Employee Selection Can Help Weather the ‘Silver Tsunami’

Until now, employee selection has been the least effective and most costly process that employers use. This article will introduce a proven approach to make employee selection an effective and respected process.

My partners and I have been working primarily in the forest products industry for more than 30 years. We’ve helped our clients with employee selection, on-boarding, and development, and never before have we seen the conditions that we face today.

Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are retiring or getting ready to retire, and the absolute number of people available to replace them is shrinking. In addition, the educational achievement in this country has been declining for years, and employers are being asked to do more with less.

Recently, we worked in a facility in which more than half of the workforce was over the age of 55. The breakdown was as follows: 17 percent were 55-59, 16 percent were 60-64, and 18 percent were 65 or older.

In an industry that typically has had very low turnover plus a seniority-based system to move to higher-level jobs, the implications of this Silver Tsunami are enormous. New people coming into facilities will need to possess the ability to learn their jobs more quickly; be able to move up to higher level jobs in a much shorter period of time; and learn these new, more cognitively complex jobs much faster than ever before.

When I first joined the forest products industry in the late 1980s, it took 20-25 years to attain a top job operating complex machinery. Now, we see employees setting up on these same jobs in three to five years.

First, employers need to clearly understand what they are trying to do when selecting people. Employers are trying to match people to their job(s)—not just the entry-level job, but the intermediate and top-level jobs that they will get to in a reasonable period of time (3-5 years).

Employee selection should be about matching people to jobs, not trying separate the “good” people from the “bad” people. That is done by a much higher authority.

Second, employers need to be clear on what they are hiring these people to do, which is to perform their jobs at an extremely high level. Effective selection processes need to look at a much broader definition of performance. This definition must include the following:
• Meet or exceed performance standards
• Obey the important rules of the organization
• Show up, show up on time, and work necessary overtime
• Be safe and get involved in safety
• Do quality work
• Take on more responsibility and more difficult tasks
• Initiate their own learning and assist others to learn
• Get along, work effectively in teams, and solve conflicts
• Be proactive in helping others and lending a hand when needed
• Handle the physical requirements of the job(s): lifting, pushing, and pulling; working in dirty and hazardous environments; working in hot, noisy environments, and at heights; working shifts

In short, employees need to have ownership of the process or machine on which they work.

Human performance is a function of motivation and ability. This formula—which can be written as P = f (M, A)—is the cornerstone of any rigorous selection process. That being the case, the simple solution to employee selection is to find a way to assess each candidate’s motivation and abilities, then select the candidate with the required amount of each.

The best way to assess motivation is to gather historical data in the interview process. Here at 15dots we count on the tenet that human behavior is very consistent over time. The concept of behavioral consistency is the foundation of any effective interview process. We behave today the way we did yesterday, and we will behave tomorrow the way we behave today (in similar situations).

If prospective employers want to find out how someone is going to perform on a job, they need to gather data about how the candidate performed in their previous job. 15dots has developed a process to repeatedly and reliably gather data for all of the performance areas listed here.
The “ability” part of the equation is a bit more complicated. First, what ability or abilities do we test for? This is where most organizations miss the boat by just grabbing a test or tests off the shelf without any data to support their use.

Before identifying the best test or tests to use, the hiring team must do a detailed job analysis to determine the underlying behavioral requirements of the jobs in question. The more effective selection processes look at the intermediate and top-level jobs that the new hire will move into within a reasonable period of time, because the entry level jobs are just a placeholder.

The reason testing for the identified abilities is so important is that abilities are classes of behaviors established early in life and are relatively stable; they are resistant to change. They are the types of behaviors that are sometimes also referred to as “talent” or “aptitude.”

The illustration here estimates the acquisition curve, from birth to old age, for three different individuals: one with low ability; one with average ability; and one with high ability.

You’ll note that all three start off rather quickly and plateau at about the age of 16. So, if an ability is needed to learn and perform a certain job, we must select candidates that already possess that ability. This highlights the importance of role models and education in the early teens.
Many people confuse abilities with skills. Here’s how we differentiate between them: If you don’t have the ability by the age of 16? Don’t wait up. If you have it by 16, you’ll continue to have it. A skill, however, is a type of behavior built on the foundation of ability. A skill can be learned, honed, forgotten, improved—in other words, it can change with time, training, or practice. To illustrate:
• Ability is mechanical aptitude; skill is troubleshooting equipment
• Ability is being “good with numbers”; skill is mastering Excel
• Ability is coordination; skill is hitting a golf ball
• Ability is being highly verbal; skill is editing

In conclusion, the key elements of any effective selection process are twofold. These dual elements are a battery of tests selected to identify the desired abilities, plus a behavioral interview (preferably a very structured process with involvement from key stakeholders) that gathers the correct historical data. Both should address not only the requirements of the entry level position the new hire will hold first, but of subsequent positions that the employee is expected to attain.

Michael P. Quinn is a consulting partner for 15dots, which teaches individuals and teams the steps and procedures to repeatedly, reliably, and independently replicate the process outlined in this article to achieve a 90 percent success rate in employee selection. Contact him at [email protected].