Defining What Success Looks Like
Imagine that you’re hiring for a vacant role and have a set of questions you consistently ask of all candidates. You intentionally developed them to align with your expectations for the role. That’s fantastic! Taking the time to identify job-relevant questions that you’ll ask each candidate is an important step. But there are still two more important pieces if you want to consistently hire people who will perform beyond expectations, fit your culture, and stay with your company long-term.
Let’s first use dating as an example. Think of a first date you’ve been on. Afterwards, you might have shared what happened on the date with a trusted friend – things like what you and your date talked about and how he or she behaved. Based on your takeaways from the date, did you and your friend reach similar conclusions about what this meant for the date’s potential as a long-term partner?
Next, let’s use a topical example. As of this writing, the next U.S. Presidential election is about a year away. We’re in the process of a series of debates and a litany of interviews, videos, and written materials provided by each Presidential candidate. If you were to talk with your trusted friends and family members about your opinions on the competencies and skills that are critical for a candidate to be successful as President, would everyone agree? My guess is that there would be some variability in regard to opinions about what it takes to be successful as the President of the United States.
With these two examples in mind, let’s jump back to interviewing and into the shoes of a hiring manager. You’re evaluating candidates’ on their ability to solve problems quickly, work and operate within your standards for performance, and their ability to communicate and build relationships across the team. All candidates have finished the interview process and have been asked the same set of questions. However, you find that the interviewers on your team have distinct impressions and differing opinions regarding which candidate to hire for the position.
What happens now? How is it that your team (or your friends and family members from the previous examples) can arrive at different conclusions regarding a job, date, or presidential candidate? Differing values are one opportunity for disagreement. You may each place emphasis on different qualities because you hold different definitions of what success looks like.
Perhaps while you were impressed with a job candidate’s ability to take control of difficult situations and drive change, your colleagues were concerned she wouldn’t invite collaboration from others when tackling those challenges. After that date, maybe you were turned off because they haven’t spoken with their parents in months, but a friend tells you it’s not a big deal. And as for the presidential candidate your father keeps talking about, you wonder if all that focus on income and wealth inequity could be better directed toward other issues.
Finding agreement over a job candidate begins with finding agreement over the values that will guide your decision and define success. This is easier said than done if we’re talking about ingrained personal values. Fortunately though, we have a mutual interest in reaching agreement over organizational, regional or departmental values for the sake of achieving mutual goals. To do so – and ideally even before evaluating your candidates – you’ll want to define the competencies, or performance dimensions, most critical to the role so that you know from the beginning what you’re looking for.
DEFINING JOB-RELEVANT COMPETENCIES (or PERFORMANCE DIMENSIONS)
Competencies are clusters of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes, distilled down to the elements that are essential for the job and the organization. By defining competencies, you establish a shared definition of success for your team. This is foundational for making sound and legally-defensible hiring decisions and developing your people to build bench strength.
Competencies allow you to build consistent and scalable processes for hiring like interviews and assessments. This can help you ensure you’re consistently executing your intended stakeholder experiences across departments, regions, and locations. You may have competencies that specifically define the knowledge, skills, and behaviors for delivering your intended customer experience. Your interview and assessment questions can gauge candidate potential on each of these – with set and agreed upon standards.
At this point, let’s say you’ve collaborated with your team and have agreed upon the competencies critical for job success and culture-fit. You’ve written questions that address those competencies. The next step is to make sure everyone knows how to evaluate candidate responses. Even though your team may now be in agreement about what competencies are important, they may disagree on what a good response entails.
Customer service is a great example. Let’s say your vision of customer service involves empathy and relating to customers and their unique needs and concerns. Questions should evaluate candidates’ potential to connect with customers and respond to their unique needs and concerns. You might ask candidates to describe a situation where they had to deal with an unusual customer request, or how their approach for establishing rapport with customers.
To evaluate candidates against those culture-defining characteristics and minimize error in evaluating responses and decision making, we develop criteria to evaluate their responses. These criteria take the shape of behavioral anchors or indicators that guide us in determining how favorable or unfavorable a candidate’s response is. They provide specific examples of language, ideas, current behaviors, and past actions to help us in the evaluation process. They’re part of the framework of the competency-based interview and they’re invaluable.
To accompany the aforementioned questions, you might have the following to help guide you and other interviewers when rating candidates’ responses. The competency is defined for reference and you have a list of positive and negative indicators to listen and look for in candidate responses.
In addition to helping prevent the misinterpretation of criteria, indicators help ensure candidates are consistently evaluated against the same standards. We tend to immediately think about consistency across interviewers. But consistency is just as relevant for one interviewer.
There are many shades in between a good response and a bad one. Without indicators, even a single interviewer is prone to flip flop on nuances across candidates. Let’s say you’re questioning candidates about how they’d react to an irate customer. Your ideal response entails an apology. Your first candidate states she would say “I’m sorry” to the customer, and you rate her response as favorable. Your second candidate does not explicitly say these magic words but does “express regret,” which doesn’t sound like an apology and you rate her response as unfavorable. Several interviews later, your candidate states they would “express regret” and you forget you previously rated that unfavorably – and you rate them as favorable since now you’ve decided that could be interpreted as an apology.
It’s nearly impossible to keep track of how we rate all of those idiosyncrasies over several candidates. Without a means to categorize each nuanced response, we lose those valuable variations that can ultimately amount to the difference between endorsing a candidate or not. Add to the mix our human proclivity to make quick judgments and broad inferences about people based on a few characteristics, and who knows which way the scales may tip.
A behavioral framework not only gives us specific anchors to guide us in rating candidates, but also helps us focus on behaviors. It’s tempting to make generalizations about people. Every day we must make snap decisions about our environment and the people around us. Our brains want to conserve precious energy because otherwise we’d be absolutely exhausted carefully weighing each piece of information about each person we encounter. Instead, we make inferences like “he seems nice” or “she’s a jerk.” But inferences about a person or their personality based on our instincts are prone to error.
Using specific behavioral anchors leads to consistent, scalable interviews that put everyone on the same page. Everyone across your teams, departments, and even regions is evaluating candidates to the same observable standards.
While you might not want to bring a behavioral checklist to accompany you on your next date – or force everyone at the dinner table to define a set of competencies to resolve a political discussion, you can use such techniques for hiring. When it comes to defining the terms of success for your job candidates, using interview questions and criteria developed from a collective foundation of competencies that reflect your culture is the best method to consistently selecting the people who will perform the job to everyone’s standards, fit all the nuances of your culture, and ultimately stay with your company.