The Hiring Batting Average


By Jack and Suzy Welch My company will double in size over the next year, which means we need to bring on lots of employees (as in hundreds) very quickly. Hiring is hard enough at a normal pace. Any suggestion on getting it right going so fast? — Lars Dalgaard, Palo Alto, Calif.

To start with, congratulations are in order. First, on your success. And second for facing the reality that you could blow it. If there is one way that rapidly growing businesses tend to self-destruct, it is by taking on hordes of people who cannot deliver the goods that made the companies take off in the first place. You seem to know that. Now you just need to know how to stop yourself anyway.

Look, we know growth is thrilling, especially when you've worked for months or years laying its groundwork. If you're starting something inside a company, maybe it feels like your whole career depends on your new product or service going from gamble to money-gusher. If you're an entrepreneur, maybe you've poured your life savings into making your dream a reality. Regardless, for anyone who is at the controls as an enterprise finally lifts off, the last thing you want to do is throttle back.

But if you don't get this big new wave of hiring right, you will wish you had. As you yourself note, hiring in normal times is not easy. In a growth spurt like yours, it is really hard. Companies tend to drop their defenses. One way to combat that tendency is to make sure you get religious about all the usual hiring best-practices. Test all candidates against your core values, conduct multiple interviews, and when checking references, be sure your people listen carefully for what is being said, and what is not.

With your massive hiring requirements, though, we would suggest you also add a simple but galvanizing technique to the hiring process—the Hiring Batting Average (HBA). This technique is something we have discussed with several groups of rapidly growing companies like yours, and while new, we think it can really improve the chances of hiring right under high-pressure, high-speed circumstances.

HERE'S HOW IT WORKS. Every candidate for a job at your company must be interviewed by at least three people in the organization beyond the hiring manager, and each interviewer must sign off with a "Hire" or "Don't Hire" vote. No maybes allowed. Fast-forward six months. Every new hire gets evaluated by his manager on how he has performed against expectations: below, meets, or exceeds. Soon enough, and with enough critical mass, you can start to compare every interviewer's "Hire" recommendations with actual performance. For instance, say a manager named Emily has approved 10 candidates and, six months out, eight of them are performing at or above expectations. Emily's HBA would be .800. That impressive score lets you know Emily is a first-rate evaluator of talent, and she should be rewarded accordingly. By contrast, say Emily's colleague John has given the nod to 12 hires and, after six months, only four are working out, for an HBA of .333. Keep John in his day job and away from picking people!

Along with improving hiring effectiveness, the HBA also delivers two other powerful benefits. At the front end, it has a way of getting current employees to actually engage—brain and soul—in the interview process. The fact is, the last thing busy employees want to do is sit down for a half-hour with some random candidate. After a while, all the shiny faces begin to look and sound the same. But if employees know they will ultimately be held accountable for their verdicts—with a hard number, no less—interviews go from chit-chat to real conversation.

After the hiring, the HBA has a way of motivating interviewers to stay in closer contact with the people to whom they've given their "Hire" stamp, even prompting ad-hoc mentoring relationships. That's a win-win, for the new hire and the company.

A caveat, though: Like every management process, HBA can be gamed. To pump up their average, some managers might try to lower their number of "yes" votes or not take risks on exciting or bold candidates who might be great—or awful. The best way around such abuse is to monitor it closely, just as you should with any measurement system.

Ultimately, for a fast-growing company to hire right, every old employee has to care passionately about every new employee coming aboard. And for that to happen, employees have to own the hiring process, taking responsibility for picking the best people and integrating them successfully. The HBA gives you a way to measure and inspire both. And for you right now, that's the whole ball game.

Jack and Suzy Welch look forward to answering your questions about business, company, or career challenges. Please e-mail them at thewelchway@BusinessWeek.com For their podcast discussion of this column, go to www.businessweek.com/search/podcasting.htm


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