Category Archives: assessments

Time to ‘Fix’ the Labor Market?

When it comes to evaluating job candidates, a college degree is often an over-used and overrated criterion that screens out otherwise-qualified people from good jobs and contributes to a worsening talent shortage.

So suggests the Rework America Task Force, a new organization that’s got some heavy hitters on its roster, including Siemens USA, Microsoft, IBM and Princeton University and is chaired by former Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Rework America’s stated goal is to “fix America’s broken labor market” by transforming it to a “21st century, skills-driven model.”

“The current labor market fails job seekers, workers and businesses,” says McDonough in a press release announcing the new organization. “Many workers have the skills employers are looking for to fill open positions, but don’t know it because too many job listings are written in a way that excludes qualified job seekers rather than attracting them.”

This includes requiring credentials such as a four-year degree as a proxy, McDonough says, instead of listing the actual skills needed for the job. That’s a problem, he adds, given that nearly seven out of 10 Americans don’t have a four-year degree, although they may possess skills that are actually relevant to the job.

Rework America is based on the Skillful Initiative, a partnership established last year between the state of Colorado and companies such as LinkedIn that helps companies use tools and data to create a skills-based hiring process that lets job candidates demonstrate the skills they can bring to an organization. Microsoft recently donated $25 million to Rework America’s parent organization, The Markle Foundation, to enlarge and expand the Skillful Initiative to another state.

A recent study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte finds that six out of 10 production jobs remain open because of the talent shortage. Given this sad state of affairs, it will be interesting to see whether Rework America’s program can help fill this gap and ensure people with skills can find meaningful work.

Avoid Hiring the ‘Takers’

Are you a giver, a matcher or a taker? I came across a fascinating TED Talk the other day by Adam Grant, a management professor at Penn’s Wharton School and the author of two bestselling books, Originals and Give and Take. The latter book was about how helping others can fuel our own success, and was the focus of Grant’s talk, “Are You a Giver or a Taker?” which he delivered late last year at IBM.  There are three basic types of people in every workplace, he said: givers, takers and matchers.

Grant surveyed more than 30,000 people across industries and throughout the world, and found that most fall somewhere in the middle between givers and takers — he calls them “matchers.”

“If you’re a matcher, you try and keep an even balance of give and take: quid pro quo — ‘I’ll do something for you if you do something for me,'” he said. “And that seems like a safe way to live your life. But is it the most effective and productive way to live your life?”

The answer, said Grant, is ” a very definitive … maybe.”

Interestingly enough, although he found that givers display attributes that would seem to make them ideal employees, in the course of his research Grant found that they actually tended to be the worst performers in the various jobs that he studied. Givers tended to get the least work done, sell the least amount of products and, in medical schools, the students with the lowest grades tended to be the ones who most agreed with statements like “I love helping others.”

The givers are so giving, said Grant, that they tend to neglect their own work.

So, should you avoid hiring givers? Absolutely not, he said. In fact, givers tend to bring tremendous advantages to the organization as a whole, and HR and recruiting leaders should be screening out the takers instead.

“Givers make their organizations better,” said Grant. A huge body of evidence demonstrates that the more often people help others, share their knowledge and serve as mentors, the better organizations do on every success metric, from customer satisfaction to higher profits, he said. Givers spend a lot of time helping others but often end up suffering along the way, from a career perspective, said Grant. Interestingly enough, while many givers are bottom-dwellers in terms of job performance, they’re also disproportionately represented among top performers in terms of productivity, sales results and grades. Organizations should build cultures where givers actually get to succeed, he said.

Takers, by contrast, often rise rapidly within organizations — but they tend to fall rapidly, too, said Grant. Because takers tend to be “kiss-up, kick-down” types — currying favor with the higher-ups while dissing the people below them — they inevitably inspire revenge from the matchers, who make up the majority of most organizations, he said.

Matchers are positively influenced by the behavior of givers, however, and by building a culture in which asking for help from others is encouraged, organizations will not only inspire matchers to emulate givers but also make it easier for the givers themselves to thrive, said Grant. Fostering such an environment will encourage the givers themselves to seek assistance rather than risk burnout by helping everyone else to the detriment of their own well-being, he said.

