Hiring Commissioned Salespeople? Don't Use a Standard Selection Process

I’ve only had brief bouts with commissioned salespeople but I learned two things from my experience that I carry with me to this day whenever I talk to people about this subject:

  1. It is one of the toughest jobs to start and be successful in.
  2. It is one of the toughest jobs to hire for.

As for point one, I don’t know what to say. We’ve tried a ton of different programs to help people get their start in these sorts of positions. The most successful people don’t seem to need too much guidance though. We’ve tried giving training pay for a month or two just to see if we could get them over the hump but it never made much sense in the dollars and cents department.

As for point two, that’s really where my mind took a flip. I couldn’t figure out why our selection process, no matter how well defined and executed, still ended up with 75%+ turnover in the first 90 days. Behavioral assessments be damned, something wasn’t adding up. Here’s a quick shortcut on something that took me a couple months to figure out:

Most selection processes assume that the company has the most at risk in making the selection. Given that assumption, questions are asked in a way that will reduce that risk or make the risk more acceptable.

Whenever you are hiring a commissioned salesperson though, that risk now falls squarely on the candidate. There is a serious opportunity cost for that person if they take a job that they don’t succeed in (because they won’t get paid). So if you are looking to reduce risk in your selection process (as you would typically do), you are actually increasing the likelihood of a bad fit hire. You throw a hitch into their risk assessment efforts that make it difficult to determine if they could be successful.

So we started talking to sales candidates like we would talk to a partner. We talked about our process, our business, success rates, failure rates, industry trends, leads, turnover… whatever. We focused questions of the candidate on past results, skill sets and industry or job specific knowledge. We helped them decide how they could handle our risk factors as a willing partner and we would evaluate their talents (and possible pitfalls) like we would a partner. If it meshed, great. If not, no biggie.

Was it a grand slam? No, but it was significantly more effective than the behavioral based, scientific process we used to use. It also helped us identify those who were entrepreneurial minded and interested in growing their own portfolio of business (because that’s what it really takes to be successful in this environment).

It didn’t change the fact that commissioned sales positions still stink to identify the right talent for but it at least made it easier for us to identify quickly those who were wholly unprepared to take the risk that commissioned sales demanded.

Breaking Through Organizational Silos in HR

Editor’s Note: Steve Browne is a good friend of Rehaul and has conducted local HR forums for several years. One of their most recent forums focused on organizational silos and how to break out of them. What follows is an edited version of the results of that discussion. You can follow Steve on Twitter.

At Steve’s latest forum, he asked attendees to tackle the intersection of organizational silos and HR and how they can be overcome. There were three critical questions that he asked forum members to answer.

What keeps us in silos at work?

  • Organizational structure favors this. It doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it just means that it’s how organizations have been designed to be efficient.  It is the “classical” model to have groups in functions that support their essential functions within the company.
  • Company cultures reinforce this. This is where organizational design turns ugly.  The culture looks for people to stay in their silo because that is what is expected.  If people tend to want to cross “silos”, they are seen more often in a negative light.
  • Perceptions of others. We like to see other people in their silos.  It is easier for us to “label” them and understand or “perceive” what they do.  HR is as guilty of this as anyone.  We want to label people as “Marketing” or “Finance” or “Sales” when we don’t want to be labeled ourselves.  We need to all remember that we’re in business.
  • Conformity is expected. Company norms help define a culture and companies shouldn’t apologize for that.  However, conformity becomes bad when the conformity expected is poor behavior, unethical practices, or discriminatory.  There is no call for that kind of conformity.
  • Job expectations. Our jobs can absolutely keep us in our silos.  Most people have more than full plates.  Not all of the work may be meaningful, but it does keep us tied to our departments and functions.
  • We like them. We even use words like “team” to mask the silo that it allows.  People like to be on teams, so we march right along.  Look at “cross-functional” teams with people from other areas.  They are really more effective, but they have a much longer normalization process.

