Seth Godin riffed this morning about The two obvious secrets of every service business.
I would add an extension to number two. One of those details is people. People with passion and compassion; folks who actually care. Those are the people who will naturally follow through. Hiring these people doesn’t happen by accident, and it takes real effort to find them.
This is something I oft see overlooked in hiring. Hell, it’s something I used to overlook. Well not overlook actually, but something I didn’t know how to do. The hiring process for most companies is generally treated as a burden, and the amount of time put into potential candidates is minimal. Review a resume, have an interview. If everyone gets along and the experience seems to fit… Voila! New coworker.
Here’s the thing: You can’t tell about people that quickly. Oh, sure, sometimes you’re right, but you only have to be wrong once to really throw a wrench in the works. Hell, you only have to be a little off base to have someone who doesn’t contribute to your corporate culture and mission. And when you’re an employer, hiring mediocre, adequate people can be worse than hiring bad-to-the-bone people.
So, what’s the solution? Well, that’s a loaded question of course, but I can tell you what we have done.
First, just buy the book Topgrading and read it. Commit yourself to implementing the program. It will fundementally change the way you hire, promote, and evaluate talent. It will put you in a position to really focus on the top folks, and get into what makes them tick. With Topgrading as the cornerstone of our hiring process, here is what we do:
- We get resumes. Monster, newspaper, whatever works. We cull through them and try to find the best ones. There are usually about 20% that are good enough. We are looking for interesting people that seem to have personalities. Dry resumes with an assemblage of facts don’t generally cut it here. Skills can be taught. Personality, compassion and empathy can not.
- We have those who pass the resume test take an online personality assesment. We are benchmarking them for the position they will be filling, but in our business everyone has to do remakably well on the customer service evaluation. We were unsure of how accurate the testing would be when we first started using it, so we confirmed it’s accuracy in two ways. First, we tested our existing folks. That seemed to be pretty close. Then we brought in the first 15 people that we tested, regardless of thier scores. Blind. When we matched them up, it was obvious. The 20s were 20s and the 90s were 90s. That was good enough for us. No one passes for us with less than a score in the 85th percentile. A caveat: Make sure you use a testing service that is ERISA compliant. Otherwise they may be testing for traits that are not related to job performance. And that’s a no-no. The two services we use are Gneil (cheaper, quicker and less robust) and Caliper (Expensive, very thorough).
- Folks who score an 85 or higher we meet. Briefly. Usually over coffee to keep things casual. We are trying to get a sense for whether or not they make a decent first impression, to see if we think they will fit in.
- Those who seem like a good fit will come in to meet the team they will be most closely working with (never underestimate this step – coworkers are often the best judge). They spend an hour or so with the team. We let that be free form as well, although coworkers tend to ask some pretty tough questions.
- If they have made it this far, and the team likes them, we put them through the Topgrading interview. By the way, out of 100 resumes, only about 4 people make it this far. The Topgrading interview is a scripted set of questions. They are of course fairly open ended, but they keep you (the interviewer) on track. You can go off on a tangent if you like, but you never miss any questions. What I have found is, that by questioning people about every major career endeavor of thier lives from high school forward, that patterns start to emerge. Patterns that would be very hard to fake. You would be surprised how many people (people that you have already spent a lot of time with and think are probably a good fit) have had 8 "stupid" bosses, or 10 "crazy" coworkers that they fought with. We generally do this interview with 2 people. It takes 3-4 hours.
- When it’s all over, the two interviewers sit down and compare notes. Invariably, it comes down to two people. Then you make the tough choice. Here’s what’s funny: The people you thought would be the finalists at the beginning almost never are. Not unlike handicapping sports teams in the preseason I suppose.
It’s a long process. It’s hard and it requires a lot of energy. But the payoff is huge. The right people. The best people available. People that fit in and advance your culture. Maybe it’s a detail, but I don’t think it’s a small one. For us, it’s the core of our business and we take it seriously. We owe it to our clients and ourselves to have the very best folks we can.
So there you have it. The Ripple obvious service secret.