In my first search project (in 1978!) the president of a manufacturing company told me he wanted to hire someone as a plant manager who had 10-15 years experience in the field, a technical degree, be results oriented and have strong communication skills. I told him this was not a job description it was a person description.

I then suggested we put the person description into the parking lot and asked him what the person needed to do to be considered successful over the next 1-2 years. He told me, “Turn the plant around!” We then took a walk through the plant and found 6-7 major changes that person had to make to convert the plant into a profitable and competitive business. For example, one of the projects was to reduce scrap by 15% in the major processing line, another one involved insuring shipments were delivered on time and a third focused on dramatically improving labor performance. Clarifying expectations upfront this way ensured there were no surprises about the job when a person started.

Since 1978, I’ve prepared well over 1,500 performance-based job descriptions like this for different roles ranging from YMCA camp counselors, call center reps, engineers in all fields, seasoned and entry-level sales reps, recent college grads, managers, directors, VPs, general managers and CEOs for small and big companies in all functions. They all start by asking the hiring manager this question, “What does the person need to do be to be successful?”

Rather than trying to convince the hiring manager the merits of this approach, I now first go to ChatGPT and ask the same question. Then I send the response to the hiring manager and ask this question, “Is this a reasonable representation of what a successful candidate needs to accomplish over the course of the first year and if not, what needs to change?” (FYI, here’s the output from ChatGPT for an account executive being used as part of a study to more accurately predict sales rep performance.)

I then ask the hiring manager if she/he will see a person who has a track of similar accomplishments even if the mix of skills and experiences is somewhat different than what’s on the job description. The answer is always the same, “Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

Over the past 40+ years and thousands of hires later it’s clear that performance and diversity are not mutually exclusive. It simply requires that job descriptions define the work that needs to done, not as the people who are doing the work.

It simply requires that job descriptions define the work that needs to done, not as the people who are doing the work.

Here’s what my friends at ChatGPT had to say about this whole idea.


Why Performance and Diversity Are Not Mutually Exclusive

In a world where diversity and inclusion are increasingly recognized as essential elements for organizational success, the concept of Performance-based Hiring offers a transformative approach to talent acquisition. This innovative hiring methodology shifts the focus from traditional metrics—such as educational background, years of experience, and generic competencies—to a candidate’s ability to achieve specific Key Performance Objectives (KPOs). By centering on what individuals can do rather than who they are, Performance-based Hiring fosters a more inclusive and equitable recruitment process, opening doors for talent across all walks of life.

By centering on what individuals can do rather than who they are, Performance-based Hiring fosters a more inclusive and equitable recruitment process, opening doors for talent across all walks of life.

The Core of Performance-based Hiring: Objectives Over Credentials

At its heart, Performance-based Hiring is about defining the work that needs to be done in a role and identifying candidates capable of accomplishing these tasks. This approach is encapsulated in the creation of performance profiles that detail the KPOs for a role—specific, measurable outcomes the new hire is expected to achieve. These profiles serve as a blueprint for both the hiring process and the candidate’s success in the role, emphasizing the importance of actual work achievements over abstract qualifications.

Broadening the Talent Pool

By focusing on KPOs, Performance-based Hiring inherently broadens the talent pool. Traditional hiring methods often inadvertently narrow the field of candidates through stringent criteria that may not directly correlate with job success, such as specific degrees or years of experience in a similar role. In contrast, Performance-based Hiring encourages employers to consider a wider array of candidates, including those from diverse backgrounds, industries, or life paths, as long as they can demonstrate the ability to meet the job’s performance objectives.

Minimizing Bias Through Evidence-based Selection

Another cornerstone of Performance-based Hiring is its emphasis on an evidence-based selection process. The use of a quality-of-hire talent scorecard helps minimize biases by focusing the interview and evaluation process on the evidence of candidates’ past achievements and their potential to succeed in the new role. This methodological rigor ensures that hiring decisions are made based on objective criteria related to job performance, rather than subjective impressions or inherent biases.

Validation and Legal Compliance

One of the strengths of Performance-based Hiring is its validation by a leading labor law firm in the U.S. Here’s a copy of the white paper which you’ll also find in the appendix to Hire with Your Head.

This endorsement not only attests to the effectiveness of the approach in identifying top talent but also confirms its compliance with legal standards for fair hiring practices. By adhering to a process that is both effective and legally sound, organizations can safeguard themselves against potential discrimination claims while ensuring they attract and select the best candidates for the job.

Conclusion

Performance-based Hiring represents a paradigm shift in talent acquisition, one that aligns with contemporary values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. By valuing what candidates can do over who they are, this approach not only enhances the fairness of the hiring process but also enables organizations to tap into a richer, more diverse talent pool. The result is a workforce that is not only high-performing but also more reflective of the diverse society in which we live.