What keeps HR in a silo as a profession?

  • The perception of HR. Many in HR feel that no one outside of HR can understand the pain and suffering HR goes through in order to exist.  When you throw in all the traditional monikers for HR: The police, the “No” people, the grim reapers, the party planners, the no fun department, etc, perception is a problem.  It is difficult to be in a profession where we’ve allowed these to be the descriptors of an entire industry.
  • We allow these perceptions because we’re sissies. HR has chosen too often to be the company doormat instead of the company leader.  The constant fear of litigation paralyzes HR and it shouldn’t.  Also, instead of confronting others with the truth regarding issues such as performance, engagement and development, we continue to pander to people including Senior Management.
  • Working with people IS tough. People are fascinating and offer incredible strength, insight, value and innovation every day but they can also be difficult to work with.  It just depends on how HR views people and how HR models behavior to others.  It’s past time to take on the naysayers in organizations and work from a position of strength.
  • We took the “H” out of “HR.” HR has thrived on being administratively strong in spite of people.  Look at the literature, the training material and the constant barrage of paper that continues to hit us.  The fact of compliance and regulations won’t ease up in the near future.  HR has to be in the “human” business if they want to be seen as valuable.
  • Not seen as a resource. If HR always acts beat down, why would people come to them?  This comment smacks of siloed life very well.  If we’re always distant and aloof, we can’t be a resource.

How can we realistically change this?

  • Solution: Out vs. In. We need to get away from our desks and dive into the sea of people we work with.  Yes, it is challenging, but in a very vivid way!  Remember, when you leave your desk, it doesn’t miss you.  HR needs to understand the pulse of the culture and you can only do that by being with the people in your company.
  • Solution: Integrate HR across all departments. The old model of HR is where people came to HR when there was either a serious Employee Relations problem or if an administrative need was at hand. An integrated organization has HR in all departments because all departments have people. Years ago SHRM encouraged HR to get a “seat at the table” and HR struggled to even understand how to do it.  This model shows that HR can be strategic if it’s integrated.  Being at the table never meant only getting “C-Suite” positions, attending endless meetings and making sure our metrics translated into business language.
  • Solution: Be in “business” and not “HR.” We can only be outside of our silo if we consciously live outside of it.  HR has to understand that the true measure of success is if the company they work for succeeds.  All the programs and initiatives of the world won’t matter if the company you work for doesn’t exist. Your job is to help your company do what it does to stay in business.

What do you think? Did these folks hit the mark?

My Christmas Wish: Employee Engagement

We talk quite a bit about employee engagement at MeritBuilder. Here’s the deal: we get it. Employee engagement is a real competitive advantage. It is also incredibly difficult to measure but what’s that saying about how important things can’t always be measured?

While I don’t believe that employee engagement can always be measured, I do believe that learning about how employee engagement can be a competitive advantage can help companies invest wisely in that process. One of the best books I’ve read on the subject was sent to me by author Brad Federman called Employee Engagement: A Roadmap for Creating Profits, Optimizing Performance and Increasing Loyalty.

Federman lays out the case for employee engagement in a methodical, well researched way in the first half of the book. He goes through example after example of real world clients and well known cases of problematic employee engagement styles.

In the second half of the book, he walks the reader through how to implement the ideals he explained at the beginning of the book. He uses examples from companies he has worked with and has shared the results of that work. This incredibly detailed account of how to boost your company’s employee engagement won’t leave you wondering how to achieve the ideal. In my experience, that feeling is rare.

Being a visual person myself, a few of the charts and illustrations helped pound home the message in a clear manner. Did some of those charts smell like a stuffy college course at times? Yes but this again points to the audience Federman is focusing on: business educated managers.

Here’s the other thing: this book is good for engaging both white collar and blue collar workforces. You can’t say that for too many of the books out there in the business section (especially on the heady topic of employee engagement).

