Friday, May 29, 2009

Customer Experience Pt 5 - Recruiting for Behaviours Aligned to Organisational Culture

Post series written by Andrew McMillan (Principal Consultant at Charteris specialising in customer experience). Before joining Charteris, Andrew had a 28 year career with John Lewis and spent the last eight years of that career being responsible for the quality of service and selling across the UK department stores.

Last time we looked at ‘drawing a line in the sand’ with existing employees using our definition statement as a foundation. A focus on recruitment is the next, but ideally simultaneous, requirement to establishing a defined customer experience and internal culture. Depending on staff turnover this may even come before communicating with existing employees, but simultaneous actions are the ideal as you don’t want new recruits ‘tarnished’ by any negative behaviours that may exist in the business and likewise you don’t want the existing employees to be working to develop a culture that their newest colleagues don’t seem to support.
Rita Bailey formerly of Southwest Airlines in the US had a simple mantra:

Hire for attitude, fire for attitude
Making it happen

It’s something I have worked to for almost 10 years and a statement that resonates with many clients. So why don’t businesses just do it? The killer question that prevents this mantra becoming operational strategy is: What attitude? Now perhaps you might start to see why the statement that we developed earlier to define the businesses’ aims and behaviours is so much more than just a ‘mission statement’. If well articulated the statement will provide a clear definition of the attitude and therefore type of person the business is looking to attract and recruit. Of course, some roles require specific qualifications or substantial previous experience, but these attributes should only open the door to the selection process – it’s the person you are recruiting, not their qualifications or experience. If those qualifications or experience are in short supply, there may be a trade-off against the ideal attitude profile you are looking for and that can happen with exiting employees too. However, you need to be conscious that every time a compromise is made on the attitude of the individual recruited it serves to dilute the culture and consequent customer experience you are aiming to create.

Generic processes

It’s impossible to prescribe a generic recruitment process as that should be tailored to a combination of the business the organisation is in combined with the sort of people the business wants to recruit. One generic feature though is that it must never be a straightforward one to one interview. Initial screening should be done from the application form and accompanying letter, but there are variations here that can start to identify attitude over experience. One business I know asked applicants to draw their greatest achievement on the back of the application form which proved to be very revealing while being wholly relevant to their business. The next stage may be a brief one to one interview, especially if appearance is important in the role you are recruiting for, alternatively it might be a telephone interview if the role is in a call centre – I’ll never understand why all call centres don’t do this! Ideally, if there is any team working involved in the role, the next stage should be a half day group assessment. It doesn’t matter too much what you ask the candidates to do during the assessment, what you should be looking for is evidence of openness, collaboration and ability to relate to others. A hotel I once spoke with told me that they started their assessment mornings by bringing in a trolley of tea and coffee and then withdrawing from the room. The candidates that jumped up and asked who would like tea or coffee were almost invariably the ones they offered jobs to at the end of the process. That might sound like a trick, but actually it’s a very clever way of identifying which candidates have an inbuilt service ethic from those who are just there for any job. It’s certainly more revealing than a one to one interview might be where a clever candidate can make themselves appear to be exactly what the business is looking for. That deception is easy to achieve in an hour’s interview, but much harder to maintain over a half day activity based assessment. If you have a group of candidates together at one time, it can also be helpful to show them any DVDs etc that you may have produced to illustrate the culture of the business (described in the previous article) or, failing that, having a high performing employee come and talk to the group about what it’s like to work in the business and the expectations on both sides. If there aren’t a sufficient number of candidates for group assessment, an alternative approach could be to invite the candidates in to work alongside their potential future colleagues. Again, it’s very difficult to maintain a facade in that situation moreover, if the business has an established positive culture and is very brave they may even choose to let those future colleagues made the final decision about the candidate – I’ve never known of a bad decision in those circumstances. The final stage (if the role requires one) should be another one to one or panel interview with a number of competency questions based on behaviours along with the more conventional fact finding questions they may want to include. Competency interviewing is one of the most effective ways I have seen of predicting future behaviour based on past evidence and represents another technique to identify any facade a candidate may be using. For example, if a sense of fun at work is central to the desired business’ culture a question might be: ‘Describe an occasion on which you made a group of people laugh, what happened and how did you feel about it?’ That is likely to be so much more revealing than a more standardised approach which could be: ‘Do you enjoy having fun at work?’

An offer of employment

The offer letter is another opportunity to reinforce the culture and service aims of the business. It should be written as a two way contract along the lines of: We are offering you this job with the following salary and package of benefits. In return we will expect you to.... whatever the business aims for internal culture and external service are. In this way there is absolute transparency at the beginning on the relationship and should the worst happen and the new recruit prove to be unsuitable, then you have covered the first base of employment law by being absolutely clear about what is expected- even before they have signed a contract!

Follow up

But all that is still not enough! So many organisations have great recruitment processes but then fail to provide on the job support and follow up. A great mantra for this is:

100% honest, 100% kind
In other words, talk to new recruits at a very early stage about their performance in an honest direct way and be kind in giving them support to adjust if necessary. If nothing else it covers the next base of employment law should they not meet the required standard and therefore are subsequently asked to leave the business. But for me, it’s just as much about a combination of doing the right thing morally and common sense as it is jumping through legal hoops. Yet so many businesses I talk to describe a poor performing individual in terms of behaviour and then go on to say how many years they have been in post. Why? I assume a combination of the business failing to grasp the nettle at an early stage, perhaps combined with a poor or non-existent articulation of what the required standard is. By that point they will have done inestimable damage both to the businesses’ customer experience and internal culture.


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