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Did You Get the Employee You Wanted

October 3, 2003
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Candidate Sourcing, Performance Appraisals

You just spent six months and thousands of dollars to hire that new senior vice president. Here it is a few months out, and you’d like to know if you got a truly quality person. 

    On the surface, it might seem impossible to assess something as subjective as quality in another human being. But an increasing number of companies are establishing metrics to help them assess both quantitative and qualitative aspects of a new hire’s performance.

12 questions for managers
    Measuring the quality of a new employee isn’t easy, nor is it universal. The 2003 Benchmark Report, a nationwide survey of companies done by and the Human Capital Metrics Consortium, showed a less than 1 percent increase from last year to this year in the number of companies evaluating new hires for quality. Thirty percent do, but the vast majority of companies still put their faith in the front end--a rigorous selection process--to ensure that they get a "quality" employee.

    Gerry Crispin is a principal in the international staffing firm MMC Group. "I think one of the key problems that most corporations face is defining what quality really means," he says. "Quality is a measure of ‘did I get what I wanted?’ "

    Among those that are assessing quality, the systems in place vary from gut instinct to research-based questionnaires. Experts agree that either the recruiter or the hiring manager must define quality, establishing some kind of standard against which to judge the employee.

    At Health First, an integrated delivery health-care system in Melbourne, Florida, senior vice president of human resources Robert Suttles uses the Q12, a tool from The Gallup Organization that assesses both new managers and established ones. The Q12--which stems from extensive Gallup research conducted during the 1990s--measures what Gallup calls employee engagement, which is correlated with sales growth, productivity, customer loyalty and other business metrics.

    Larry Emond, chief marketing officer for Gallup, says the company did a ton of bad employee surveys in the 1990s, asking about an employee’s overall satisfaction. But, he says, "that question is not good, not predictive of outcomes. Q12 questions differentiate highly productive work groups from others." More than 500 corporations worldwide now use the tool as a barometer of quality in their workplaces.

    Q12 information tells Robert Suttles of Health First how well a manager is doing in creating the right work environment for her team. Compensation is partially tied to the results of the survey. "The benefits for us are enormous," he says. "Where we have high scores, turnover is low, the group under that manager is more productive, more profitable, and we have higher customer satisfaction."

Bristol-Myers’ six-month plans
    Jim Ellinghausen, vice president and head of worldwide human resources for Bristol-Myers Squibb in Princeton, New Jersey, says the company measures quality in its senior people by how well a person has been integrated into the organization.

    First, however, a structured plan is created, with certain deliverables--which Ellinghausen calls "integration goals"--for the first three to six months of that executive’s tenure. For a new head of research and development, for example, goals might include visiting all his major research sites and meeting with key members of the executive committee within six months. About 90 days into the hire, the executive meets with his direct reports and talks to them about who he is and why he joined the company. Then for the next three or four hours--while he is out of the room--that group works with facilitators to develop questions for the executive.

    Typical questions developed at that meeting ask what the executive looks for in his people, how he operates, what his goals for the job are and where he sees the organization going, Ellinghausen says. "It’s a dialogue that helps the organization say to this newly hired executive: ‘Here are things you will need to be aware of to be successful here.’ "

    A year ago, Bristol-Myers also began to judge the quality of new and existing executives by looking at seven core behaviors that tie into the company’s culture and its pledge to "enhance human life." Six months into their tenure, new managers are assessed on their previously established integration goals as well as these core behaviors.

The metrics of caring
    At Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., the quality of a new hire is measured in ways more warm and fuzzy. The international hotelier has about 28,000 employees and looks to its customers for guidance. Ongoing surveys ask customers about their experience in emotional terms: Did they feel cared for? Were greetings warm and sincere? Did they feel as if they were a guest in someone’s home? The answers, while appearing subjective, are actually part of "satisfaction scores" that each department in a Ritz-Carlton hotel receives.

    Sue Stephenson, senior vice president of human resources, says the company uses assessments of customer loyalty to determine the quality of new and existing employees. Results come back to human resources on a monthly basis by hotel and department. A housekeeper’s quality, for example, won’t be judged only on the person’s work ethic or ability to be part of a team. "We also look at things like caring," says Stephenson.

    Results have been "tremendous," she says. Year-to-date, Ritz-Carlton has achieved "top box"--the top box on the customer survey, indicating the highest satisfaction level--76.3 percent of the time. "That’s up 4 percent from last year," Stephenson says. "Most hotels don’t get near that result." Much of that success is attributed to both the after-hire assessments and a rigorous selection process.

    It’s much more common to use rigorous selectivity in hiring than in after-the-fact assessments. Ritz-Carlton has in place a QSP--"Quality Selection Process"--that lays out explicitly what is expected of new hires, so that when they’re assessed, they know on what criteria they will be judged. "Much of our focus is on the selection process, what talents they bring to the table," says Stephenson. "For instance, you can’t teach someone to smile."

    Dante Capitano, a managing director in the Philadelphia office of executive coaching firm RHR International, specializes in executive assessment and integration of new executives. His primary work is done when companies are hiring, at which time RHR develops a "profile of success" for a new candidate. The profile includes everything from behavioral characteristics to leadership style crucial to that person’s success.

    Capitano then advises clients to conduct a 360-degree assessment of senior managers at about the six-month mark. He prefers that the survey be qualitative rather than quantitative. "We interview 10 to 12 stakeholders who have an interest in this person’s success and find out how they perceive this person’s effectiveness," he says. "It’s not scientific. It’s not a lot of metrics… It’s more measuring up against a set of principles."

Just the beginning
    Companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Ritz-Carlton are at the forefront of a trend. The idea that companies should evaluate the quality of new hires is just beginning to gain a foothold in corporate America’s human resources departments. Human-capital guru Jac Fitz-enz, founder of the Saratoga Institute and author of The ROI of Human Capital, says assessing quality isn’t as objective--or prevalent--as it ought to be. Although he acknowledges that plenty of good tools exist, he says companies are reluctant to use them. "It goes against our national culture to assess people in this way, so we don’t want to do it."

    In an economy with rising unemployment, where people apply for jobs even if they know they won’t be a good fit, assessing quality is increasingly important, says Peter Weddle, a publisher of guides to online job boards. Weddle agrees with Fitz-enz that most assessments are too subjective. "That’s the rub, isn’t it?" he says.

    Measuring the quality of an employee may prove elusive, Weddle says, but you can certainly measure the impact of a quality employee. "In terms of the work completed and how well it’s done, you can measure that. It shows how well that person fits within an organization," he says. "And that’s what quality is: a measure of how well someone fits."

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