There was an interesting article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, “Microsoft CEO Search Reveals Board
Rifts.” The big question was if Microsoft’s next CEO should be a
product visionary or someone who can effectively manage a global business with dozens of moving parts. To me this is the wrong question; running the business and developing extraordinary products are both required. By defining the job
before defining the person, the assessment then involves how the person hired
would accomplish both tasks.
Earlier this year, I saw an ad for Facebook’s VP of Human Resources. It
listed a bunch of experience requirements interlaced with some generic
responsibilities and hyperbole. To me this is backwards. It’s far better to
define the job before defining the person. If a person has successfully
accomplished something similar, he or she has exactly the level of skills,
experience and academics required. The worked required to be done determines the
skills needed, the skills needed don't define the work required.
I’m amazed that 80-90% of the job descriptions listed on LinkedIn or found on
Indeed.com still emphasize experience, skills and academics. Yet 80-90% of the
people who get promoted internally into these same spots don’t have the
experience, skills and academics listed as required for someone hired from the
outside. What they have is something far better – a track record of performance
that indicates they can take on a bigger role in the company. Not surprising, by
assessing performance rather than skills, the probability of their success is
more predictable, too. There is no reason the same performance-based process
used for promoting people internally can’t be applied for external hires. It
can, by defining the job before defining the person.
When I first became a recruiter in the late 1970s, the idea of using
skills-infested job descriptions made no sense. It still makes no sense. Since I
had a background in engineering and manufacturing, for those early assignments
I’d just take a tour of the plant with the hiring manager and have the manager
identify the things the person hired had to fix, improve or upgrade. Once these
were defined, hiring managers had no problem agreeing to assess candidates based
on their past performance accomplishing similar tasks. Not surprising, the
people hired achieved the objectives as defined. More surprising, they all
possessed enough of the skills and experiences required to do the work, but they
were rarely in the mix or level described in the job description.
Over the next 30 years we successfully used this same concept for finding,
assessing and hiring people in all types of jobs ranging from camp counselors at
the YMCA, to mid- and senior management positions at companies of all sizes and
in a variety of industries. The only common prerequisite to success in all of
these assignments was the need to define the job before defining the person. In
the late 1990s, the Gallup Group published their Q12 criteria for maximizing
employee performance in First, Break All the Rules – What the
World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Number one on the
list: clarify job expectations up front. Google recently “discovered” this same
management secret as part of their Project Oxygen, defining what it took to be a
great Google manager.
It seems obvious that if a company wants to hire people who are both
competent and motivated to do the work required, they need to start by defining
the work required. Yet somehow this basic concept is lost when a new job opens
up. Instead of defining the job, managers focus on defining the person. The end
result is not a job description at all, but a person description. This limits
the selection pool to a narrow group of people just like the people the company
has hired in the past. By default, this precludes expanding the company’s
diversity hiring program or raising the company’s overall talent level.
The common excuse for retaining the status quo is compliance: the government
makes us do it. This is hogwash. As part of the research for my latest book,
The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting
Hired, I asked one of the top labor attorney’s in the
country, David Goldstein from Littler Mendelson, to review the idea of using
performance objectives to define the job, rather than skills. Here are a few of
his comments (you’ll find his full report in the book):
By creating compelling job descriptions that are focused on key
performance objectives, by using advanced marketing and networking concepts to
find top people, by adopting evidence-based interviewing techniques, and by
integrating recruiting into the interviewing process, companies can attract
better candidates and make better hiring decisions.
A properly prepared performance profile can identify and document the
essential functions of a job better than traditional position descriptions,
facilitating the reasonable accommodation of disabilities and making it easier
to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws.
Focusing on “Year 1 and Beyond” criteria may open the door to more
minority, military, and disabled candidates who have a less “traditional” mix of
experiences, thereby supporting affirmative action or diversity
Hiring a more diverse and talented workforce starts by defining the work
required for success, not the skills, experiences and academics needed to do the
work. This is not rocket science, just commonsense, but apparently commonsense
is not one of the skills required for hiring people.
Originally Posted On: LinkedIn By: Lou Adler
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