Knowing where your best performers came from…um, yeah…it’s important!

Weird timing with this ERE article by Kevin Wheeler, titled “Defining Talent in 5 Steps”. I’m working on a project here to do just that, but let me add some context here before I talk about that.

I’ve seen so many articles lately about defining a recruiting strategy, from the likes of Dr. John Sullivan and others. To most people, the need to define a recruitment strategy sounds obvious, but you may or may not be surprised by how few people do it. Some don’t do it because they are paper-pushers (you know, there’s an equivalent in every field…the person that facilitates but doesn’t add real value). Others don’t do it because of resources; recruiters are overloaded and are in reactive mode. They may be able to put together a strategy at the position level, but aren’t set up to successfully develop a strategy across their space. This is really unfortunately, but do you blame the recruiter or the system (don’t worry, I am not going to talk about the BCS again)? Recruiting managers…fix this.

You also hear a lot of talk about defining quality. It’s hard to define candidate quality, but you can definitely define hire quality if you have any kind of a review process. Chop shops measure recruiters on hires alone. But who cares if you are making your quota when you are hiring people that aren’t achievers. And it’s not just that achievers achieve…it’s that they create a culture of achievement. On a personal note, this is one of the reasons I joined Microsoft. Anyhoo, Bnoopy had a good blog post on this back in September. Best quote: “A players hire A players, B players hire C players, and C players hire losers. Let your standards slip once and you’re only two generations away from death.” Word!

So while many companies spend their time analyzing their hire data to inform their sourcing strategies, they don’t take the necessary next step and ask themselves, “where do our strongest hires come from?”. Really, who cares where your mediocre hires come from? If you have that data, toss it; unless you want to perpetuate more mediocre hiring. And while you are at it, measure your recruiters on quality of hire. If you don’t have a measure, find one.

What we are currently working on in my team is an analysis of our best performing hires over the last 5 years. Similar to how we created profiles that tell us who our target candidates are: management consultants, inbound product managers, outbound product marketing, strategic alliance folks, partner management people, inbound and outbound consumer marketers; we want to understand some of the other attributes that make those folks identifyable…we want to know how to market to them and how to source them.

Our process is to pull initial data that we already have: who are the top performers in marketing (looking for a distribution across the profiles mentioned above, levels, organizations), what is their source of hire, previous employer, etc. Then we go out to the hiring manager of a selected sample and get an understanding of what makes the hires good….good as Microsoft employees and good as marketers. We want to know what it was about the person’s resume that interested the hiring manager…was it an MBA? If so were schools important? Which ones? Were previous employers important? Which ones? Have the referred other people? Were they hard to close?

Then we go out to the employee. We ask them how they got here, what organizations they are a member of (alumni, professional), what web sites they go to, what they read.

It sounds like basic stuff but very few companies are doing this kind of work to truly create sourcing profiles for their desired candidates. At the end of the project, we hope to be able to draw correlations between desired attributes and skills and the sources we can use to find them (not just the sources we did use). Then we can cut the data a bunch of different ways to do some planning around things like diversity (where do our top diversity hires come from?) and job posting.

I guess recruiting professionals need to stop thinking about planning as a luxury. Is proving your value to the business a luxury? If so, it’s one you better afford. As things slow down over the holidays, wouldn’t it be a good time to stop, take a deep breath and figure out how to ensure you are working on the right things? As the economy picks up, the success of your recruiting organization could depend on it. So could your career. Nobody ever got fired for thoughtful planning.

Comments (5)

  1. Ian says:

    This was another great article. I’ve been reading this blog for a few weeks now. Keep up the excellent work!

  2. I’ve done this sort of exercise in several firms over the last 5 years – let me show several interesting hints.

    1) Often the best place to start is your corporate HR database. The more information here the better but given your size, even if the data is not complete you can generally get some statistically relevant results. One measure is to track rate of progress over time (who gets promoted the quickest, constantly). CHAID analysis on big groups can produce interesting results (you will have someone in market analysis with the tools and knowledge how to do this)

    2) For recent hires you may well find referrals perform the best though looking longer term might reduce this impact. This is due to the initial process (often called socialisation, where the psychological contract is cemented). Referrals often have the referrer as a ‘buddy’ to help them through this process increasing their initial performance

    3) Many of the ‘best places’ for hires will also produce the most average hires (sorry, no easy answers). You don’t want to ignore the poorer performers – you want to identify what was the differences between the total population and the population of hi-po.s

    4) Ensure that you really understand how you will classify talent. A good team depends on a mixture of people, and performance is often due to the environment that people work in (team dynamics etc) rather than the individuals (there are lots of sports examples to show the teams full of the best players often aren’t the ones who win). 360 review data often shows interesting information. Are you promoting people because they are great at managing upwards yet their reportees don’t rate them well.

