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Part 2: Measure Twice, Cut Once

The following is a guest blog post from Phil Mangos, a senior scientist at Kronos.  In the following post, he discusses candidate assessment strategy.  We’ve discussed this topic in a prior post in 2007.  Phil’s discussion digs a little deeper into not only mapping job competencies, but prioritizing them as well.

As an industrial-organizational psychologist, I often find myself thinking about what makes people tick at work – what it means to be successful on the job and what personal attributes are needed to perform well. Chance encounters with people from a vast range of occupations have helped me form some interesting conclusions about the nature of work. For instance, I’ve recently realized that fast food cashiers and air traffic controllers have a lot more in common than one might think. For example, both make extensive use of a certain part of the brain responsible for executive level cognitive skills: planning, prioritizing, and rapidly switching from one task to another. Imagine my embarrassment when I responded to the young lady who I thought was trying to super-size me but was talking to someone else while almost effortlessly handling two orders at the same time.

Of course, fast food and air traffic control personnel differ in very important ways. Although similar skills are involved, they are needed in different amounts and proportions, and the consequences of performance errors are very different. Most people wouldn’t argue that a runway incident at a busy airport is worse than unwanted pickles on a hamburger.

This brings to mind the multifaceted nature of job performance and how well-defined performance standards can inform and streamline employee selection. Aside from many important technical details, the basic concept behind developing selection processes is relatively straightforward: analyze the job, understand what skills and attributes are required to perform well, design assessments that measure those skills, and evaluate how well the resulting assessments predict job performance.

However, people often fail to consider the exact meaning of job performance. What things must people do to be considered technically proficient on the job? What matters more, effective customer service or high sales volume? Showing up on time every day versus being consistently productive? Of course, many would argue that all these things are important. But at least for some jobs, it’s possible to define the priority levels of different aspects of performance as well as minimum performance standards. These can then help streamline employee selection processes.

Consider the following scenario. For a certain retail job, a top priority for a hiring manager is to hire workers who are likely to stay on the job for at least 90 days without quitting or being involuntarily terminated. Among those people who are likely to stick around long enough to become engaged with their work and provide a return on hiring and training costs, hiring managers might want to identify those who will hit at least 50% of their sales goals. Among these high performers, hiring managers might want to know who is likely to provide the highest levels of customer service performance, get along well with their coworkers, and be good team players.

This scenario provides an example of prioritizing among predictable job behaviors and outcomes (tenure, followed by sales volume, followed by customer service and soft skills). Furthermore, it provides examples of well-defined, quantifiable performance standards (90 days of tenure, 50% of sales goals). This combination of prioritizing performance factors and defining minimum standards associated with each can help inform the content and order of assessments used for employment selection. One common technique is known as a multistage approach. Assessments are ordered in a series of stages, and applicants either progress to subsequent stages or complete the assessment process based on their scores within individual stages. For the retail job, the process may include an assessment designed to predict tenure in the first stage, sales volume in the second, and soft skills in the third. Performance standards – considered vis-à-vis applicants’ assessment scores – can help inform which applicants would proceed across stages and ultimately be hired.

People with job titles as different as fast food server and air traffic controller use similar skills to perform their respective jobs. Defining performance standards and priorities is an important way to highlight the inherent differences between jobs, and thus tailor selection procedures to individual jobs.

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