Determining the Formula for Hiring the Best People

Wow! That’s the first reaction I had to a presentation made by Ed Ryan before a standing-room-only crowd at the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA) breakfast at the 2006 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show. Based in Chicago, Ryan specializes in the areas of recruitment, selection and management of personnel.

The truth is our team members make us tick. They are responsible for our successes, our failures and for much of the angst that showroom owners experience. Ryan provided a new perspective on recruiting and retaining a showroom’s most important asset – a perspective that will benefit anyone who hires or manages employees.

Ryan began his presentation by quoting Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. In Good to Great, Collins’ research team found that there were 11 companies that outperformed the Dow by a factor of at least three over a 15-year period. Many of these companies came as a surprise because they were not high-tech, high-profile, cutting-edge or in glamour industries. Good to Great describes the common traits each of the 11 companies share.

“We expected to find that the first step in taking a company from good to great would be to set a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and then to get people committed and aligned behind that new direction. We found something quite the opposite. The executives who ignited the transformation from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out how to drive it…If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great,” he quoted.

The question, however, is how do you do that? How do you know who the right people are and what seats they should or can fill on your bus?

For Ryan and Collins, the operative key is who instead of what. Ryan makes a strong argument for defying conventional interviewing and assessment techniques commonly used to recruit staff. He questioned the value of using job descriptions to help interview prospective staff because they are not an effective measure of a candidate’s fit in an organization. “Companies hire people; they don’t employ a job,” he stressed.

Ryan noted that you cannot interview and successfully select new staff members based primarily on the information on a resumé. In fact Ryan advises against looking at resumés to find the information needed to hire the right candidates for the right positions. He noted that human resource surveys have found that 40% of people lie on resumés, and an even higher percentage embellish. He said, “A resumé is a balance sheet without liabilities.”

Nonetheless, most people hire based on the experience of applicants as reflected on their resumés. Ryan’s guidance is to create a blueprint of behaviors that are needed to succeed in your organization and the position available. You can’t afford not to, as he noted that the cost of a poor hire is approximately three times the salary.

Applying Ryan’s guidance to a decorative plumbing and hardware showroom requires understanding the different behavioral traits required of different positions. A key component of Ryan’s methodology is that behavior is constant and difficult to change. He also noted that the attitudes of most people at work are similar to their attitudes at home. Behavior cannot be taught. It’s difficult to explain to someone how to be nice if that’s not an existing behavioral trait.

To help identify the behavioral benchmarks you need to hire more effectively, look internally. If there’s a superstar in your organization, identify the traits that he or she demonstrates that make that person stand apart. What behaviors does that person have that make him or her tick? What motivates that employee? How does he or she think, act and interact with others? These are as important, if not more important, than an ability to merchandise, manage cash flow or sell. Who, then what. The who has to come first.

Asking the Right Questions
Ryan contends that most common job interview questions fail to provide insight into the behaviors a position requires. He emphasized the need to ask probing follow-up questions that cut through canned or rehearsed responses to reveal true behavior.

If someone states that his or her biggest weakness is being a perfectionist, an appropriate follow-up question may be to ask the person to describe how that perfectionism caused a problem in a current or previous job.

Another effective follow-up is to ask prospective employees what they mean by a rehearsed response. An example of this would be if a candidate claims “I’m a people person.” While that may be exactly what you need to fill a sales position or customer service slot, how can you determine if the person is truly people oriented? To obtain a better understanding, follow up by asking how his people skills proved to be valuable in a work setting. If the person cannot give an example, more than likely he is not who or what he thinks he is.

Ryan pointed out that, too often, employers settle for less than the best. The employment market is tight right now. Nationally, less than 5% of the workforce does not have a job. That means that almost anyone who is employable is working.

If you interview five candidates and none meet your behavioral and experiential benchmarks, don’t hire someone simply because the person was the best of five unqualified candidates. Ryan calls this “hiring the tallest pygmy.” If the person doesn’t meet minimum standards for hire, keep the process going until you find the right person.

Ryan also cautions against comparing candidates to candidates. Instead, compare candidates to the behavioral blueprint that the position demands.

Behavioral Traits
Character, attitude and behavior are more important in the selection process than the skills, experience and ability to perform the tasks of the available position. You can’t reprogram people. You can, with the help of the DPHA Education Program, teach them to successfully sell and explain the technical, functional and emotional characteristics of products found in decorative plumbing and hardware. With that in mind, how do you determine how a prospective employee is likely to behave?

There are a number of easy-to-use and cost-effective tools that can assist. One is the Myers Briggs test, and another is DISC. DPHA offers a discounted DISC programs to its members.

DISC is based on research conducted by Dr. William Marston in the 1920s. A contemporary of Jung, Marston is best known for inventing the lie detector. DISC stands for Dominance (how people handle problems/challenges), Influence (how people interact with other people), Steadiness (how people handle pace and change) and Compliance (how people respond to rules and procedures).

Union Hardware in Bethesda, MD has been using the DPHA DISC program for several years following a horrible hire. The company needed to fill a general manager’s position. An ideal candidate seemingly walked in the door. He was a former Army major with a post-graduate degree in human resources. Union Hardware v.p. Barry Goldberg explained, “We took our time. The candidate was interviewed four times by three different executives. We thought we made the right decision – only to find out that our ‘ideal’ candidate did not know how to manage. He nearly decimated our company.” The DISC program provides a valuable tool to determine if a potential employee is good for your company, as opposed to how well the person interviews. Goldberg added that the DISC assessment report addresses how prospective hires will respond under stress, how they manifest that stress, the best way to manage them, their ideal working environment and how to best communicate with them. “There is no doubt I am hiring better because of DISC, and that makes my company better.”

You cannot rush through the selection and interviewing process. If you do it right the first time, you won’t have to do it again. If you believe that people are your most important asset, then you need to “walk the walk.” Remember, it starts with who, then what.

Ed Ryan will be presenting his signature program “Build with the Best: Hiring and Retaining Staff That Can Help Grow Your Organization” at the Fifth Annual DPHA Annual Conference and Product Showcase, October 13-15, 2006 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO.

Members of the DPHA address issues pertaining to the decorative plumbing and hardware industry in a regular bi-monthly column, appearing exclusively in KBDN.