Does our Approach to Hiring Lack Rigor?

Think about last five people you interviewed for a job, Laszlo Bock suggests in his terrific book Work Rules!, about his time as Chief of People Operations at Google.

Did you give them similar questions or did each person get different questions?

Did you write up detailed notes so that other interviewers could benefit from your insights?

Did you hold them to exactly the same standard?

Did you cover everything or run out of time?

His point?

Our approach to interviewing – and hiring generally – lacks discipline and rigor.

The answer?

“A boring-seeming rubric is the key to quantifying and taming this mess,” Lazslo writes.

Yesterday, we covered the importance of conducting structured behavioral and situational interviews.  

Behavioral interviews are about matching prior achievements to the current job.  Think: “Tell me about a time when…” questions.

Situational interview ask about job-related hypothetical situations.  Think: “What would you do if…” questions.

The next best practice is to score the questions on a consistent rubric.  Each performance level needs to be clearly defined.  Interviewers should rate and then explain their score in writing so later reviewers can make their own assessment.

Here’s an example of what the rubric might look like for a tech support job:

Solid answer: “I fixed the laptop battery like my customer asked.”

Outstanding answer: “Since he complained about battery life in the past and was about to go on a trip, I’d also get a spare battery in case he needed it.”

Google has four distinct attributes that predict whether someone will be successful at their organization:

1: General cognitive ability.  Note: Google wants smart people, but they don’t hire exclusively for smarts

2: Emergent leadership (Drew note: similar to servant leadership)

3: Googleyness

4: Role-related knowledge

Once they identified their four attributes, they began requiring two independent interviewers to assess and provide feedback on each attribute. This written feedback includes the attribute being assessed, the question asked, the candidate’s answer and the interviewer’s assessment of the answer.  

The benefit of doing so?

It allows subsequent reviewers to independently assess the candidate’s answers.

Google has found that four interviews is the right number to optimally predict the success of a candidate in the open role. The Google recruiter does the first interview and focuses on general cognitive ability, i.e. problem-solving and learning, so later interviewers can focus on other attributes like leadership.  

Warning:  Laszol warns interviewers will want to ask their own questions and not want to provide write-ups.

His recommendation:  Don’t give in.

__________________

Reflection: How disciplined is my organization’s hiring process?

Action:  Read Chapter 5 of Work Rules!, and put one idea into action.

Why We are Bad at Interviewing

The first 10 seconds of a job interview predict the outcome.

What?!?

In his book Work Rules!, longtime Google executive Laszlo Bock shares the results from a year 2000 study which showed initial impressions of a candidate based on a handshake and brief introduction correlated strongly to whom was recommended for hire and who wasn’t.

In the study, researchers videotaped real interviews.  “Slices were extracted from each interview, beginning with the interviewee knocking on the door and ending 10 seconds after the interviewee took a seat.”  These clips were then shown to naive observers who provided ratings of employability, competence, intelligence, ambition, trustworthiness, confidence, nervousness, warmth, politeness, likability, and expressiveness.  

For nine of the eleven variables, thin-slice judgments correlated significantly with the final evaluation of the actual interviewers.

The problem?

These predictions formed during the first ten seconds are useless.

It’s a textbook example of confirmation bias: our tendency to search for, interpret, and prioritize information in a way that confirms our beliefs.  We make a snap evaluation in the first ten seconds and then spend the remaining 99% of our time hunting for evidence to confirm our initial impression.  Moreover, these unconscious judgments are heavily influenced by our existing biases. 

The goal with any hiring process is to select people who will be high performers.

In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter published a meta-analysis of how well various hiring assessments predicted performance.  They examined 19 different assessment techniques.

Standard unstructured job interviews are bad predictors of how someone will perform when hired, explaining only 14% of an employee’s performance.

Reference checks?  7%

Years’ work experience?  3%

The best predictor of performance at 29% involves assessing performance on a sample piece of work similar to what the candidate would do in the job. While this approach works for some technical positions, the challenge is many jobs don’t have nice, neat pieces of work we can evaluate a candidate.

The second best predictors of performance at 26 percent are:

(1) General cognitive ability tests similar to an IQ test because they help predict the ability to learn.  

(2) Behavioral and situational interviews.  