Meanwhile, avoid the damage that even one taker on a team can wreak by filtering them out during the hiring process, said Grant.

“My favorite way to catch these people in the interview process is to ask them the question, ‘Can you give me the name of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?'” he said. “The takers will give you four names, and they will all be more influential than them, because takers are great at kissing up and then kicking down. Givers are more likely to name people who are below them in a hierarchy, who don’t have as much power, who can do them no good. And let’s face it, you all know you can learn a lot about character by watching how someone treats their restaurant server or their Uber driver.”

A Bad-Behavior Hiring Predictor

Assessing job candidates for honesty and integrity is nothing new in hiring and HR. Employers have been concerned about who exactly is 103579486-executive-in-handcuffsworking for them — their moral fiber, if you will — long before the Bernie Madoff and Enron scandals rocked corporate America. A quick rundown of a search on HREOnline for “honesty” proves the topic has been around for quite some time.

But this release about a new tool that can help employers in the financial sector and their hiring managers predict whether a prospective hire might compromise a company’s reputation by engaging in fraud, deceit or some other type of errant behavior seemed new and different enough to catch my eye.

Veris Benchmarks created the tool and claims in its release that, by applying it to all job candidates, a company can “improve its hiring process in 15 minutes and help to protect its image and reputation.”

To develop the test, Veris sent its chief scientist, George Paajanen, an expert in the area of psychometrics, into the American prison system to build a tool that identifies the character traits manifested in currently incarcerated white-collar felons. David Shulman, Veris’ CEO and founder, and a Wall Street veteran who’s spent more than 30 years in the institutional-financial-services industry, describes his motivation behind creating the tool:

“Veris Benchmarks was really inspired by the Madoff scandal. After family members and friends were directly impacted by the corrupt scheme, I became consumed with trying to determine precisely what firms were doing to better understand those being hired to act in a fiduciary capacity.

“Executives now have the responsibility to take advantage of new methods to help protect their companies, their shareholders and, even more importantly, their customers. What are companies doing to better understand how their employee would respond when faced with situations of moral gray?”

Of course, fraud and theft are not isolated to the financial industry. Cheating and moral breakdowns happen everywhere. As the release states, “from embezzlement at the dentist’s office, to the PTA, to the retail space and beyond, employee theft amounts to billions of dollars of losses annually.”

As Shulman muses:

“Issues of impropriety have burdened industries and businesses for centuries. What if companies could detect potential malice and the likelihood of theft before the key players were ever hired?”

“What if,” indeed.

Of course, this is but one tool out there. My hunch is there will be more like this to come — tools specific to predicting bad behavior before it ever enters your doors.

What HR Wants in Entry-Level Workers

If new SHRM research is any indication, HR professionals have a pretty good idea of the attributes they’re looking for in entry-level job candidates.

HR leaders aren’t quite so sure, however, of their organization’s ability to spot the skills they’re searching for.

Produced in collaboration with Mercer, SHRM’s just-released Entry-Level Applicant Job Skills Survey polled 521 HR professionals. Overall, 97 percent of respondents said dependability was very or extremely important in determining whether an applicant possessed the necessary qualifications to be hired into an entry-level position, according to SHRM. Eighty-seven percent said the same about integrity, with 84 percent and 83 percent saying that respect and teamwork, respectively, were very or extremely important.

In addition, 78 percent indicated that dependability was one of the three most important traits an entry-level candidate can possess. Forty-nine percent placed integrity in their top three, with 36 percent considering teamwork a top-three quality.

Looking ahead at what skills and traits would best serve entry-level job seekers in the coming three to five years, 62 percent pointed to adaptability, while 49 percent singled out initiative and 49 percent said critical thinking skills would be most desirable.

Respondents were also asked to gauge their faith in the methods their firms use to assess the aforementioned qualities (and a handful of others, such as professionalism and customer focus). Their confidence levels aren’t exactly off the charts.

