Too many organizations rely on “hope,” or just play the numbers game until they find their next top performer. If you work for a Fortune 1000 company with plenty of financial and human resources, this may be an acceptable practice. However, if you are a small insurance agency, you can’t afford to roll the dice and hope for the best.
Every hire you make is a strategic one for growth when you are small or growing. The truth of the matter is it doesn’t matter if you work for a $1B company with 10,000 employees or a $300,000 company with a team of 2, hiring your next top performer is crucial to the continued growth and success of the company.
The difference between hiring excellence and hiring mediocrity is the selection process and, mainly, the interview process. However, the focus and attention for most agencies, and frankly the “talent” industry, is not focused on the interview and hiring process.
There is an abundance of recruiters, agencies, job boards, applicant tracking systems, and other resources that help bring the available talent to the door. There are also countless numbers of training programs and organizations that help business leaders train and develop the talent once in the door. Unfortunately, the disconnect is often in the middle and the most crucial part of the process,
The interview and selection process.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that talent acquisition or recruiting isn’t important. A consistent pipeline, or “bench,” of good candidates is critical to the future success of the company. As the agency grows, there is always going to be a need to fill positions due to expansions or promotions. There will also be the need to replace employees that sometimes leave for reasons beyond your control, such as life events or that unbelievable opportunity that you wouldn’t even turn down.
Similarly, training and development is also crucial for the success of any talent. Professional development for employees will help improve employee effectiveness and/or efficiency, and may also increase employee engagement and happiness.
Unfortunately, where many companies and agencies fail in the talent department is the gap in between. It’s often not because they did not invest time and money into recruiting or training and development. Many companies spend tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on one of both areas.
However, if you examine many of the leadership development training programs, they don't focus on or even reference the importance on how to interview and hire for excellence and success.
I look at the process of hiring a top performer the same way a sports team does when recruiting for top players. A great GM of a team not only looks for great players, but also at how the player will fit into the goals of the team. How many times have you seen a team loaded with superstars that flop and never get off the ground?
In contrast, how many times have you seen a team without big names make a major run and take a league by surprise? You can have a great coach, you can even have unlimited financial resources to pay a player, but if the player or players are a bad fit for the team, the coach, or the environment, the team will not thrive.
The difference between a dynasty and a flop often comes down to the selection of players. Great dynasties have great front offices that not only help recruit, but select the best available players that will fit into the overall plan of the organization. It is then up to the coach to develop the players and the team to succeed. This is true for agencies of any size.
Perhaps the reason I am so passionate about this topic is because I have spent 20 years interviewing, hiring and leading sales talent for Fortune 1000, Inc. 500 and startup companies, as a hiring manager. I actually started my career and spent 7 years as a headhunter.
The one thing I learned over the years is "if you hire hard, you manage easy."
Good people make you look good.
Throughout my career, I have witnessed the failure of many companies and sales teams because of poor interview and hiring processes. The majority of the failures were actually with large companies with vast amounts of resources. Some of these companies spent tens of thousands on recruiters and testing during the interview process, but still managed to hire poor performers. They also had the assistance of an HR department throughout the interview process. All of these are luxuries that most small agencies simply don’t have. So why did they still fail?
Many hiring managers are promoted or placed in their positions with minimal to no training and experience with interviewing and hiring. When I was a recruiter, I had direct feedback from candidates after interviews that initially shocked me, until it sadly became a norm due to the frequency of occurrence.
Hiring managers used questions that ranged from illegal, to hostile, or to no interview, where the hiring manager spoke the whole time.
In order for an organization of any size to succeed, a hiring manager must know and understand how to interview effectively. This means asking the right questions, understanding why the questions are asked and understanding what the right and wrong answers are. More importantly, the hiring manager must first know what their true needs are for their specific situation before they even begin recruiting and interviewing.
The interview process does not have to be overly complex. In fact, many of the interview techniques taught today are overly complex for the typical hiring manager or small agency. The goal is to utilize a simple, consistent and effective process that everyone follows in the agency.
I developed a simple 5 step process over the years called, Hire4Excellence℠ to help agencies and businesses establish a foundation for a consistent and effective interview process. The 5 steps of Hire4Excellence are:
Step one: Mindset
The process of selecting and securing top talent starts with the proper mindset.
Some agency owners and hiring managers view interviews as a disruption to their day. Unfortunately, screening resumes, interviewing, and hiring a new employee does take up time which can take away from the day to day. However, as discussed previously, hiring top talent can mean the difference between great growth and a major set back.
Interviewing should be viewed as a top priority and not a distraction. Also, the process shouldn't be rushed just to "fill the seat." To be fair to yourself and your employee, a position should never be filled with a warm body. No matter how big or “little” the job may seem at the time. Even a part time receptionist can set your business back significantly if he/she gives your business a bad first impression to potential customers by answering the phone poorly.
Take the time to do it right.
Step Two: Foundation
A big part of foundation is knowing who you are. Specially, who you are as a business. Do you know your resources, such as: human, financial, training, support and other key resources?
For example, if you're seeking to hire a producer, but you know you are limited with financial resources. You cannot offer a competitive salary like the big agencies in your industry. Knowing that ahead of time, will allow you to focus on the type of talent you can afford, but still be effective.
Even though, you may be limited in your ability to hire top talent within the industry, you will still be able to hire a great candidate with a good skill set that can be trained and developed into a key player. You would just have to invest a great deal of time into training and development.
You may be able to retool your compensation to include equity or other benefits so you can lure top talent even without the pay.
Knowing who you are also means that you know how you operate as an owner or a hiring manager who will be managing this employee. For example, if you are a control freak, and I mean that in a good way, and like to manage every detail of this new employee’s day, you may not want to hire someone that is very entrepreneurial spirited and likes to work independently.
