The value proposition for job and culture fit is pretty simple. You need only look at the cost of a bad hire. Here’s what we know.

Department of Labor statistics and SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) studies put the costs of a bad hire at 2 1/2 to 5 times salary. For a $100,000 year employee, that’s $250,000 – $500,000. Few companies can afford these kinds of mistakes.

What makes up those costs? There are quantifiable costs on the front end for  interviews, relocation, on-boarding, training and the like, and on the backend for outplacement, unemployment, COBRA and such. The real damage, though more difficult to quantify, comes from lower morale in the group, reduced performance, customer dissatisfaction, lost revenue and the disruption caused when you finally decide to get rid of the bad hire.

Here’s another cost we often don’t think about – manager’s time spent with bad hires. A recent Robert Half survey discussed in The Surprising Costs of a Bad Hire, showed managers spend 17% of their time managing poorly performing employees. Think about that. Almost a full day each week goes to people that you probably should have never hired to begin with. I’m often asked how to sell the concept of job profiling and job fit to managers. The 2 1/2 to 5 times salary math is by itself pretty compelling. When you add to that giving managers back an extra day a week, its a slam dunk.

Why do we hire the wrong person?

In my experience, the three primary reasons are: 1) Lack of clarity on what we’re looking for, 2) Lack of proper processes and tools for assessing fit, and 3) Personal Bias – we pick people we like or people who are like us.

Lack of clarity on what we’re looking for

You can’t properly assess fit if you haven’t clearly articulated what the job is all about. I’m not talking about a job description here. I’m talking about what it takes to not only be effective at doing the work, but also what it takes to be effective at doing the work in your particular group or culture.

What’s the best way to collect this kind of information? Start with top performers, people in the job now or previously in the job that are/were really good at it. Have them identify or verify job activities and the kind of person they think would be best suited. Articulate not only technical competencies, but also enabling competencies. Enabling competencies include things like communication, critical thinking and a host of social and emotional intelligence elements.

Lack of processes and tools for assessing fit

I believe in assessments, and have for the bulk of my career been assessment agnostic. I’ve used hundreds of different tools and found some value in almost all of them. That said, I know of no single assessment you can use to easily match people to jobs and culture. This is due in part to the requirement for first defining the job and culture.

This doesn’t have to be as time consuming and laborious as you might imagine. I use a simple and straight-forward whiteboard exercise to help clients accomplish this task. I have 40 mental filter continuums clients can pick and choose from to describe the work and culture.  Here’s a sample with 6 items you might use to assess a job.

I gather together stakeholders, people that really know the job – managers, SMEs, job incumbents and HR. As a group we plot the job along each of these continuums.  We do the same thing for the cultural elements.

Once we have our job and culture profile, then we look at how best to assess fit. Sometimes this involves use of assessments, sometimes not. In my experience, structured behavioral interviews are your best means of assessing fit. I help organizations use behavioral interview kinds of questions to help them determine the applicant’s profile. The whiteboard exercise (now available in app form) helps you easily see how applicants align with the job and culture profiles.

In the above example, the blue line is the job and the green and orange lines are applicants.

Using team interviews to reduce personal bias

Another reason we hire the wrong people is because we are all naturally biased and tend to hire people we like and people who are like us. I’ve studied biases, written about them, and trained interviewers for almost 20 years and I still fall into the trap. It’s human nature. It’s the way our brains work. Two things you can do to reduce the chance of bias are: 1) Make explicit what you’re hiring for and hold yourself to that criteria and 2) Add extra eyes and ears to the interview process.

I’m a big fan of team interviews for several reasons. First and foremost, because they produce better results. A talented wolf in sheep’s clothing may get by one person but isn’t likely to get through the scrutiny of five. Second, when teams help select new members, orientation and assimilation time is dramatically reduced. There is less showboating and proving yourself. The team already knows you and you already know them. And team members are more likely to want to help new members they’ve been a part of hiring.

Training team interviewers

Learning what to listen for and how to assess candidates is not difficult but it does require training. Just as we are naturally biased and tend to hire people like us, we are also biased when it comes to the kinds of questions we ask and how we typically evaluate past experience. Digging deep into psycho-social elements is not something typically taught or something most of us do naturally. That said, the best interviewers and those who seem to always hire the best people, tend to do this naturally without even knowing it. Our job as stewards of the process is simply to take what the best do naturally and make it explicit so that others on the team can use it to hire smart.