The other thing to consider is Federman has been in this space speaking the message for a long time. That shows throughout the book as Federman takes a deeper and more results focused view than others. This was good for me but perhaps not so great for a person who is looking to discover the purpose and value of employee engagement on a superficial level.

It is my hope that resources like this and people like Brad Federman will continue to inspire folks to think about employee engagement and how it can be used as a real competitive advantage as we enter 2010.

Who Are Your Top Influencers?

I made it on a list of Top 25 HR Digital Influencers. Fairly high up even. You should check out the list because any of them are going to be good resources.

Am I thankful for the recognition? Of course. I just wanted to make sure I got that out of the way.

To me though, it is always a question of priorities. Doing great things is always number one. Getting recognized is secondary. Getting both is great (obviously) but man, I’d much rather be a barely known person who does awesome things. Hell, that’s what I hope I am doing right now.

I am not going to belabor the point though. Laurie has a good write up on her reservations with lists like this that I hope you’ll appreciate.

With that in mind, I’d like to take the time to recognize seven people who didn’t make the list but actively influence the HR side of me and do really great things. Any of these people could have replaced me on the list and I wouldn’t have blinked. That’s not some trite, false modesty bullshit, these folks are really fantastic.

  • Frank Roche – Frank influences my writing. He pushes me to be a better writer. His posts take on a “less is more” quality and are as poetic as you can be about HR issues. Reading him over the past couple of years has probably helped me more than anything.
  • Jason Seiden – Jason influences my thinking. He pushes me to expand my thinking. He helps me think about how to remove boundaries in the way I think about problems and solutions. His books are fantastic too.
  • Trish McFarlane – Trish influences my commitment to community. She pushes me to give back. Through her actions, she’s done more to sustain HR’s involvement in social media than most. She’s willing to give without return.
  • Mike VanDervort – Mike influences my commitment to consistency. He pushes me to make every day count. I have an opportunity to speak to an audience every day and I should be there for them. Mike is someone who does that.
  • Steve Boese – Steve influences my thoughts on technology. He pushes me to look ahead. Not only that, Steve thinks about the human impact of technology more than most technologists. If only there were more like him…
  • Paul Hebert – Paul influences my thoughts on incentives. He pushes me to challenge my views on motivation. Here’s what I know: Paul has been doing this for a long time and still has a strong passion for it. I hope I am only so lucky.
  • Shauna Moerke – Shauna influences my sense of humor. She pushes me to not take myself seriously. The reason why many people are attracted to this blog is because I am not the super serious HR guy. Thank God for that too.

Let’s democratize this a bit more. Who influences you? In what way do they influence you?

Maybe Gen Y Isn't So Different After All?

Brazen Careerist released a list of the top 50 companies for Gen Y. I was initially excited to see if there was a shake up or perhaps some cool newer companies who were doing some really innovative things with their employment brand, benefits and the like. Take a look at this mindblowing list though. Count me as just a tad disappointed with the top ten:

  1. NBC Universal, Inc.
  2. PepsiCo Inc.
  3. Nestlé USA, Inc.
  4. Google, Inc.
  5. Citigroup, Inc.
  6. Procter & Gamble Co.
  7. Johnson & Johnson
  8. Grant Thornton LLP
  9. AECOM Corporation
  10. Merrill Lynch & Co, Inc.

Wow, these came out of nowhere, right? With the exception of Google, any of Gen Y’s parents could have been employed at any one of these places 20 years ago (and they might have made the top lists back then with the exception of AECOM). Why did this list resemble a lot of other lists of “top companies”? When I asked PayScale (who provided and analyzed data for Brazen Careerist) about the methodology, here’s what Dr. Al Lee, Director of Quantitative Analysis had to say:

We arrived at the methodology in consultation between Penelope Trunk/Brazen Careerist and the compensation/demographics experts at PayScale.

