring dilemma. The allure of any such approach is that it promises an easy and reliable fix to a complex issue. Proponents of behavioral interviewing, for example, will teach you a formula of questions designed to reveal those candidates most likely to thrive in your work environment.

Psychological assessment testing promises to reveal those best-suited to your production, sales, managerial or executive work environments. Now, “emotional intelligence” assessments promise to help you recognize, evaluate and match an individual’s complex personality traits to equally unique and complex workplace dynamics. It sounds a lot like an online dating service search for “true compatibility”...and, truth be told, it is.

But, like successful matchmaking, successful hiring often requires a more artistic than scientific approach.

Recognize that hiring itself is a critical job function. Like an artist must learn how to use a paintbrush, managers must learn the basic skills necessary to hire quality employees. They must also learn that they will be held accountable for practicing those skills. Accordingly, recruiting/hiring must be viewed by all employees in your company as a valued job function, not a random or ad hoc event.

So, train your managers how to interview and select the best applicants. Observe them in the process to ensure that they are putting these skills into practice. Evaluate them based, in part, on the skill with which they utilize the techniques they are taught. Assuming that the techniques are sound, their skillful application will generally yield the best hires.

Consider a continuous process. Most businesses begin to think about hiring when they are under the gun. An employee leaves, sales are tanking, or some other crisis prompts a frazzled executive to conclude “we need someone immediately.” While some hiring will always be targeted to fill an immediate and unforeseen opening, the best hiring is part of a well-conceived plan, where your business needs are anticipated and available talent is actively recruited to meet a longer term goal, and not a quick fix for an organizational problem.

Toward that end, create a hiring team to evaluate personnel needs (now and in the future) and to create a database of potential hires. Continuously evaluate and enhance your work environment and benefits to assist you in attracting the right talent over the long haul, as opposed to creating a hodgepodge of benefits thought up on the spot to entice a single sought-after applicant.

Start with the basics. When you are hiring for a specific position, start by defining the operational objectives to be fulfilled through the position. The particular job duties should reflect these objectives and the intangible attributes you seek should enhance the job duties.

Is your third shift “lead person” really a surrogate supervisor? If so, leadership and conflict resolution skills are likely just as important as knowledge of your KBA sheetfed press. There is no substitute for effective interviewing. There are many interviewing techniques—and they can all work. The key is finding the techniques that suit you and other interviewing managers.

Know what you’re asking in an interview and why. The job interview should not be a random or haphazard event. It is part of the formal process of employee selection, which not only impacts your business operationally, but has potentially serious legal implications, as well. Your goal is twofold.

First, to find the best person for the position in question. And, second, to stay out of court in the process. Standardized operating procedures or protocols can help. Each manager should be equipped with a basic interviewing guide setting forth questions that will elicit the necessary operational information while keeping the interview process free from unintentional discrimination.

Every question asked during a job interview, starting with the opening personal introduction, and concluding with escorting the applicant to the door, should be asked with a purpose in mind. If you are looking for a detail-oriented, independent thinker, your questions must be framed to solicit this type of information. Usually the key lies in not just asking what an applicant has done in prior positions, but rather how the tasks have been completed from start to finish.

A broad-brushed answer, “I filled the order,” can then be compared with a detailed answer, “I checked the shipping slip against the P.O., made sure it was correct, made sure the date and other information were filled in, completed the inventory sheets and filled the order.”

Before the interview, be sure to ask yourself how the questions you will ask relate to the job functions to be performed or the qualities you are seeking. Make sure you know what the right answer is. It is important for each interviewer to find his or her own depth and comfort level in the types of questions asked and the purposes behind them.

Be prepared with consistent questions. We have worked with some managers not only comfortable with, but truly committed to, asking “outside of the box” questions or setting up unexpected hypotheticals in an effort to escape a “by-the-numbers” interview and gain insight into the true character of their applicant.

Employee Exploration
One manager, for example, no matter the job opening, asks applicants why manhole covers are round. We have found, however, that all things being equal, most industry managers are most successful using a straight-forward interview process that deals with exploring, in detail, the manner in which a candidate would perform a specific job and the various sub-tasks involved.

There are many opportunities, in exploring education and work history, for example, to evaluate whether or not the candidate possesses the intangible qualities you are seeking. Just be sure that your applicant is doing most of the talking. Many managers, uncomfortable with the interview process, are more worried about how impressive they appear to the applicant than they are about undertaking a critical evaluation of a potential employee.

There are easily thousands of interview questions that can be adapted for various job positions filled in the graphic arts industry. However, at a minimum, consider using the following:

n Inquire, in detail, as to the manner in which the candidate performs a given task by asking a job candidate to explain, in detail;

n Ask the candidate why he or she is leaving his or her current job;

n Ask the candidate to identify a specific emergency that had to be handled in a former job;

n Ask the candidate what sort of work environment he or she is looking for and what he or she would need from the hiring organization;

n If the interview is for a sales or other professional position, be sure to ask the candidate if there are employment contracts or any other legal restrictions that would impact on ability to perform the job;

n Be sure to ask the reasons for any gaps in employment history;

n Ask the job candidate for a self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses;

n Ask what, if anything, he or she would change about management at his or her last job;

n Ask if he or she has any questions with regard to the position;

n Ask if there were particular areas of experience or qualifications that the interviewer did not explore, upon which the candidate would like to expand.

Unfortunately, it is a jungle out there. Remember that the entire process of job selection, including recruiting procedures, application forms, job interviews, all of your notes, records, e-mails and voice-mails, are part of a highly regulated legal environment. Every job applicant is a potential plaintiff and everything that takes place during the hiring process is potential evidence.

Too often, a business’ own records are used against it by a plaintiff’s attorney to prove that a job applicant was rejected, not because of job-related qualifications, but for an impermissible reason (e.g., race, religion, disability, age, etc.). No one should recruit, interview or screen job applicants without a basic understanding of the legal environment impacting hiring decisions.

Know the Rules

Fight the urge to give up on the task of dealing with the complex legal compliance aspects of human resource management. Employment law has become tremendously complex over the past 15 years or so, and managers often conclude that there is no point in trying to master the nuances that turn a permissible, operational decision into prohibited employment discrimination. And so, the tendency is to not bother. This approach, unfortunately, can turn your business into a law firm’s client.

The solution is not to turn your managers into employment lawyers—there are enough of us around already. Rather, the key is to institute user-friendly procedures that coach managers through the interview process, teach them how to avoid employment discrimination, and leave behind the type of documentation—also known as future evidence—that will help you defeat employment discrimination claims.

Employees thrive in workplaces characterized by fairness, consistency, reasoned decision making and a well-thought-out management scheme. Employees who join a workforce after experiencing a well-managed hiring process are likely to begin work with a positive outlook and a motivation to succeed.

Coupled with effective management in each aspect of the employment life cycle, a fine-tuned hiring process can be the first step toward creating a management strategy for truly capitalizing on workplace talent. zz

—NICHOLAS FIORENZA

About the Author

Nicholas Fiorenza is president of East Syracuse, NY-based Delacroix Consulting Group, the human resources management consulting arm of the law firm of Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz. For more information, visit www.delacroixconsulting.com.
 

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