When setting out to hire someone for our call center or a client’s call center, we want to know how that applicant will perform on the job – before making a hiring decision. Obviously if we could see into the future, we would know whom to hire and not hire. The crystal ball would be even more impressive if it could tell who the top performers would be.
We use a job tryout to help predict a person’s job performance. If you have competed in music, theater or sports, you know that tryouts quickly eliminate the poor performers from competition.
You do not get to run the 100-meter race at the Olympics without going through tryouts. You do not perform on Broadway without going through tryouts. Shouldn’t a call center professional try out as well? After all, you are hiring people who solve problems effectively, treat customers courteously and represent your company professionally.
Just as track and field can be broken down into sprinting and distance events, or families, your roles in call centers can be broken down into families as well. Understanding these families is important so you can get the right people in the right job. You can break down call center jobs into six general families. These include customer care, inside sales, market research, help desk, collections and Web-enabled agents.
All jobs can be broken down into five competency “buckets.” The fifth, physical ability, however, does not pertain to the call center environment. The four buckets most important to call center performance are:
• Mental ability (solving problems, making decisions, analyzing information).
• Organizational ability (planning and time management).
• Interpersonal ability (teamwork, coaching, presentation skills, customer service).
• Attitudes, interests and motivations (attitude toward quality, job interests, motivation to produce).
The first three buckets include skills associated with the can-do aspect of job performance. For example: “I can learn new information quickly. I can ask questions to solve problems, then make judgments. I can persuade people in a low-key manner. I can persuade people in a forceful manner.”
The fourth bucket – attitudes, interests and motivations – is associated with the will-do aspect of the job: “I enjoy working with others. I will be at work on time. I will be flexible about my work schedule.”
The will-do is extremely important and can be very difficult to measure. Have you ever worked with someone who had excellent customer service skills, was very smart and always followed company policy and procedures, but was frequently tardy or absent? That is the power of the will-do.
The bottom line is that high performance happens only when the person’s can-do and will-do match the job’s can-do and will-do.
During the tryout, you basically need to measure fairly and accurately each applicant’s skills using competencies from the job analysis as your targets.
In our experience working for call centers we have found that no silver bullet exists that will tell you whether you should hire someone. In the call center space, many software or Web-delivered tests exist that make these claims.
We have tried single-solution tests like these and determined that they just cannot deliver what they promise. Some of these vendors admit as much. Forbes magazine writer Joanne Gordon, in the April 16, 2001, issue, quotes one “silver bullet” CEO: “We can predict a trait but not if they will be successful at a particular job.”
Call center managers need to know more than traits. They need to know about performance. Accurately determining future performance takes more than a single test.
After much research, experience and validation, we found that a multiple-hurdle selection process is highly predictive and time-efficient. With a multiple-hurdle hiring system, a candidate has to pass each stage (multiple hurdles) before he can move to the next stage. If you look back to the earlier Broadway stage example, you could set up a series of simulations that would act as a multiple-hurdle process. The first might be a singing test. The next one a dancing test. Then, you might combine singing and dancing with acting for a third assessment. If the actor does not pass the first singing test, he does not move on to the dancing assessment, and so on.
Many types of assessment tools are used in multiple-hurdle selection systems. In general, they can be broken down as follows:
• Cognitive ability: job-specific cases, tests, exercises, structured interviews.
• Organizational ability: job-specific cases, tests, exercises, structured interviews.
• Interpersonal ability: job-specific simulations, observations.
• Attitudes, interests and motivations: job-specific tests.
R. Wendell Williams, managing director of ScientificSelection.com LLC, Atlanta, said, “Assessment tools are measures of peak performance.”
That is, they measure the best you can get under the circumstances – and they measure the raw talent of your work force. They are the most significant measures of where you can take your organization and how you will get there. When you have the results of these measures, you gain deep insight into the people who work for you – their strengths, weaknesses and areas of possible improvement.
Knowing your “bench strength” will give you valuable information about things that can affect reorganization efforts, job redesign, restructuring, entering new markets and other areas.
Adding assessments together to create a multiple-hurdle process improves the accuracy of your hiring decision. In the ideal world of a logical, predictive hiring system, each stage is linked to the next. This requires investment in process, people and technology that can pay for itself by saving just one or two hiring mistakes.
So how will you select the right employees, especially if you start to use a behavior-based hiring model? When we begin the recruiting and selection process for our clients, we will typically have to make contact – not interview – with 2,000 to 2,500 people for every 100 people to hire.
To contact that many people requires a sourcing process that is always on, captures data quickly and “holds” the applicant in your selection system just long enough for you to make a decision, but not so long that you lose the candidate. How do you measure your hiring cycle time? Do you measure in terms of days? Weeks? Months? Think of recruiting as “days in process” and work toward measuring hiring cycle time as an “hours in process” event. Recruiting and sourcing will always drive your selection process.