He´s gonna get the job done!

How many times I´ve heard this phrase from hiring managers during debrief meetings at the end of interviewing a candidate for an open job. It´s a relief when you hear it. We finally found the person to fill the open position and, hopefully, get the job done. Hallelujah!

get-it-doneHowever, getting the job done it’s only one – and a very basic – aspect of what a company should look for in a candidate, especially if the position we are trying to fill is at a management level, or is a critical position for the company, or it´s a position that should help the holder to grow and develop in the organizational career path.

A few years ago only, we were suffering to find the way to predict whether a person had the potential to grow and develop a long term career in the organization. We tried different ways: leadership skills, past performance, among others. We finally arrived to a concept that extensive research tries to demonstrate it´s the best predictor of future performance in new or unusual situations: learning agility. The methods to assess learning  agility have evolved. These range from multirater assessments based on different factors or “agilities” to self-assessment tests that result in a rating or number or in a more comprehensive explanation of the potential and the gaps. In any case, I can sympathize with the researchers in the affirmation that only a learning agile person will have more probability of success in new and unusual situations than a person whose ability to learn fast and broadly is limited. It sounds like a no brainer. However, after many years of using these assessments I still doubt that a single test can tell us a complete story about the ability of a person to learn, to cope with change, to deliver results against the odds, to embrace diversity and focus on people, and to be self-aware about their own strengths and weaknesses. Nothing, I believe, replaces observation, so that we can assess an individual´s learning agility though the collection of experiences, interactions and results.

So the question is: how do we assess ‘ agility to learn if we never had the chance to observe their work, their interactions, their self-awareness, their results? Do we have to settle and accept that we will only be able to assess their suitability for the job that is open, and even then take the risk that at the first time they have to face with an unusual situation they will fail? This is undoubtedly the biggest flaw of recruitment. Most hiring managers are not willing to invest time and money in long recruitment processes that could provide more and better chances to collect the observations needed to predict future performance. They want to fill the job. In the end, most hiring managers hire for themselves, not for the company, and because of this they just want to have a person who gets the job – the one open now – done and move on.

When I joined the workforce, over 20 years ago, I started as an intern. It wasn’t just a summer job, it was a 6-month full-time job that got me to know every aspect of the function, every manager and many, many basics of how a professional life looks like. Conversely, my managers had the chance to see me in action, to observe and appraise my skills, to look how I handled pressure, how I juggled multiple priorities and how I interacted with others in the company. They could do that because they had me there, working full time, in a real job, for 6 months. When they decided to hire me as a permanent employee, they made that decision with enough information, with concrete measures about my performance and with a comprehensive view of my behaviors and skills. We don´t have that luxury anymore. Many companies don´t want to invest in longer term recruitment process like an internship. These companies consider an intern a hassle, a favor to the educational system and a waste of their time and money. I challenge these companies to show the results per hire, say in the first two years, versus those companies with structured internship programs used as a source of new employees. I´m too lazy to do the research just for this post, but I’m pretty sure the latter will show a much better picture than the former, and this would extend to engagement and loyalty. I´m also sure, but I will give others the opportunity to proof me wrong, that the ROI of hiring new employees through internships or having them as contractors for a limited period is surprisingly favorable compared to the total cost of hire and rehire of new employees coming out of a traditional meet-me-and-know-me recruitment process.

Can we apply a longer term recruitment process to a open position at a executive level? Maybe not. But we could include steps in which the candidate has the chance to display his or her abilities in a more realistic setup. For example, a candidate for a management position in my company meets with an average of 6 interviewers during the process. What if after the sixth interview is over, we invite this candidate to participate in a meeting with the six interviewers to discuss a critical business topic. Leave outside the room the interviewer mode, just get in the room with your other five colleagues and the candidate and have a conversation about a topic that could be in the realm of the candidate’s knowledge or interest and see what happens. Or, if this is still too stiff or formal, invite the candidate to a dinner with the six interviewers, no agenda, no structure, just let it be and see what happens. Maybe the more casual setting helps uncover the real “me” of the candidate. In the end, these are critical jobs to fill, and you may want to fill them with people that you will eventually consider critical players in your team. Don’t waste the opportunity to know them more and better. Remember, you are not just hiring someone to get the job done, because when it´s done you´ll have a new and bigger problem.