Behavioral interviews are about matching prior achievements to the current job.  Think: “Tell me about a time when…” questions.

Situational interview ask about job-related hypothetical situations.  Think: “What would you do if…” questions.

These types of questions give a consistent, reliable basis for finding top talent because top talent will have much better answers.  There is a clear line between great and average.

The other benefit?  Both candidates and interviewers have a better experience and are perceived to be the most fair.

The challenge?  Good behavioral and situational interviews are hard to develop – both writing and testing them.  And, it can be a challenge getting interviewers to stick to them.  We also have to refresh the questions periodically so candidates don’t compare notes and come with prepared answers.

Laszlo tells us: “It’s a lot of work, but the alternative is to waste everyone’s time with a typical interview that is subjective, or discriminatory, or both.”  

The research also shows combinations of assessment techniques are better than anyone technique.  Google combines behavioral and situational structured interviews with assessments of cognitive ability, conscientiousness or “work to completion” and leadership.

Here are some examples of the types of questions Google has used in the past:

Tell me about a time your behavior had a positive impact on your team.

Follow up questions: 

What was your primary goal and why?

How did your teammates respond?

Moving forward, what’s your plan?

Tell me about a time when you effectively managed your team to achieve a goal.  What did your approach look like?

Follow up questions: 

What were your targets and how did you meet them?

How did you adapt your leadership approach to different individuals?

What was the key takeaway from this specific situation?

Tell me about a time you had difficulty working with someone.  What made this person difficult to work with for you?

Follow up questions: 

What steps did you take to resolve the problem?

What was the outcome?

What could you have done differently?

One early reader of Lasslo’s book commented: “These questions are so generic it’s a little disappointing.”

“The questions are bland,” Laszlo replied.  “The answers are compelling.”

One resource to create these types of questions is the US Department of Veterans Affairs website which has dozens of sample questions – www.va.gov/pbi/questions.asp.  

________

Reflection:  What can I do to improve the quality of the people we hire?

Action:  Do it.

How to Build a Recruiting Machine

Google’s hiring philosophy begins with this simple but powerful insight: the best talent is not looking for a job.  

The odds of hiring a great performer on an inbound application are low.

This week we’re exploring Google’s impressive hiring and recruiting practices, as outlined in Laszlo Bock’s terrific book Work Rules!

Job boards like Indeed and Monster produce many applicants but almost no hires.  So, in 2008, Google stopped posting.

What has Google found to be the single best source for qualified candidates?

Referrals.  

At one point, more than half of all Google new hires were referrals.

Then, in 2009, the rate at which Googlers were making referrals began to decline.

So, Google did what we all do when we want to incentivize performance.  They doubled the recruiting bonus from $2K to $4K. 

No movement.

Lazslo writes they learned Googlers weren’t recommending friends, family members and peers to apply for a job at Google to earn a few more bucks.  

Paying a bonus is an extrinsic motivator, i.e. the motivation comes from outside ourselves. Googlers were making referrals for intrinsic reasons.  Intrinsic motivation comes from inside, and includes the desire to give back, curiosity to learn more, and a sense of accomplishment from completing a task.

So, what did Google do?

They gathered groups of 20 to 30 Googlers for “sourcing jams” – essentially aided recall exercises.  

“Who is the best finance person you’ve worked with?”

“Who is the best Ruby programmer?”

When asked about potential referrals, we likely have a few people who come to mind. But rarely will we do an exhaustive review of all the people we know.  

So, during the sourcing jams, Google encouraged current employees to methodically go through their LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ contacts.  When someone identified a possible candidate, a Google recruiter was standing by to immediately reach out to the candidate. 

Jogging people’s memories increased the volume of referrals by more than 1/3.

Wow.

Next, they rebuilt their in-house staffing team which turned out to be significantly more effective and much less expensive than using outside recruiting firms.

Internal Google recruiters generate a list of possible candidates which they then review with Googlers who have subject-matter expertise or may even know the individuals.  If a current Googler knows the candidate, they reach out and make the initial contact. 

Here are Lazslo’s three steps to creating a high-octane recruiting machine:

Step 1: Turn every associate into a recruiter by soliciting referrals.

Step 2: Ask your best-networked associates to spend even more time sourcing great hires.  For some, that may turn into a full-time job.

