Performance-based Hiring is Your Best Bet for Diverse Hiring

June 16, 2015

Possessing the required skills doesn’t prove competency. Demonstrating competency proves the person possesses the required skills.

At some conference long ago an executive asked me how much experience a person needs to have. I said, “Just enough to do the work. Any more and the person would not be motivated; any less and the person would be incompetent.”

Then I went on with this rant:

The continued use of job descriptions that are overdosed with skills, experiences, academic requirements and competencies are anti-diversity. Equally as bad, they’re anti-high potential candidates, anti-military veteran hiring, anti-woman hiring, and anti- anyone who is different hiring. Worse, the continued use of these types of job descriptions allows biases, emotions, intuition and subjectivity to rule the hiring decision.

Then I proved it starting with this definition of diversity hiring:

  • Diversity hiring is hiring people who have accomplished comparable results but with different experiences, in different industries and under different circumstances.
  • Diversity hiring is also hiring people who have demonstrated they can do the work irrespective of their age, race, religion, physical challenges or gender.

If you have ever hired anyone who possesses all of the traditional prerequisites and has underperformed you recognize one weakness in using traditional job descriptions.

If you have ever hired, promoted or know someone who has met all of the performance objectives of a job but brought a different mix of skills and experiences, you know the bigger weakness: the use of skills-based job descriptions filters out these remarkable people before you have a chance to meet or hire them.

Performance-based Hiring addresses both of these problems. However, the objective I had when I first developed it was far more practical. As a recruiter I knew I could find more people who were motivated and competent to do the work required if the artificial restrictions imposed by the classic job descriptions were lifted. As a trade-off for this relief, I committed I wouldn’t compromise on the person’s ability to meet the performance requirements of the job.

This was an easy commitment to make since I had worked with a lot of people who were getting promoted quickly based on their track record of performance instead of their level of skills. Every manager knows this is true for internal hires, but the idea is somehow forgotten when people are hired from the outside. In this case the person’s level of skills and experiences overshadows their past performance.

Even though I received lukewarm agreement with the idea of focusing on performance over skills, another problem quickly arose: Few managers could define the performance requirements of the job. That’s why I started asking hiring managers to describe what the person needed to accomplish over the course of the first year that would prove the person was a top performer and worthy of a promotion or a broader role. It turned out just about every job in the world could be defined this way with 6-8 performance objectives. This is what I refer to as a performance-based job description.

For example, on one assignment a general manager wanted a plant manger with 15+ years direct industry experience in injection molding, an engineering degree and someone who was a take-charge leader. The biggest problem was to turn around a struggling molding plant in a high labor cost environment.

I asked the GM if he’d see someone who had done comparable work in other manufacturing companies if the person had limited molding background. He reluctantly said yes. A month later he hired someone who had a different type of plastics background but had overhauled and successfully run a variety of different manufacturing companies in other industries.

The person turned out to be an all-star. Within 18 months the person he hired was running all (about 9) of the company’s molding and assembly manufacturing facilities in the U.S. He got hired and promoted based on his track of performance, not his level of skills or amount of experience.

When I wrote about this idea in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired I asked David Goldstein, a top U.S. labor attorney from Littler Mendelson, for his insight. Here’s the essence of his full validation.

Because the Performance-based Hiring system does differ from traditional recruiting and hiring processes, questions arise as to whether employers can adopt Performance-based Hiring and still comply with the complex array of statutes, regulations, and common law principles that regulate the workplace. The answer is yes.

In particular:

  • A properly prepared performance profile can identify and document the essential functions of a job better than traditional position descriptions.
  • Focusing on “Year 1 and Beyond” criteria may open the door to more minority, military, and disabled candidates who have a less “traditional” mix of experiences, thereby supporting affirmative action or diversity efforts.

Performance-based Hiring is about hiring people who can do the work, not about filtering out people using a laundry list of ill-defined skills and experiences. That’s why Performance-based Hiring is diversity hiring.

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