Note: this is an excerpt from the recently published 4th edition of Hire with Your Head  (Wiley, Sept 2021). 

One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” This is great advice whenever implementing any type of process improvement program especially changing how hiring is done at your company. “Think win-win” is another one of Covey’s seven habits. When it comes to hiring, this habit is doubly important. It means ensuring the new hire and the hiring manager both recognize the importance of making the right decision and both have all of the information needed to make the right one. Due to its importance this habit has been adopted as the overriding goal and theme of the new edition of Hire with Your Head and rightly called “Win-Win Hiring.” It means hiring for the anniversary date rather than the start date.

Win-Win Hiring: Hiring for the Anniversary Date, Not the Start Date

After more than 20 years of tracking hundreds of people, it became obvious that most people get hired based on criteria that doesn’t predict success: typically, their individual contributor skills, their technical depth, an ability to interview well, how prepared they are, their forced enthusiasm for the job despite little insight about it, and their first impression. The problem with this is that when they underperform most of the time it’s due to their lack of soft skills; poor decision-making; weak organizational ability; inability to fit with the team, manager, or company culture; or lack of motivation to do the actual work required. Some of the time, though, it’s caused by situational circumstances that prevent the new hire from doing his or her best work.

The “Hiring Formula for Success” shown in the graphic was developed to address the wide difference between the factors assessed during the interview and what really occurs on the job.

Simply put: The ability to do the work in relation to fit drives motivation and ultimately successful performance. And because motivation to do the actual work is so important, it’s squared in the formula.

It’s pretty obvious that if you don’t get the “motivation to excel” component of the formula properly assessed, on-the-job performance will suffer. Underlying the formula is the idea that predicting on-the-job performance needs to consider all of the factors that not only define a person’s ability to do the work but also those that impact a person’s motivation to do this work. These are the environmental or fit factors and include cultural fit, fit with the team, fit with the job itself, and fit with the hiring manager’s style for managing, coaching, and leading.

Without the Right Fit Even the Most Capable Person Will Underperform

From an interviewing standpoint, the formula highlights the need to put just as much effort into assessing the fit factors as done for assessing the person’s ability to do the work. It’s important to emphasize that without the right fit even the most capable person will underperform. We’ve all experienced this situation, whether in others we’ve worked with or through personal experience. It’s easy to get demotivated when any of these external fit factors persist for any extended period of time. Under these conditions it’s hard to consistently stay motivated and do our best work. According to Gallup the lack of the right fit has a huge impact on overall employee productivity. Their studies show that employee engagement has plodded along at a dismal 30–35% for the past 20 years. This means that two-thirds of the workforce is somewhat or significantly dissatisfied with their jobs.

Little has changed over the years to improve these outcomes despite the enormous investment made in new hiring tools and training. I contend the reason why this happens when hiring has to do with too much emphasis on the short-term issues and not enough on the long-term fit factors that drive motivation.

The Hiring Formula for Success Captures the Dynamics of Actual Performance

The Hiring Formula for Success provides a good summary of the information needed to make an accurate hiring decision. The formula can also be used to organize the interview with each of the members of the hiring team given a few of the factors to own. During the interview they’ll ask the candidates to provide examples of accomplishments that best demonstrate the factor being evaluated. This is comparable to behavioral interviewing, with one big difference: the example chosen to demonstrate the skill or competency needs to be directly related to one of the actual performance objectives of the job. Without this direct connection, the assessment will be flawed. During the debriefing session, each hiring team member will then share the evidence used to rank the person and how it compares to an actual job requirement. When it comes to making an accurate yes or no hiring decision, this is “the end in mind” we want to achieve.