With regard to evaluating the integrity of an entry-level candidate, for instance, a mere 15 percent said they thought the phone interviews they conduct with these applicants were effective. Just 13 percent of HR professionals reported confidence in their company’s ability to accurately assess integrity through telephone screens.

A simple phone conversation will only tell you so much about a candidate, of course. Respondents did feel that they could get a good sense of an applicant’s character in person, with 96 percent saying they were very or extremely confident or moderately confident or confident in on-site interviews as a way to assess integrity. Ninety-five percent expressed similar belief in panel interviews, with 97 percent saying the same about situational judgment tests.

Still, just 20 percent of those surveyed described themselves as being very or extremely confident in their organization’s ability to effectively assess the overall skills of entry-level applicants, while 11 percent said they were not at all confident or only slightly confident.

Such findings “may be due to an over-reliance on applications and resumes, even though most HR professionals believe them to be ineffective in assessing entry-level candidates, simply because they are ingrained in our culture,” says Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at SHRM.

“This is a clear indication for a need for new, more effective approaches,” says Esen, noting that improvements in the use of predictive data modeling and assessment technologies could begin to influence the methods HR professionals use to evaluate entry-level candidates.

“Although few HR professionals indicated that their organizations currently used data-based assessment methods such as personality and cognitive tests or simulations,” adds Esen, “the use of these tools may grow in the future.”


Techniques for Weeding Out Psychopaths

We’ve all known one or two in our careers, right? That toxic personality, be it a colleague or supervisor, who seems out to get 487132238 -- psychopathyou or others? Some call them bullies. Others call them psychopaths.

Well this report from JD Supra Business Advisor that appeared recently on the HR Grapevine site not only puts a label on these miserable folks, what JD Supra refers to as the “Dark Triad,” but suggests there are ways of weeding them out of your workforce.

While many companies use psychometric testing during the recruitment process, few test for indicators of social malevolence. But malevolence tests are out there, as even a simple Google search reveals.

So are bullies and other psychopathic souls, as this latest report from Slater and Gordon reveals. Specifically, it finds almost six in 10 people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace, with more than two thirds of witnesses saying a colleague was subjected to a sustained period of harassment, and more than 37 percent saying they had been bullied themselves.

Assessment tools aimed specifically at identifying traits of both bullies and Dark Triad types are out there now, experts say, ranging from basic questionnaires to more sophisticated probes that necessitate administration by qualified clinicians under scientifically controlled conditions.

As the report states:

“The Dark Triad share a number of overlapping features including social malevolence, callousness, aggression, manipulative behavior, duplicity, a lack of empathy and a tendency toward self-promotion. Studies have shown a strong correlation between psychopathy and bullying behavior, and these studies have indicated that psychopaths are fairly well-represented in leadership positions.”

In fact, here’s a fairly well-circulated recent report about an HR manager who went “ballistic” on a female employee who called in sick and refused to reveal what her illness was.

Justine Turnbull, a Sydney, Australia-partner with employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw and one of the authors of the JD Supra report, didn’t have many specifics to offer about the assessment tools mentioned, but did share the following:

“Our main advice to HR professionals who want to detect this behavior early on is two-fold: Get independent professionals to do the psychometric testing rather than trying to assess yourself, link any requirements for testing to the inherent requirements of each role and ensure these requirements are spelled out in advance for all candidates.

“For example, an inherent requirement that links to the type of testing we’re talking about would be ‘ability to work in a team-based environment with colleagues at different levels.’ “

I reached out to Tish Squillaro and Timothy I. Thomas about this. They’re business consultants, leadership coaches and co-authors of a new book, HeadTrash 2, that looks at ways to deal with unruly people, both at work and at home.

They chose to share their words of wisdom together:

“… our focus is to give clients tools to identify and deal with ‘Dark Triad’ behaviors they may encounter [and to understand] that such behaviors in co-workers, bosses or subordinates are tied to the emotional baggage we call ‘HeadTrash.’ “

In their new book, they list seven types of such trash — anger, arrogance, control, fear, guilt, insecurity and paranoia. Coping tools they recommend include “using humor to diffuse anger, asking control freaks to delegate and drawing boundaries to stop guilt trips,” they say. Arrogance, they add, “is often tied to narcissistic tendencies, while anger is linked to frustration and is dangerous as it can manifest as intense fury, rage or even workplace violence.”