Step 3: Experiment.

_____________

Reflection:  How might my organization use referrals to generate better new hires?

Action:  Act on these insights.

How to Hire Better

If we want to transform our teams or our organizations, improving our hiring practices is the single best way to do it, writes longtime Google Chief People Operations Officer Laszlo Bock.

It takes will and patience.  But it works.

Google intentionally front loads their investment in people by focusing on hiring right.  Period.  Hard stop.

Yesterday we looked at how Google spends money up front to identify and hire exceptional talent rather than invest in training in a quest to turn average performers into superstars.

Finding exceptional talent doesn’t have to cost more, writes Laszlo in Work Rules!, his excellent book about his years at Google. It does require, however, a radical change in thinking.  It starts with making two big changes.

1: Hire slowly.  At Google, the goal is to hire only the top 10%.  Achieving this goal requires a lot more applicants and a lot more interviews.  

2: Only hire people better than you.  Laszlo writes: “Every person I’ve hired is better than me in some meaningful way.”

Google’s hiring process is intense.  

It starts with the fact that managers do not hire who they want.  In fact, the hiring manager does not participate at all.

What?!?

That’s right.  At Google, to ensure objectivity, the hiring committee does not include the hiring manager. In fact, for leadership and management roles, Google “flips the script” and includes one or two people on the committee who will work for the person being hired. That sends a strong signal.

So, if the hiring manager doesn’t interview prospective candidates, who does?

The short answer is: everyone else. Each Googler spends an average of 1.5 hours every week participating in the hiring process.  Note: up until 2013 when they streamlined the process, Googlers spent 4-10 hours a week on hiring!

Google’s research has shown four interviews are enough to predict whether a candidate should be hired with 86% confidence.  Each additional interviewer only adds one percent more predictive power.

The goal is to maintain an objective standard for every new hire.  To do this, Google gathers varying perspectives on each candidate.  The first contact is done by Google’s professional recruiters who do a robust screening.  

The hiring committee always includes at least one person who is familiar with the job being filled but does not have a direct stake in it.  The goal is to gather a disinterested assessment: someone with a strong interest in keeping quality high across the organization.  Note also: each member of the hiring committee’s input is weighted equally.

The hiring committee compiles a 40-60 page packet on each candidate.  Those who are recommended for hire then go to a group of senior leaders who review the materials.  They are charged with ensuring Google stays true to the high-quality bar set by its founders.  This group meets every week and looks at between 20 and 300 candidates.  They have three options: yes, no, or request more information.

Finally, for many years, CEO Larry Page would have the final say on every – yes, every – candidate.

The message is clear: hiring is taken seriously at the very highest levels.

Throughout, Google focuses on eliminating “false positives:” i.e. candidates who look good in the interview but who don’t perform well.  Laszlo tells us Google would rather miss on hiring two great performers to avoid hiring a lousy one.  

The reasoning?

Because bad performers have a toxic effect on an entire team and require substantial management time to coach or exit.  

If this is true at Google – a very big company – it’s all the more true for us at smaller organizations where awful hires have an even bigger impact.  

“The reality is, there are some employees you should get rid of,” says former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  “But the goal of recruitment should be to have no such employees.”

Should we anticipate obstacles to increasing the quality of our hiring?  

You better believe it, Lazslo tells us.  

Managers will hate the idea they can’t hire their own people. Others will argue the quality bar doesn’t need to be so high for every job.

His advice?  

Don’t give into the pressure.  Having a stringent hiring bar and exhaustive focus on recruiting will transform our organizations.  

_____________

Reflection:  What steps is my organization taking to achieve objectivity in our hiring process?

Action:  Have a conversation around how we might improve our hiring process.

Should We Invest in Hiring Better or Training?

There are two strategies to assemble phenomenal talent in our organizations writes longtime Google Chief People Operations Officer Laszlo Bock:

1:  Find a way to hire the very best talent. Hire 90th percentile performers who will start performing right away.

2: Hire average performers and through training, coaching, hard work, and deep insight into motivation and human nature turn them into 90th percentile performers.  Lazslo refers to this as the “Bad News Bears approach.”

Which strategy is more likely to win?

