Thursday, February 26, 2009

Roadmap for Sales Recruiting Success

By W. D. Cravenor

Sales recruiting, with all its analytics and fineries is, in the final analysis, a craps shoot.

One would think that future performance—based on responses to numerous traditional evaluation methodologies—could be predicted, however this is not so. Ultimately the desire exhibited by a prospective new hire is the “x” factor that eludes all analysis models, despite claims to the contrary.

What constitutes the greatest factor(s) resulting in the complication of the decision making process, thereby frustrating all attempts that would otherwise lead to a successful hiring decision? Generally speaking, the following two factors result in new hire decision failures:

1. The prospect underestimates the difficulty of the job.

2. The prospect overestimates her or his ability to meet minimum performance expectations associated with the job.

Given these two considerations, what must employers do to keep these two factors from wreaking havoc in their recruitment and retention best practices? The one word answer is disclosure.

Employers are frequently not willing to divulge the nitty gritty aspects of a position in question, choosing to give greater focus to the clinical list of requirements contained within what is communally referred to (in HR speak) as the all encompassing “Job Specification”.

While Job Specifications generally perform well in apprising the candidate of the minimum requirements and expected functions, or even desired outcomes, HR’s performance in communicating exactly how the work will be accomplished to meet minimum expectations is abysmal.


While my view is not necessarily supported by empirical research, suspicion dictates that the HR professional tasked to write the job description & specification, (hopefully with some help from the functional department manager), while being well intended, is the last person in the organization who should be responsible to cipher the “how” question.

Obviously, if everyone involved in the hiring process understood the answer to this question, the 80/20 rule would become a thing of the past—but it is not.

So we muddle through, as looking in a brass mirror, seeing some reflection but knowing all the while that the truest picture will never come into focus without the passage of time.

Time is the ultimate vindication of all hiring decisions. When you factor in short terminations for sales positions (less than 1 year in tenure), time reveals that—from a purely functional basis—hiring decision makers get it wrong over 80 % of the time.

What can be done to improve this performance? Here are a few recommendations:

1. HR should consult with the hiring manager and a select committee of at least three top 20 (%) producers, who have been in the position for at least two consecutive years, for the purpose of developing “action statements” related to how performance was achieved. These action statements should be incorporated into the job specification as examples of expected performance attributes.

Concentration should be given to real-world, street-level activities, actions and mindset that lead to the accomplishment of stated performance goals & objectives.

2. Have one of your “top 20” select committee team members conduct a Discovery Process (DP) with the candidate in question.

The DP contains four action steps, as follows:

Step 1 Defeat, in the candidates’ mindset, any notion related to the simplicity of achieving position-related expectations by providing real world, position-specific details, constituting a no holes barred full disclosure of the challenges presented. A complete review of the action statements contained within the job specification should be undertaken to insure the candidate has a correct interpretation and understanding. A Q & A session should be conducted with the candidate to confirm understanding.

Step 2 Defeat the candidate’s overestimation of her or his own ability by setting up a real world, field-based Operational Scenario (OS) that is preset for failure. If the candidate can survive this failure in a real world setting without loosing composure, they will become more open to Coaching for Success (CS). A loss of composure in the presence of failure is also telling in determining the future viability of a candidate. “The same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay.”

Step 3 Based on management’s review of the results of the OS and the candidates’ willingness to continue in the DP, have the same top twenty producer, along with a second rookie (less than twelve months of tenure) continue the DP by debriefing the candidate on exactly how they have achieved expectations, providing detailed information & explanations of their day-to-day activities, attitudes and recommendations for future performance. The candidate should be given ample opportunity to ask questions and get feedback on their Action Plan for Success (APS). The APS should be requested from the candidate prior to step 2.

Step 4 Conclude the DP by:

A. Step 2 & 3 OS employee participants complete a Prospective Peer Evaluation Form, (PPE) indicating their recommendation to HR and management regarding the candidates’ viability in the position on a host of criteria.

B. Management, in conjunction with HR, makes a final hiring decision, taking all traditional evaluation methodologies, (Targeted Selection, et al) into consideration, along with their supplemental evaluations related to the DP, OS, CS, APS and PPE, advising the candidate of their determination.

C. The recommending Step 2 OS employee participant will serve as a CS Mentor, working with the new hire, either locally (preferred) or virtually to begin performance evaluation in concert with the new hires’ APS and direct line management.

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