They go on:

“While human resource executives have many tools at their disposal to address these behaviors, it’s also important for employees to learn to identify and manage negative actions by others in the workplace. We believe by understanding the emotional triggers that may instigate this type of behavior, individuals can learn ways to navigate around them.”

I have no doubt these authors, and surely a host of other folks, would be willing to help you set up such a detection and navigation training program.

Target Pays the Price for Problematic Assessments

You never have to look far for examples of big companies spending big money to deal with claims of discriminatory employment practices.

This week’s cautionary tale comes courtesy of Target Corp.

On Monday, the Minneapolis-based discount chain agreed to pay $2.8 million to resolve charges of discrimination stemming from employment assessments used by Target, which “disproportionately screened out applicants for exempt-level professional positions based on race and sex,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The payout will be distributed among more than 3,000 individuals.

In its investigation of the retail giant, the EEOC determined that the assessment tests Target administered to thousands of candidates—who were ultimately rejected—for upper-level positions were not job-related, and violated Title VII of the Civils Right Act of 1964.

In addition to finding that the assessments unduly eliminated individuals in particular groups from consideration—namely African-Americans, Asians and women, according to the EEOC—the Washington-based agency determined that one of the assessments Target had been using violated the American with Disabilities Act. In this case, applicants were subjected to medical examinations prior to an offer of employment, which, as the EEOC notes, is prohibited by the ADA. Finally, the EEOC found that Target committed recordkeeping violations by failing to maintain records adequately enough to evaluate the impact of its hiring processes.

While maintaining that it didn’t act improperly regarding the assessments, Target did stop using the tests in question during the EEOC’s investigation, and has “agreed to better track its testing process and check for impact based on race, ethnicity and gender,” according to Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder.

In the same statement, Snyder noted that Target had relied on these tests “over the past decade,” and said the EEOC concluded that “only a small fraction of the assessments … could have been problematic.”

The settlement underscores the “quite risky” nature of the pre-employment assessments commonly used by many employers, says Tashwanda Pinchback Dixon, an Atlanta-based attorney at Balch & Bingham, and a member of the firm’s labor and employment and litigation practice groups.

“It’s important that employers take a very close look at these tests and make sure there is a clear link to business necessity,” says Dixon, whose experience includes focusing on Title VII sex and race discrimination claims.

Ensuring such a connection “is even more critical with tests that seek medical information, because of the ADA and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act,” adds Dixon.

In most instances, she says, “a case can be made for business necessity when the position requires manual labor, such as manual lifting requirements.”

In Target’s case, however, “the link to business necessity is not as obvious.”

In light of this week’s settlement, Dixon says that employers should expect their pre-employment assessments to come under scrutiny by candidates and—if brought to its attention—the EEOC.

As such, “employers should also evaluate and monitor whether their assessments have an adverse impact on any protected class,” she says, “including race, gender and individuals with disabilities.”

Reimagining Performance Management

I had the pleasure of spending Tuesday at the New York Athletic Club. No, I didn’t get to try out the racquetball courts, exercise equipment, billiards room, sauna or the sun deck that sits atop the beautiful 24-floor facility. Rather, I made the 90-minute train ride from Philadelphia to attend the 2012 Human Capital Leadership Forum being held at the historic venue.

Throughout the day, the 240 HR professionals, consultants and vendors on hand took in a variety of panel discussions and presentations that delved into the transforming role of today’s HR leader, how HR executives can incorporate business analytics and business intelligence into their day-to-day functions, identify and develop future leaders, align the organization’s workforce with future business goals and more.

A presentation of particular interest to me was delivered by Caroline Stockdale, senior vice president of human resources with Medtronic Inc., a Minneapolis-based developer and manufacturer of medical device technology and therapies. In the early afternoon session, “Innovating to Transform the Employee Experience and Accelerate Growth,” Stockdale shared “some highlights of the HR journey” she’s embarked on since joining the organization in 2010.

