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It all starts with recruitment

I had a great chat with a client in the people development function of a large NZ institution the other day. He had been charged with looking at their approach to performance appraisal. Given some recent changes in style by some big global experts in this field, I asked what he was thinking. One point he raised was the number of organisations that quote the  massive investment in training  managers that their new system required. Most of that training was about how to run a good appraisal. I made the comment that being good at an appraisal was largely a function of attitude and willingness to run the process constructively. He said,  “I’ve always said everything starts with recruitment. You can’t train attitude”.

So we ended up talking about recruitment being undervalued and almost transactional in many organisations and that meant the skill of exploring attitude with candidates was largely ignored as a result. At this point, he revealed his second piece of wisdom: “Handing over recruitment to the owning manager sounds good, but it’s failing because recruiting is a specific skill.”

I dwelled on this on and off during the day and found myself thinking that the evidence for his view is all around us. How much is wasted on recruiting people with skills that are lost due to attitudes that could have been surfaced at the vetting stage? How many senior people move on to more senior roles when those around them know they are a bully/ control freak/ power crazy/self-interested (delete as appropriate)? I have also personally delivered leadership training to people who have said they aren’t interested and it’s all nonsense as you just need to ‘tell people what to do’ and these people were in roles managing other people!

So we often recruit people with bad attitudes at worst or the wrong attitude for the role at best and then expect to train them up to compensate. Most of us know that good attitude can compensate for lack of initial capability yet time and again qualifications and experience rank highest in recruiting exercises because they come first in the advertising of the role. Years in similar roles is particularly interesting as a colleague of mine who supports organisations to recruit once said, “Very few of us, when asked to give a reference, will be 100% honest particularly about failings, so you’ve got to dig and when you do the skill is listening for the pauses”.

For the last year at Altris we have been providing many of our clients with our 91 day report as an analysis of potential candidates in their recruitment pipeline. As part of this report, we help the client explore the questions they need to ask to understand if the risks associated with an individual candidate are real blockers. The more clients use this report, the more they find that focusing on the big attitudinal risks is the most revealing. Yet still, many recruit specialists report back to the owning manager saying, “I’m a good judge of character and I think they will do fine”, only to find that a few months later there is a need for “some coaching support” (and let me tell you, it’s impossible to right a recruitment wrong by coaching).

Looking at the cost of recruitment in many organisations, maybe there is a big prize to be had if those handling recruitment in-house were senior, experienced, skilled in digging for attitude and most importantly empowered by the manager to find them the right person.


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