hiring: How recruiters can use “train forward” to avoid “fail later”

Ever since Anthony Klotz, a psychologist and professor of business administration at Texas A&M University, coined the phrase, boardroom meetings, think-tanks deliberations, social media discussion boards and mainstream publications have been replete with talk of “The Great Resignation”, to the point of information overload. However, far less is being discussed about another big resource challenge that faces HR teams today: the fact that recruiters around the country, and indeed globally, are struggling to find the “right talent” to fill open job positions within their organizations. The following is the gist of a conversation I had recently with a client – the National HR Director of a professional services firm.

How is your hiring situation at the moment?
It’s really tough. With the economy opening up, though, business wants these new hires in, as of yesterday. The big challenge is meeting the new crunched timelines for recruitment.

What is the impact on the HR team? Are you being able to scale up your team, or expand the set of placement agencies that your company engages?
Two years of the pandemic have been very hard on everyone in the company, but particularly for the HR team, as we have been expected to lead from the front, to tide the company through the crisis period. In the current situation, we are trying to expand our partners for recruitment, but so is every other company, and the pool is finite. And for us, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is attrition within the HR department as well.

What measures are you taking, to reduce hiring timelines?
Through parallel-processing, as much as possible. Getting the reference and background checks done in tandem with the recruitment process. Larger interview panels at one go, in place of multiple sequential rounds of discussions, is another move that is saving us time. In certain instances, we have even cut down on the number of rounds of interviews. The crunch also means that additional steps, such as a comprehensive behavioral assessment, for screening the candidate and informing the final interview – have taken a back seat.

Doesn’t that increase the danger of a bad hire, though?
The relentless pressure to fill positions inevitably pushes your team to roll out offers faster. By reducing the rigour of behavioral assessments and multiple rounds of interview, you’re actually increasing the chances of a recruitment mistake, which would prove costly later.

I am aware of the risk. But given the deadlines, what options do I have?

My client’s predicament perhaps resonates with many.

That afternoon, as we worked through the problem, a set of simple guidelines emerged. Since the recruitment situation is unlikely to let up in the near future, a quick outline of these rules may prove useful, for recruiters to practice on the ground.

Beware the “Fail Later” Trap. Research shows that the cost of a bad hire can be at least 30% of the employee’s first year’s earnings, and with each such incremental mistake, the costs keep mounting. Solving the hiring problem in haste by cutting procedural corners can very easily escalate into a HR-issue later, around values, unethical or dishonest practices, if the “wrong candidate” has been brought on board. Recruiters would be well-advised to use this as argument with the respective departmental stakeholders, if pushed for unreasonable turnaround and closure timelines for positions.

Use Assessments for Partial Screening. Previously, assessments – both aptitude and behavioral – have been used stringently. Candidates are evaluated on specific competencies required by the firm, and those who fail to score the benchmark for multiple parameters are taken off the hiring process. In the present situation, this screening can be relaxed so that candidates who meet the benchmark for, say, 60% of the selection parameters and are within 10-15% of the benchmark of the remaining competencies, are taken forward towards closure, in the recruitment process.

Prepare the “Train Forward” Plan. For each candidate that is offered a position in this manner, ie, through a partial fulfillment of aptitudes and behavioral competencies, a “Train Forward” plan is prepared by HR, prior to the professional joining the company. There are clear benefits to executing this “extra” step in the recruitment process. The plan affords complete transparency in the process, and avoids instances of finger-pointing if the candidate is found wanting at a future point in time. It also provides visibility to both HR and the respective manager, about the specific areas where the candidate needs to work on, as part of her tenure with the company.

Document Everything. When things are done under intense time pressure, often the first casualties are attention to detail and documentation. There are obvious artefacts: the documentation that validates reference checks and previous employment history, as well as the report form the behavioral assessment and the Training Forward plan that it informs. Besides these, particular attention needs to be paid to observations and insights that come out during the interview sessions.

Discuss “Train Forward” during Onboarding. This is a critical step in the overall process. As part of the onboarding (and orientation) process followed by most large firms, the HR representative or the employee’s line manager should share the report from the behavioral assessment, and the “Training Forward” plan that arises from it. The way in which this is placed before the new joinee can make a lot of difference. The report and “Train Forward” plan are to be presented, not as an extra set of tasks to be undertaken by the employee, over and above her normal workload. Rather, these should be viewed as an investment on the part of the company, a mark of the organization’s aim, in empowering the employee to have a successful tenure. Over time, ideally, this step should become as seamless a part of the rubric of onboarding as providing the new employee with the appointment letter, badge, email and notebook.

Monitor Progress on Train Forward. Increasingly, in companies across sectors, a new joinee, especially if she is relatively junior, is paired up with a buddy, for the initial months of her tenure. This period provides a good opportunity for the employee to work on specific areas of her plan, with the guidance of the buddy, who may have undergone a similar process. It is recommended that as part of the progress meetings with the manager, the employee should discuss her progress on the pre-defined parameters of attention in her “Training Forward” plan, with the manager and organization at large, providing encouragement and resources, to facilitate that progress.

The author is the CEO-Founder of NUVAH, thought leader and bestselling author of “From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption”.


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