In that time, Stockdale has been at the center of an effort to build an innovative HR department, where “bold new ideas and approaches to traditional HR processes and systems are not only encouraged, but expected,” she said.

One of the brash ideas her HR organization has implemented is the abolishment of the organization’s old rating-based performance management system, she said.

In the past, for example, annual performance reviews were administered to Medtronic employees in each business unit, each of whom was rated on a 1-to-5 scale. The problem with such a system, however, is that “all teams are not created equal,” she says. Thus, using the same scale to rate individuals across functions is at least somewhat flawed and unfair.

For instance, a high performer on a low-performing team may earn a ‘5’ based on individual performance in comparison to their peers, while a worker in a more critical, higher-performing unit may ultimately bring more to the organization overall, but only receives a ‘3’. Or, for those who favor sports analogies, think of it somewhat like trying to accurately measure the worth of a “good” baseball player in the big leagues against that of a player considered a “superstar” at the minor-league level.

Ultimately, Medtronic has moved away from competitive assessments toward providing performance feedback, coaching and development to employees on a more regular basis, as opposed to the more “traditional” annual review process.

At lunch that afternoon, I asked the gentleman seated next to me – a senior vice president of HR at a large asset management company – what he thought of Stockdale’s talk. As we tucked into our tortellini, he mentioned that his firm’s leadership had “been kicking around the idea” of scrapping its current performance management system — which he described as being similar to Medtronic’s old method – and adopting a simpler approach that involves managers offering more frequent input to employees regarding their performance, and sets realistic goals that are more directly tied to business results.

He was quick to note, though, that his organization is still grappling with just how it plans to implement a new and improved performance management system.

Sound familiar?

It probably does, if you read our July/August 2012 cover story, “There’s Got to Be a Better Way.” In that feature, Senior Editor Andy McIlvaine discussed the “needless complexity” of performance management at many organizations.

“Experts … agree that performance management – as it exists today in too many organizations – is broken,” he wrote. “Fixing it … involves going back to the basics: setting business-linked goals that are challenging yet achievable, teaching managers how to give feedback that is helpful and not demeaning, and supporting it all with a process that is intuitive rather than complicated. None of this, [experts] admit, will necessarily be easy to implement.”

True enough. But judging from the Leadership Forum audience’s enthusiastic response to Stockdale’s story of HR innovation in the performance management arena, there seems to be plenty of HR leaders with a keen interest in taking on the challenge.

A Difficult Interview

As a journalist who has worked for both a glossy monthly national magazine and a stain-your-fingers daily local newspaper, I’ve had my share of difficult interviews, either with a source who was wary of going on the record with an inconvenient truth — to borrow a phrase — or else with someone whose inconvenient truth may have already gotten out.

But, Glassdoor just released its own take on the idea of a difficult interview: The firm dug through more than 80,000 of its interview ratings and reviews shared throughout the past year to uncover the companies which applicants said gave the most difficult interviews.

According to Glassdoor, the toughest interview processes are conducted by consulting firms: McKinsey & Company (Interview difficulty: 3.9), followed by Boston Consulting Group (Interview difficulty: 3.8) and Oliver Wyman (Interview difficulty: 3.7), with interview-difficulty ratings based on a 5-point scale; 1.0=very easy, 5.0=very difficult.

Did your company make the list? Find out below:

There was some discussion around the office this morning as to whether companies on this list will view their inclusion as either a badge of courage or a mark of scorn by applicants.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that the hiring function of any company on this list — and there are some big names here — would be proud to know that applicants who have gone through the process say afterward that it should not be taken lightly.

Otherwise, how else would those organizations be able to separate the talented wheat from the also-ran chaff?

Full information from the study can be found on the Glassdoor blog Friday morning.

Making the Sandusky/Screening Connection

With the Jerry Sandusky trial under way in Bellefonte, Pa., this week, it’s been impossible to avoid (even if you wanted to) news reports about testimony and other court proceedings — including yesterday’s airing for jurors of the videotape of Sandusky’s interview with Bob Costas in November.