In his book Work Rules! Laszlo makes a compelling case for strategy number one.  He believes hiring is the most important function of People Operations, i.e. Human Relations. He believes spending money on hiring better will have a higher return than any training program we might develop.

With regard to recruiting and hiring, Laszlo points out most organizations have the same approach.  We post a job, screen resumes, interview some people, and then pick whom to hire.  Laszlo writes: “We find some superstars and some stinkers, but the overall quality of hires is average.”

The traditional approach to hiring is further hampered by the fact that most of us aren’t very good at interviewing. We like to believe we are great judges of talent and character. When we take the time to go back and methodically look at how people actually perform months or years later, the results often tell us otherwise.

Regarding strategy number two, Laszlo believes it is almost impossible to put an average performer through training and turn them into a superstar.  He notes many companies brag about how much they spend on training, which he equates to saying: “I’m in great shape.  I spent $500 on my gym membership!”

Lazslo tells us designing effective training is hard.  Really hard.  He writes: “Some experts say 90% of training doesn’t sustain substantial improvement in performance of change behavior because it isn’t well designed or well delivered.”  

His message?  

Invest is hiring better.

__________

Reflection:  Which strategy is my organization pursuing to assemble phenomenal talent?  (1) Finding a way to hire the best; or (2) hiring average talent with the intention of turning them into superstars through training and coaching?

Action: Identify the last ten people my company or team have hired.  Grade each new hire according to their performance.  Act on any insights.

Loyalty to the Absent

Early in his tenure at Google, longtime Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock recounts in his book Work Rules!, he wrote an email to his manager complaining about someone else on the team.  

Laszlo’s boss added the person to the email string.

Laszlo quickly reached out directly to the person and together they resolved the issue.

When someone writes a nasty email about someone else, the practice of adding the person to the email thread is part of Google’s commitment to transparency.  

It’s also an example of what Steven Covey calls “loyalty to the absent” which he believes is an important driver of workplace culture.

One surefire strategy to reduce office politics is to make it a norm to not say anything about another person that we wouldn’t say if they were sitting in the room beside us.

This practice will reduce the drama in our personal lives, too.

_________________

Reflection:  How often do I say negative things about someone else when they are not present? 

Action: Stop it.

What Makes a Best Place to Work

I was having lunch with a friend.  “So what does it really mean to be best place to work? He asked me.  “Do you have ping pong tables? A beer tap on Friday afternoons?  An exotic health insurance plan?”

It was soon after PCI had been named the #1 midsize company to work for in Texas for the second time by Texas Monthly magazine and the Texas Association for Business (which is determined by surveying associates about how engaged they are at work).

I told him that wasn’t it.

Those aren’t bad things.  They just have very little to do with being a best place to work.

Fortune magazine has named Google the #1 best company to work for in the world seven times.  In his book, Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, longtime Google People Operations leader Laszlo Bock shares if you do a Google search for “google culture” you will see images of beanbags chairs, free gourmet food, and a photo of someone riding a bike through the office.

The implication is that Google is about fun or work-as-play.  Laszlo tells us while there is an element of truth to that, Google’s culture has much deeper roots.

MIT Professor Edgar Schein writes that organizational culture can be studied in three ways:

1: Artifacts – these are characteristics of the organization which can be easily viewed, heard and felt by individuals.  Examples include physical space, the dress code, behaviors of associates

2: Values: these are the beliefs and values espoused by group members Examples include the thought processes and attitudes of associates which deeply impact culture

3: The underlying assumptions underneath the values.  Examples include rules and practices which are not discussed often but understood on their own. 

Laszlo believes people interpret strong cultures based on artifacts because they’re the most visible.  But, the values and assumptions are much more important. In Google’s case, fun is an outcome rather than a defining characteristic.  

_____________

Reflection:  What do I find most inspiring about my organization’s culture?

Action:  Take action today to live one of our values.

That’s Magic.

When Google went public in August of 2004, Google co-founder Sergey Brin wrote a letter in the prospectus for potential investors:

“Our employees, who have named themselves Googlers, are everything… We have been lucky to recruit many creative, principled and hardworking stars. We hope to recruit many more in the future. We will reward and treat them well. We provide many unusual benefits for our employees, including meals free of charge, doctors and washing machines. We are careful to consider the long-term advantages to the company of these benefits. Expect us to add benefits rather than pare them down over time. We believe it is easy to be penny wise and pound foolish with respect to benefits that can save employees considerable time and improve their health and productivity.”