On the other hand, if you are running a start up, and work in a great deal of ambiguity, you do not want to hire someone that needs a great deal of direction or has a hard time operating in the unknown.
Knowing this upfront, will help you and your new employee save a great deal of time and frustration which may ultimately end up with the termination of employment relationship.
Bottom line, you need to know who you are and what you need. Do not get distracted by the shiny object or person. Rather, know exactly who you are, your limitations, and what you offer. You can then focus on recruiting and hiring the talent that would best fit into your environment and your goals.
Step Three: Process
“Be quick, but don’t hurry.” John Wooden
The interview process is called a process for a reason. Many employers rush through the process or simplify the process so they can bring someone on board quickly. Unfortunately, this often leads to the same result, a bad hire.
Now, I don’t mean you need to have a lengthy or cumbersome process. I simply mean you must be consistent and thorough so your process is effective. Let’s consider some potential steps in your interview process.
First, don’t ignore the effectiveness of an initial phone interview. The phone interview is one of my secret weapons. In fact, I eliminated about 80% of the candidates throughout my career after the phone interview. A phone interview can tell you a great deal before you even waste your or the candidate’s time having him/her come in for an interview.
Another step to consider is a cross department interview. Please refer back to step number two: know who you are. If you have a small agency where it is just you and maybe one other owner, then your interview process will be much simpler than an agency with several managers in place. Regardless, one of the best ways to have an effective process is to conduct cross department interviews.
For example, if you and your partner are in charge of separate areas of your business, it will be important to have both department heads or owners interview this potential candidate. This way you can get a different perspective and ensure that you do not have potential biases.
Another potential step is an observation day. This is where a candidate can come into the office and observe or shadow another employee or tagalong with a field sales rep in the field for an entire day. Now, you must ensure you have the right employee for the candidate to shadow.
This is something that you must evaluate as a hiring manager or business owner. This is to ensure honest feedback, and reduce employee bias. If this process is implemented effectively, it will help you gain additional insight into this potential employee. This will also eliminate any candidates that do not want to perform the job functions.
To test or not to test. Depending on your resources, implementing a test might be important for your interview process. There are many types of testing available. Some examples are DISC, Caliber, SPQ gold, and the Predictive Index. There are many more to choose from, depending on your company’s needs.
Evaluate your company’s needs as well as your resources to determine which test may be right for you. Remember, analyzing and interpreting the results of the test is just as important as the answers of interview questions.
Lastly, do not forget the importance of the final interview. The final interview provides one last chance to determine who your best candidate is, eliminate concerns, and secure the candidate. It gives you one last opportunity to sell the opportunity, which we will discuss in step number five.
Step Four: Precision
Interview questions are fluid, and should adjust slightly depending on the position you're filling. Interview questions are not something you just print from the Internet and use blindly. Different interview questions, and question types, provide various insights to critical information about the candidate. Knowing what to ask, and understanding the answers you are seeking, will help you get the information you need to evaluate the candidate.
There are many types of interview questions and types, such as basic employment history, behavioral, situational, role playing/presentations and others. There are also various metrics and processes that are “scientific” and can help you identify the best candidate.
Again, the key is not to make the process complicated. If you are the owner of an emerging agency or a hiring manager with limited resources, many of the processes are simply too expensive, time consuming, and complicated.
I developed an interview process over the years from my experience as a recruiter and a successful sales leader, called the 4 Corners℠, which has become the core foundation for our Hire4Excellence℠ program. The 4 Corners process asks a series of simple but effective questions that help dig up the key answers to the four areas of concern:
1. Can they do this job?
2. Can they perform at my expectations or higher?
3. Is this person a good fit for us?
4. Decision and thought process
Without gaining insight into these four key areas, it will be difficult to determine if the candidate will be a top performer. In fact, the questions help determine if the candidate is a good fit into the company’s environment, and what is needed to secure this candidate.
In addition, questions should be developed to dive deeper into candidates’ soft skills or intangibles, to ensure they will be good matches beyond the minimum job requirements. Often times, the soft skills are the ultimate success indication for candidates. Behavioral questions are often great at getting to soft skills. These are the questions that start with, "Tell me about a time when..."
No matter what types of interview style or format you choose, ultimately, they must drill down into these four areas. Everyone involved in the interviewing process should be seeking this information. The more consistent the process, the better results you will get.
Step Number Five: Selection
Selecting the top candidate becomes easier once you do steps one through four. However, a secret to selection is also ensuring that your top choice picks you. The interview process is a sales process. When I was a recruiter, I used to remind every candidate that he/she is going on a sales call. Even the most arrogant candidates who believed every employer would be lucky to have them, had to be reminded that they don't have an opportunity to choose until someone actually makes an offer. They had to put their best foot forward first before anything else can be discussed.
This is also a good reminder for hiring managers and business owners. It doesn’t matter if the employment market is an “employee” or “employer” market. Great candidates are always hard to come by. If you have found a great candidate during the interview process, then you must understand that you are competing for the candidate’s services.
You must know how to secure the candidate and beat the competition. That does not just happen on the final interview or when you make the offer, but this actually happens in step number one. It doesn’t mean you can't ask tough questions and seek out answers. This simply means you must also fulfill the candidate’s needs by first understanding what the candidate is looking for.
If your company has what the candidate is seeking, then you must ensure the candidate fully understands the opportunity and benefits of working for your agency.
By no means, is this a fool proof process. After all, you are dealing with humans on both sides. However, having a consistent and effective process will dramatically increase your odds at selecting your next top talent.
In future blogs and training programs, we will dive deeper in tho the Hire4Excellence process. In the meantime, review your current process and look for ways to improve on it. Perhaps you can utilize some of the steps we reviewed to either enhance or develop your own process. The time you take will pay off big dividends in the long run.