Hiring Right: Data Driven vs. Intuition

Richard Van Camp - Monday, May 16, 2016

A number of years ago, in an effort to jump start the growth of my then-company, we embarked on an aggressive hiring campaign. Given the high stakes involved, my team and I put together a comprehensive list of objectives and measures germane to selecting a cadre of new sales professionals. We included input from key stakeholders – field consultants, managers, outside sales professionals, functional support personnel, and clients. We identified results, behaviors, skills, attributes, and experiences that a successful new sales professional should possess. We spent hours hammering out appropriate weights for each objective and identifying relevant measures.

We then turned our attention to evaluating the candidates. For those candidates meeting the minimum criteria, we conducted extensive interviews using our objectives and measures as a guide. We documented performance in a matrix; scored each person’s performance against the objectives; and calculated weighted scores. For the initially-attractive alternatives, we looked at risks. “What could go wrong?” we asked. A week later, we made offers to the top-scoring candidates. Our confidence soared.

Two weeks later, during their induction training, I was in the training center lobby talking with the new hires during a break. A sales professional with over 25 years of experience walked into the building, so I introduced him to the new hires. We chatted a bit and then all went our separate ways. Twenty minutes later, the experienced sales professional walked up to me and said, “Unbelievable! What were you guys thinking?” A month later, two of the three new hires were terminated. So much for using a rational, data-driven decision making approach!

Fast forward to last week. Every year at this time, I think of that story and chuckle. Why? Because I see parallels between my experience and what goes on during NFL draft week. It’s the analytical number-crunchers vs. the “gut feel” traditionalists. It’s those who believe that data such as 40-yard dash times and a rational decision-making approach are the keys to success vs. those who believe intangibles like “having a big heart” and “a motor that never stops” separate the winners from the losers. It’s football’s version of selecting a sales professional – and everyone has an opinion since the future success of the organization hinges on bringing in the right people.

So which approach is right – data driven rationality or experience laden intuition? The answer is both – or neither. “Both” when the objectives and measures are fundamentally “right” and “neither” when the objectives and measures are “wrong.” Traditionally, most objectives used during the hiring process have focused on past results and vaguely measured behaviors, personality traits and characteristics, styles, strengths, and/or preferences. What’s missing are objectives and measures that speak to the underlying causes that drive exemplary performance.

But that is changing. Based on advances in brain mapping psychology, 12 causal factors have been identified that directly impact performance; specific behaviors pinpointed; and relevant measures for each behavior established. Added to the decision making mix, this vital dimension of causal factors increases hiring success, as measured by performance – whether it be a 310-pound lineman or a 150-pound sales professional.

Given the need for organizations to attain results from a new, diverse, generation of workers, it is more important than ever to use emerging tools, techniques and thinking to acquire top talent. Whether it be in business or in sports, the cost of failure is staggering. Thus, every organization is “on the clock” to get it right.

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