Herb Kelleher, the legendary co-founder of Southwest Airlines, put it another way: Happy employees equal happy customers.

At PCI, that is our #1 business strategy.

Happy Associates = Happy Clients.

We tweaked Herb’s words a bit.  Employee sounds old-school, so we use the word associate.  We prefer client to customer because it suggests long-term relationships.  But the overall idea is exactly the same.  

Every business wants happy clients.  Of course.  The insight is: happy clients starts with happy associates.  Because happy and engaged associates are much more likely to go the extra mile to make our clients happy.  Just common sense. 

In his book Work Rules! , Google’s longtime Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock writes: “All it takes is a belief that people are fundamentally good – and enough courage to treat your people like owners instead of machines.  Machines do their jobs; owners do whatever is needed to make their companies and teams successful.”

In turn, Laszlo encourages associates to think of themselves as founders, which he believes is a mindset, rather than a question of ownership.  

“You are a founder.  Building an exceptional team or institution starts with a founder. But being a founder doesn’t mean starting a new company. It is within anyone’s grasp to be the founder and culture-creator of their own team, whether you are the first employee or joining a company that has existed for decades.”

Building a great workplace culture is a two-way street.  The organization chooses to value its people.  And the people choose to be all-in.  

That’s the formula.  

That’s magic.

________

Reflection:  What is surprising and not surprising about Sergey Brin’s statement?  Does his idea apply to other companies and in other industries?

Action:  Choose to see myself as a founder.

Treat People like Machines?

In his book, Work Rules! Laszlo Bock, Google’s longtime head of People Operations, lists the decisions managers at Google cannot make unilaterally:

Whom to hire

Whom to fire

How someone’s performance is rated

How much to increase someone’s salary or give a bonus or stock grant

Who wins awards for great management

Whom to promote

When code is of sufficient quality to be incorporated into the Google code base

Final decision on a product and when to launch it

Gulp.

So, what exactly do managers actually do at Google, Fortune magazine’s seven-time #1 Best Company to Work for in the world?

“Managers serve the team,” says Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and Executive Chairman. 

A manager’s job is to clear roadblocks and inspire their team.

Which is a great working definition of servant leadership, our leadership philosophy at PCI.  

Servant leadership is a long-term proposition, i.e. you don’t have a meeting, decide to call yourself a servant leadership organization, and then everything is different. But with time – in our case over twenty years – servant leadership has changed how we operate.  

It’s made us a much better company.

__________

Reflection:  What are my underlying beliefs about the people on my team?

Action:  Have a conversation around Google’s philosophies on management.

High Freedom or Low Freedom?

In his book Work Rules!, Google’s Chief People Officer for ten years Laszlo Bock shares information about two Nike t-shirt factories in Mexico.

The first plant gives their workers more freedom. Leaders ask their associates to help set targets, organize themselves into teams, decide how the work would be divided up, and grant them authority to stop production when they see problems.

The second plant?  Not so much. Workers are given strict rules about how the work should be done and are required to stick to their assigned tasks.

The results?

The first plant is nearly twice as productive (150 vs .80 shirts a day) and has 40% lower costs per t-shirt (11 cents vs. 18 cents). The higher profits results in higher wages.  

As leaders, we get to decide: High freedom or low freedom?  Bottom up or top down?  Latitude or command and control? 

Laszlo quotes Peter from the 1999 underground classic movie Office Space: “I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”

That’s low freedom.  At its lowest!

So, why is the low freedom approach to management the norm?

Laszlo hypothesizes it’s because it requires less effort and most managers are terrified of the alternative.  It’s easier to manage a team that does what it’s told.  It’s easier to not have to explain why. There’s no debate. No one disagrees with what we say. No one questions us when things go wrong. 

And, what could be wrong with that?

In this hyper-connected, networked world, the most talented people want to work for high freedom companies. Leaders and organizations that understand this reality become magnets for the most talented people on the planet.

______________

Reflection:  What about the high freedom approach to leadership do I find exciting? What do I find scary?

Action:  Identify one organizational or team policy or procedure that communicates a low freedom philosophy.  Change it.