Building a Top 20 Workforce: The Secret to Successful Hiring and Promotion

Editor’s note: Each Tuesday here at TLNT, Dr. Wendell Williams will detail the seven different obstacles that need to be addressed by management before any organization can achieve and build a Top 20 workforce. This is the final part in the series.

Suppose you played a game where you could win half the time or win 90 percent of the time. That’s the choice you face when hiring or promoting employees.

No one can guarantee every newly promoted or freshly hired employee will be in the top 20, but you can load the odds in your favor by adopting some rigor in the selection process:

  1. Simplify individual jobs into “families” requiring similar competencies (i.e., the ones I discussed earlier);
  2. Analyze each family to identifying which critical competencies make the difference between success and failure;
  3. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate each candidate for the critical job competencies using at least two valid and legitimate methods (i.e., casual interviews and training tests are NEITHER legitimate NOR valid);
  4. Only select or promote individuals who can demonstrate they have job requirements.

Not a simple process

I don’t mean to be flip when I say that each of these steps requires an exceptionally deep working knowledge of occupational psychology.

If you do not have these people in your employ, then hire a consultant with a degree in industrial psychology and considerable experience with testing and selection. That person can always do the heavy lifting for you. After you get the basics under control, you can have the consultant make an occasional visit to ensure the process continues successfully.

One thing you DO NOT want to do is presume this process is simple and self-explanatory.

I worked with one client for years. They had considerable turnover in a position that required people to live apart from their families for long periods of time. I did the leg work, devised a system, and trained the HR staff how to use it. Within a short time, turnover in the position dropped by half, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Over the ensuring years, a new HR director took over, trained staff left, and almost all the tools were abandoned. In several discussions with the HR director, I was told, although he was untrained in the field, he thought it would be easy enough to pick up. (Gee, it took me years to learn the craft. I never knew I could have saved all that time). To make a long story short, they have now dropped their turnover-reduction system and focus instead on managing applicant flow.

Understand your needs, measure candidates accurately

Another client with a turnover problem employed me to develop a system for them. I worked with corporate, but HR decisions were actually divided among dozens of field offices.

We quickly discovered managers in the field coaching candidates how to pass the interviews, simulations and tests. Why? HR had to work too hard to find qualified applicants and line managers lived with the consequences. Naturally, HR caused the system to collapse.

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I can cite a few other stories, but soon learned when HR or recruiters get involved in things they do not know or understand, employment screening and selection quickly becomes a disaster.

On the bright side, another large client implemented a pre-screen system that reduced turnover by 30 percent. A third well-known client now uses fewer sales people to achieve greater revenue. And several additional clients have actually turned internal selection systems I developed into turnkey products they sell to other organizations.

The secret to successful hiring and promotion is resisting the urge to make a quick opinionated decision, clearly understand what you need, and accurately measure each candidate. It’s not a new idea, but has been studied for millennia.

And, by the way, assessment is not a dirty word. It is just another term for measuring a candidate’s job skills.


In case you missed the earlier parts of this series: