Hiring High Performers

18 Apr

When I’m working with Managers on dealing with problem employees, I often hear “she was great in the interview”, or “he had tons of experience – I thought he’d be perfect!”, and even “I don’t know how she got hired”.  I usually give the same three types of advice on hiring the right people who will be high performers.  First, know what type of behaviour you’re looking for.  A high performer in one company may simply not fit with another.  Secondly, ask behavioural questions to find out whether they match that behaviour.  Finally, bite your tongue – save your comments about the job, the company, and what you’re looking for until the end of the interview.

Know the behaviour you’re looking for.

I ask managers to think about their top performers and what they appreciate about them.  I ask what separates them from the average or poor performers on their team.  I ask about specific situations they have been in, where they have proven to be a high performer.  From this discussion, I can get a sense of the types of behaviours these people demonstrate.  An example might be the ability to display empathy when dealing with people.  You might find that your top performers put themselves in the customer’s shoes and understand their point of view, while other employees tend to think the customer is over-reacting or simply wrong.  In a strong service-oriented company, this type of empathy might be very important.  By discussing some comparisons between how top performers and average performers dealt with complaints, we can see that empathy is one of the behaviours you want to select for.

Ask behavioural questions.

This is truly the key, but it takes practice to become natural at behavioural interviewing.  Behavioural questions are about what the person has actually done in the past.  This concept is based on the fact that a person’s past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.  Once you know the behaviour you’re looking for, you ask open ended questions about situations that the candidate may have been in, and how they behaved.  For example, in our empathy example, you might ask them to “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a customer complaint”.  The idea is to get a specific answer so that you fully understand what led to the situation, what the candidate said, felt, thought, and did, and what the outcome was.  This often won’t happen right away, so you’ll likely have to probe for more information.  The key is to keep your questioning very open-ended, and not to lead the candidate to telling you what you want to hear.  When you finally fully understand the situation, you should be able to see what level of empathy the candidate demonstrated.

Bite your tongue.

This is often a tough one, especially for Managers who are used to telling their teams what they think, what to do, etc.  The reason I always recommend keeping information about the company and what you’re looking for until the end is that you really want to hear what the candidate is looking for and what their personal ability and behaviour is, without having them tell you what you want to hear.  This is probably the only time you’ll hear me telling someone not to positively reinforce positive behaviour.  When the candidate demonstrates the behaviour that you’re looking for, try to keep your excitement to a minimum.  Imagine you’re playing poker and focus on not showing your hand.  Don’t give too much information about the job or the company and its values until the end of the interview.  Remember, the more you tell the candidate, the more they can glean what you’re looking for, and you may not get a true read on them.  After you’re through asking all of your questions, provide some time for the candidate to ask you some questions.  This is your time to tell all those things you’ve been biting your tongue on for the past half hour or so.  Feel free to share all the positive things about your company, your team, and what it’s like to work there.  Gauge their reaction – do they lean in when you talk about the work environment, or seem less interested?  All of these things help you to evaluate whether this candidate is the right fit for your team.

If you practice all of these things, you’ll be on your way to hiring more high performers for your team.

Pic via Flickr User mytudut.  


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