Most pundits agree that the most horrific and damaging moment of that interview was Sandusky’s hesitant, repetitive response to Costas’ question, “Are you sexually attracted to young boys?”

Weighing in on that very issue today is the SingleSource Services Corp., in this release about an online assessment tool called the Diana Screen, a tool it claims can scientifically evaluate “those individuals at high risk to violate sexual boundaries with children and teens.”

As Donald J. Dymer, president and chief operating officer of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based background-screening company, puts it:

Child sexual abuse by those individuals entrusted with their care has once again taken center stage as the Sandusky trial unfolds. And yes, we are taking that opportunity to remind the public that a powerful prevention tool is available that would most likely have prevented Sandusky from being hired. An assessment that identifies those adults who do not recognize the appropriate sexual boundaries that should exist between adults and children.”

He cites studies from the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute showing 6 percent of adults are sexually attracted to children. “You won’t be able to recognize them without the Diana Screen,” says Dymer, “but they will recognize your children … .”

The release says the screen — consisting of 120 questions — is already being used by departments of juvenile justice, church diocese, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, mentoring agencies and residential homes for youths. Companies and organizations that put any adults into positions of trust with children and youths are encouraged to consider its use.

Dymer, a background-screening professional and longtime law enforcer, says it fills the void left by criminal background checks because it measures behavioral likelihood (such as a lack of sufficient social boundaries), as opposed to relying on past events.

We’ve been reporting for some time now on the changing face of the screening and assessment industry, whereby companies can now measure — through behavioral and psychological assessments — likelihoods that certain job candidates will succeed, learn quickly, be committed, be ethical and honest, present threats to a workforce, etc. etc.

Should a screen such as Diana join those ranks and become as widespread as Dymer hopes, my only concern would be that its accuracy is as failsafe as he says it is and that none of those 120 questions leaves room for doubt or interpretation.



Study: Self-Promoters Six Times More Likely to Derail

Came across this release from PDI Ninth House that, though somewhat intuitive, did seem off the beaten path from most research I come across looking at what makes workers tick.

According to the company’s Pulse on Leaders studies, using data collected by PDI Ninth House and analyzed by University of Minnesota researchers, business leaders who rated their skills significantly higher than ratings provided by their bosses are more than six times more likely to derail than those who display signs of being more “in touch” with their actual work performance.

In one study, U. of M. researchers looked at 360-degree ratings of more than 39,000 global leaders and compared the leaders’ ratings of their own performance with those given by their direct managers. Those considered to be in touch with their self-assessments — meaning their ratings closely matched those of their direct managers — were at little risk of derailment, while strong self-promoters were more than six times (629 percent) as likely to derail as the in-touch group.

(Perhaps what raised my eyebrows the most was the dramatic difference between the two groups. I don’t think I’ve ever seen behavioral research showing a 629 percent difference between two sides of anything before.)

In another study, 14,000 U.S. business leaders were asked to rank their employees on 135 behaviors representing 24 core competencies. Those leaders considered by their direct managers to be most likely to derail flunked the following:

  • Demonstrates awareness of own strengths and weaknesses
  • Creates an environment where people work their best
  • Expresses disagreement tactfully and sensitively
  • Has the confidence and trust of others
  • Develops effective working relationship with higher management
  • Develops effective relationships with peers

” … as both studies show, success depends on a realistic view of one’s own strengths and weaknesses,” says Lou Quast, vice president and executive consultant at PDI Ninth House, and associate chair of the U. of M.’s department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development at the College of Education and Human Development.

“Managers [or HR professionals] noting shortfalls in any of these specific behaviors should take the initiative to intervene: coach early and often,” he says.

(One thing I think I can safely say about HR professionals themselves: I don’t think very many of the ones I’ve met stand much of a chance of derailment due to self-promotion. Almost to a person, they are some of the most self-critical and self-aware folks I’ve ever met. I realize this parting thought probably has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but … just thought I’d share.)