Are the numbers really that surprising? Nearly six in 10 (58 per cent) HR managers have misjudged a candidate’s fit with their company’s work environment while nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) have lost employees because they were not suited to the work environment, according to an OfficeTeam survey of more than 300 Canadian HR managers.
That number — 58 per cent — is actually low, according to Jan van der Hoop, president of Fit First Technologies in Oakville, Ont., adding it’s not just about HR but hiring managers and anyone else involved in hiring.
“The most bullish odds that I’ve ever heard anyone say honestly is ‘I get it right half the time.’ And for people who get it right half the time, they generally feel pretty good about that.
“Things like education, credentials, work history, skills even, are the weakest predictor of fit. And so even though we’ve relied heavily on the stuff that’s in the resumé to decide who it is we’re going to speak to, almost 90 per cent of the time the reason people fail has nothing to do with any of those things. It’s almost always about fit in some way or form.”
And it’s not always one-sided — it can be the company that made the wrong decision or the employees themselves, said Gena Griffin, regional vice-president at OfficeTeam in Toronto.
“Some of the reasons are connection in terms of fit with the current team; some are connection of fit with the longer term vision of the role specifically; some are to do with the company’s own environment or their culture that’s unique from each company to company, and sometimes departmentally unique as well; and not often but sometimes… there can be a disconnect in terms of appreciation for the mission of the company or the core values, the heartbeat of the organization.”
But when it comes to evaluating skills and fit, the two should carry equal weight, she said.
“Whenever you’re making a hire, you really do need a balance of someone who’s capable of doing the job from a technical point of view, but also somebody who is going to be in alignment and in sync and where they mutually feel that way with the culture of the company, the values of the company and the direction you ultimately want that role to move into.”
There are four critical aspects to fit, which tie into research done by Gallup and other experts, said van der Hoop. These are fit with the job — “The extent to which the work is actually going to draw from my natural strengths and talents versus the stuff that I’m never going to be great at” — fit with co-workers, fit with the organization and fit with the manager, he said.
The latter is probably the most important.
“If fit with the manager is weak, there isn’t a whole lot the organization can do in the other areas to compensate for that — it’s just never going to be good,” said van der Hoop. “The reality is most people join the organization and they leave the manager; so they join because of the brand, because of the product, because of the position in the marketplace, because of the benefits, because of whatever… they want to feel proud that they tell their friends they work there and it looks good on the resumé and most often the reason people leave has nothing to do with those things. It has to do with that one single most important relationship.”
And aside from involuntary turnover, the effects of a bad fit can be insidious — absenteeism, higher benefit costs, stress claims, lower customer satisfaction, lower productivity and lower revenue, he said.
Ensuring the right fit requires considerable upfront work, to do a complete assessment of the position itself, said Ardyce Kouri, partner at executive search firm Davies Park in Edmonton.
“If you take that step back, if you understand what’s required not only from a technical perspective but who the person’s going to be working with and what kind of work they’re going to be doing and how that will affect the overall culture of the organization, you take those steps, you have those conversations… upfront, you will save time and money in the end. But it does probably add a week to two weeks sometimes to a recruitment process, which can seem like a lot... but doing it wrong will be bad in the end, so take that extra time.”
That first piece is huge and it does take some time, but the end result is so much better — everyone’s happier, she said.
“Because the cost of a bad recruitment is very expensive — there’s lost time, redoing it again, training, disruption to the team and sometimes to client service if it’s a customer service-oriented role, there’s lots of costs that may be intangible. There’s some that are very tangible — you can see the costs of lost productivity and things like that — but there also can be some intangible costs: morale of the team, losing a leader again, over and over again, which can then have a domino effect on other people.”
The people doing the recruiting are often overwhelmed with the volume of work so it’s a challenge to find the time to assess a person for fit, said Kouri.
“I don’t think fit is not thought of as important by organizations, I definitely think it is; it’s just do we have time to do it? And,
unfortunately, I think sometimes the driving business goals are ‘Let’s just get it done.’”
Part of that advance work can include getting the team involved as few roles are truly independent positions, said Griffin. So a lot of companies are sitting down with the team to find out who would be the next person who’s right to join because the ability to keep the entire team intact is what’s going to increase productivity in terms of morale and effectiveness.
Employers also conduct panel interviews to gain more than one person’s perspective or use psychometric testing, said Griffin.
“The most effective (tests) tend to be ones that are somehow modelled by previous successful employees of that specific company or firm. So if it’s something that’s customized, that’s almost more effective,” she said. “We’ve moved from behavioural interviewing just about technical background to behavioural-based interview questions that definitely raise to the surface ideal fit, environment fit, team contribution, those things as well.”
There are nifty tools that are geared at quantifying how well an individual is likely to fit in a role, and predicting how the relationship with the manager or even the team will go, said van der Hoop.
“The reality is anybody who’s using those analytics as gospel, as a straight pass/fail, is missing the point entirely. Used correctly, the science can get you to the right shortlist, and you still have to be able to rely on your intuition and your attention in the interview process. If you’re using the right analytics, then you’re going to get better information to have better interviews with. And you’re more likely to ask the questions that are really going to matter.”
It’s about having the science do the heavy lifting first, said van der Hoop.
“If you’ve invested in some science to help you get under the hood and understand how (a person is) wired and what the ideal candidate for the job looks like, so you’ve got the contrast, then you can ask much better questions about where they’re likely to fit and where they’re likely going to need.”
But when it comes to testing, it’s a grey area and there can be a bit of a dangerous line, said Kouri. Somebody who’s introverted, for example, could be a fantastic salesperson but, judging by test results, might not look like a good fit.
“Some of that analysis helps you understand what a person prefers and understanding those preferences means they’ll be probably be happier if those preferences align with your company,” she said. “There’s a place for it but again it’s using it as an enhancement, not as a definitive because these tests don’t define a person, who they are, always — there is a spectrum.”
And while some experts will provide a list of must-have interview questions to determine fit, these don’t always make sense. In any given job, the markers of fit are going to be very different, said van der Hoop, comparing for example a machinist and a salesperson.
“So the platitude ‘Here are the five questions you need to ask’ aren’t terribly helpful unless you’ve got some insight into what drives success in any given role,” he said.