    5) Analyse your selection data over time. Is what they are tested on really a good predictor of success? Do regression on review data with selection data.

    6) Try and track the high performers opinions. The employer opinion survey can produce some great information though you will need an identifier – for example ‘have you been on X training’, where X is provided to high performers only. One thing you’ll notice is that high performers have a stronger interest in corporate performance and leadership whereas many will have more interest in their immediate team and what their role is. My guess is that it is the attitudinal stuff which is a good indicator – do their values match Microsoft’s

    7) When you find something drill down. Why is that occurring? Develop stories and test them. Eg, with one firm I found that their best recruits (based on speed of progression) came from the London School of Economics (it wasn’t on the firm’s list of schools they presented at). The reason? The LSE has 70% or so overseas students (as well as a great academic team) and it was the intercultural experience which was the key factor. We then looked at other high-performers and found many were the sons / daughters of families who had changed countries many times in their childhoods.

    I hope that helps.

  3. Insightful note. Seeking information internally/externally to create profiles based on attributes of effective and successful resources will ensure a homogeneous group of talented individuals working for us. In a way its like cloning, however it surely gives the company an edge.

    we are a tiny company however on a personal level I have always asked our managers to help me paint a picture of their best resources


    1) Technical suitability

    2) Behavioral tolerance and

    3) Organisational fit

    standpoint. This helps me to identify precisely what, whom they are seeking.


  4. Questor says:

    You’re right that very few companies do this kind of candidate profiling.

    It’s most obvious during the interview process, when interviewers demonstrate they haven’t even read the candidate’s resume. What’s really maddenning is how these people hold the keys to a candidate’s future.

    That then also calls to mind the success of a candidate who actually becomes an employee. I read the parts about what did a hiring manager find attractive in a candidate (e.g., MBA, work performance, etc.) Somehow that makes it seem that the employee and only the employee is responsible for his success. Where then does the teamwork factor come in? Where then do the decision makers who approved of giving that employee/manager a chance to succeed come in?

    I’ve always found it so interesting that when a candidate comes in for an interview, he has to sink or swim on his own. To call others to advise (as he would normally do in the heralded cross-functional team) is called "cheating."

    I’ve found the book _Dancing Naked_ (don’t let the title mislead you) very informative on this issue. As great as a candidate may be, many other people have to give him the chance and environment to be great. That can be especially frustrating to truly talented candidates who are those "self-started self-motivated" individuals some companies want.

  5. Heather says:

    Anonymous Questor-so what solution do you recommend? A company hires an individual, not a team. Yes, a person works in a team, but if the individual is not strong on their own, they will detract from the team. I’ve been on teams before where someone is not performing and it’s not fun…it brings the entire team down. And at some point, the rest of the team gets resentful when one person is not pulling their weight. So you really don’t have the luxury of either performing well individually OR on a team. You have to do both to be successful.

    You’ve commented on a couple posts here and I don’t mean to be rude, but you seem to be blaming others for things that you (or the candidate) should own. Evil recruiters are not conspiring to keep you (or the candidate) from being hired (oh, wait one moment while I stir my cauldron and cast a spell). We want to hire people…the right people for our company and the right people for the positions we have open. And if there’s some practical alternative besides interviewing to determine who those right people are, I’d like to know what it is. For now, interviewing is what we have. We do a good job of it because we ask about the core qualities that make people successful here. Our profiling analysis is intended to match those core qualities, as well as functional skill sets, with the things about candidates that make them "findable".

    We each need to take responsibility for our own livelihood. It’s probably most productive to ask what you (or the candidate) could have done differently during the interview process if you (or the candidate) were not offered the job, rather than complaining about the standard practice of interviewing individuals for jobs. I’ve interviewed for jobs that I have not gotten and came to the simple conclusion that there was something that the hiring team was looking for that I didn’t have; simple as that.