HR? Seriously?

It was that call. I was desperate. A month before that call I had finished an internship at a reputed consulting firm in my home country. I had a nice salary for an intern, and at my 23 years I was at the peak of my social life. During this period  I could spoil my girlfriend and myself with things that many of my friends couldn’t even dream of. It was a great year but, like any internship, it came to an end and with it, my great salary, my social intensity and my self esteem: I was actually fired. In other words, the consulting firm decided not to extend my contract or hire me as a permanent employee. I cried, I admit it, but only for a couple of days. After that I went on with my life: I started my last semester at college, played soccer and hung out with my friends. I happened to be in the middle of a long break with my girlfriend that would last a whole year. I also started to actively try to find another job. I was actually looking for a new internship: in my home country, then, you had to start from the bottom of the corporate pyramid, and that was as intern. Which in reality was as slave, doing the most basic things nobody else wanted to do.

I sent resumes to dozens of companies I had become familiar with during my time at the consulting firm, where I had the privilege of working in the department responsible for the most popular salary survey of that time. I got to know which companies had the best and the worst salaries, and with this a few other interesting insights about the working environment, the business performance and the organizational culture.  Nothing of this however rang the HR bell in my head. Although my main contacts in each company were the people in the HR department, my background as industrial engineer and my career aspirations helped me deny any possibility of building a career as an HR professional.

Until I made that call. Among the many companies to which I sent my resume, there was one I was especially attracted to. This company was behind many of the most frequently consumed products in my house. My mom used to give us these products, I could see them sitting on the pantry´s shelves, with their shiny labels. I always liked them, so I thought “if this company can make these products, with such good and sustained quality over the years, it must be a good company to work for.” I never doubted this thought. In fact, after 20 years as a professional I still think this is true, with some caveats, of course. But this is a topic for a future post.

Back to the call. After I sent my resume to this company, I dHRGuy 1ecided to call my main contact in the salary survey I used to work on during my time at the consulting firm. She was a very nice lady, with a maternal tone that put me at ease immediately. I dared to insist with her in giving me an opportunity to interview for whatever internship job they may have. I wasn’t sure there was any, and the nice lady only asked me what my preferred areas to work in were, so she could further investigate about an opening that matched my interests. She would call me, she said. Of course that call never came. Well, it never came within the eight working days I waited until I gave her another call. Did I say I was desperate? On my second call, the nice lady told me in an almost apologetical tone that there was only one opening for an intern, and that it was in the HR department.         [long silence].        I guess the silence lasted several seconds. I can’t recall whether the nice lady asked me if I was still there. What I do remember is that my brain was spinning fast, trying to first understand what an HR intern was all about, and second whether I should take that opportunity even though I could’t understand what an HR intern was all about. It was a decisive moment, a career milestone. “Okay”, I said, “I will interview for the HR internship”. After many years, and with the perspective that only some degree of professional maturity gives to a person I got to think that the HR department in this company was so infamous that they would have hired any applicant with an average IQ and no HR experience whatsoever. I forgot to mention that I showed up at the interview walking on crutches, after I severely sprained my left ankle playing soccer. I still want to believe that this pitiful situation made no difference in the decision to hire me.

So this is the story of how I became an HR guy: it was by mistake. I wasn’t supposed to work in HR. I didn’t even know what HR was when I decided to work in this department. I won’t say the classic cliche about how a wonderful mistake this was. I’m not that romantic – or that stupid. I can say though that HR is a fascinating an ever changing profession. It has given me many great moments and experiences, but it has given me also a lot of headaches, and I had many disappointments too.  I plan to write about all of these things here, with a hint of humor, so it can make an article about HR stuff a little bit more digestible, if that’s at all possible.