HR Week: Hiring The Right People Is Your Greatest Asset

Last week I had a quick read of Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work which was enlightening as to how hiring the wrong person can be destructive to workplace culture. Which got me thinking, how important is hiring the right person for the job and how do we do it?

We can basically establish a continuum in how hiring the right people influences workplace culture, profitability and growth. The right people are an important asset with strong positive linkages in productivity, loyalty, firm growth and employee satisfaction.

When staff are hired and managed correctly they can become a key source of value and can be a real game-changer for any workplace environment.

We can gather that a firms success is dependent on its staff; given in that: Profit and growth are driven by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is based on a firms ability to deliver value to the customer. And value is a result of loyal, productive and engaged employees.

Yet how do we maintain engaged employees?

Whether firms embrace it or not, staff behaviour is heavily influenced by the firm culture, or the norms and values that impact the group behaviour. We know that a customer focused, service firm will have at its heart a service culture where there is an appreciation of good service and where good service is internal as well as external. We know that a good service culture is not something that simply happens at a complaints desk or isolated customer service department and should be so engrained into staff behaviour that it is considered a norm. Getting employees to engage in this culture, especially, relies on high quality support and policies that facilitate employee empowerment and incentives.

A twist on the old adage that I much prefer is that the right people are an important asset but firm culture moulds the right people. Easy enough to understand, in theory, but hard to put on the table.

The result? Firms often fall into trap cycles that lead to disgruntled employees, negative workplace culture and makes room to cultivate a drab revolving door mentality — “Why should I do more work, when doing just enough is sufficient?”

The Failure Cycle of Company Culture

Beginning with a narrow design of jobs to accommodate low skill levels, emphasis on rules rather than service and the over reliance on technology to control quality, a strategy of low wages is accompanied by minimal efforts in selection and training.

Consequently, resultant bored employees lack the motivation to respond to customer problems and develop a poor service attitude. This in turn results in low service quality and high employee turnover. And because of weak profit margins, the revolving door cycle repeats itself with the hiring of more low paid employees to work in an unrewarding atmosphere.

Firms like this often have a repeated emphasis on attracting new customers who lack continuity in receiving a quality of service and become dissatisfied with staff performance. These customers, in turn, fail to become loyal to the firm and as a result turn over as rapidly as the staff thus requiring an endless search for new customers to maintain sales volumes.

The departure of disconnected customers is especially worrying as we know a loyal customer base is key to profitability.

For conscientious managers, it should be deeply disturbing to contemplate the social implications of a nomadic pool of service employees moving from one low paying job to the next in part because of the unwillingness of employers to invest efforts to break this cycle.

Mediocrity verging on Failure

Another vicious cycle is mediocrity. Mostly found in large bureaucratic organisations — typified by state monopolies and regulated oligopolies — there is often little incentive to improve performance and workplace culture, where fear of entrenched unions may discourage managers from adapting more innovative labour practices.

In these environments, service delivery standards tend to be rigid, by the book, standardised and oriented to prevent employee fraud and favouritism towards specific customers. Staff may be expecting to spend their entire working lives with the firm and with a high level of job security, adequate pay and good benefits, there may be in fact little incentive to leave.

But the fact remains that job roles tend to be narrowly defined, unimaginative, tightly categorised by grade and scope and further rigidified by union rules. Salary increases and promotions are based on longevity, with successful performance in a job being measured by the absence of mistakes rather than high productivity or outstanding customer service. Training? Focuses on learning the rules of the trade and technical aspects of the job not on improving human interactions with fellow workers.

Since there is little overall incentive for employee initiative, jobs tend to be repetitive and boring, resulting in disengaged employees. Feeling trapped in their jobs, sullen employees may respond indifferently to unhappy customers and thus the cycle of mediocrity verges on failure and we have a poor organisational environment for staff.

So, how can we overcome these revolving door cycles of negative workplace culture which lead to disengaged staff?

The Management Response

Needless to say, attractive compensation packages are used to attract good quality staff. Broadened job designs are accompanied by training and empowerment practices that allow frontline staff to control quality.

With more focused recruitment, intensive training and better wages, staff are likely to be happier in their work and to provide a higher quality of service, thus creating value.

Yet, as much as we would like to implement the entirety of this in place, better wages and compensation packages are not always within budget. Employee satisfaction is often seen as sufficient but not necessary in having high performing staff. The management response still lies in the training and hiring process.

Singapore Airlines (“SIA”) for one come ahead strength to strength in HR strategy. Driven by strategic brand management guru Martin Roll, the entire process of hiring emphasises not only external service quality — reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and responsiveness — that allows the customer to rate the service experience, but also looks at internal service quality. In that, it is necessary to get the service quality right from within the organisation in order to get customer satisfaction.

It is basically the view that human assets are essential in creating customer satisfaction. SIA focuses on recruitment and employee philosophies that is employee-driven but customer-focused. Martin Roll basically implemented a five step program that follows:

  • Internal selection: strict criteria for selection based on age, academics, and physical including a 3 interview process — uniform check, water confidence test and psychometric testing.
  • Talent Acquisition: Based on empathy, friendliness, whether the person is humble. Employees undertake a 4 month training course followed by a 29 month online training course which involves technical training and life skills e.g. gourmet food appreciation.
  • High Performance Teams: 13 members fly together for a minimum of 2 years to allow staff to bond, which in turn offers a distinct customer experience.
  • Structured Empowerment: E.g. the luggage staff has discretionary power to upgrade baggage weight to 50kg if the client is unhappy about baggage limitations.
  • Motivation: New staff are assessed 6 times over 6 months and existing staff are contacted 4 times a year.

All this leads to great customer service that SIA are renowned for and is essential in creating customer value and brand equity in any service organisation. Regular customers also appreciate the continuity in service relationships resulting from lower turnover and so are more likely to remain loyal. Profit margins tend to be higher and the organisation is free to focus its efforts on customer retention to reinforce loyalty.

But the question remains for HR — how can we find the right people to hire for our company?

Hiring Based On Core Personality

The idea of culture as a philosophy is widely adopted in HR practice, which focuses on improving service culture through hiring employees based on their beliefs and attitudes which is based on core personality function as opposed to something that can be changed via training.

HR and psych gurus raise three pillars that can be adopted when deciding how to hire the right people that even Richard Branson is on board with. From the most important to secondary, these being:

  • Employees traits and motivations which drives their behaviour — this is their core personality which is hard to change
  • Self-concept which is their attitudes and value sets
  • Skills, training and competences where you can shape employees and their skills in particular service areas.

The main takeaway is that though surface skills can be trained, a firm cannot train the staff to want to service your customers.

When looking to make the right hire, remember to work on your organisation first and consider how their core personality function will fit in with workplace culture to avoid Snakes in Suits and disengaged employees.

Originally published at