Our goal was to identify large companies that may be attractive to Gen Y job seekers who are college graduates.

Even though there are many excellent small companies, we focused on large companies (ones that employ more than ~2,500 bachelors graduates) because these are companies where many Gen Y workers may eventually find jobs.

The criteria were derived based on Penelope Trunks research and assessments into what Gen Y is looking for

Those criteria were: percentage of Gen Y employees, total cash compensation of those Gen Y’ers, gender balance and green score. When you leave out any company under 2,500 employees, you basically end up compiling a list of places that have the most Gen Y’ers with some very arbitrary quantitative criteria (Penelope Trunk’s spirited defense aside) to try to justify a ranking system.

In analyzing the results, Dr. Lee states, “Not all large companies in a industry are present [which] is telling. That Google and Yahoo! make the list, and Oracle and Microsoft do not, points out significant differences in corporate culture that Gen Y job seekers should be aware of.”

But is it really a corporate culture issue or is it something completely different? Let’s identify some alternative theories:

  • A high percentage of Gen Y’ers could indicate a high turnover environment or an environment that is seeing senior leadership take retirement. They could also be growth with companies hiring Gen Y’ers into a lower talent pool. Either one isn’t necessarily a cultural boon for Gen Y.
  • High compensation of Gen Y’ers could be in response to a crappy work environment. Take these big accounting and analyst firms that pay a good wage but burn their new employees out in a couple of years with 70 hour weeks. The high compensation keeps candidate quality higher out of college while not having to change their culture.
  • Gender balance on a macro scale means little to the equality or flexibility of environment. Looking at women in leadership roles (who are both indicators and often spur equality where it matters) in the company would give a closer estimation at least.
  • I’ve talked with skepticism about green business and I have to believe that this is more of the same. Being green and having a good green score is more marketing than moral at this point. Especially when you are looking at a company like P&G that talks a good game but still spews tons of toxic pollutants into our air every single day.

The most surprising thing to me is that this is such an old school and broken way of evaluating companies and their value to their potential employees. What I fear and speculate happened is that Brazen Careerist asked PayScale what criteria they have measured in the past and limited themselves to that criteria for any internal analysis. If one were to think about the best data to use to evaluate the best fit for Gen Y, would they come up with these four? I just have a hard time believing that.

In short, what does this list of companies mean for Gen Y’ers? Either we in Gen Y are closer to having the same wants as every other generation (I’ve found these companies on other top lists across the entire workforce) or it is completely wrong and doesn’t mean anything. Neither one of these outcomes has to be what Brazen Careerist wanted.

Note: I am a member of Brazen Careerist and have been featured on PayScale’s blog.

Is Becoming PHR or SPHR Certified Critical?

Editors Note: Today’s guest post is brought to you by Rich DeMatteo. He is a Philadelphia area HR/Staffing professional with experience in both agency and corporate recruiting. Rich runs Corn On The Job, a job search, recruiting, and HR blog. Connect with him through Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, or subscribe to his blog.

Why is it necessary for HR professionals to attain their PHR/SPHR Certification?

A) To gain promotion beyond entry level HR positions with their current company

B) To gain an advantage over other job seekers

C) Proof of having the knowledge, experience, and expertise needed to perform a high-level HR role

D) It isn’t

Just like in most questions found on the PHR/SPHR exam, the one above agonizingly provides more than one great answer. Strong cases can be made for A, B, and C, while D is most likely crossed out by test-takers. Lets analyze the answers a bit further and see what happens.

D) It isn’t

Many see this as the one certain wrong answer, but a handful of people feel strongly about the certifications lack of importance. The VP of HR at my previous company would select “D” as the best answer if I were to ask him. He believes the PHR/SPHR does very little in proving someone has the necessary skills to be a high performing HR professional. Even if this is true, I feel there are other reasons certifications can be important for HR folks.

My answer is not “D”.

C) Proof of having the knowledge and expertise needed to perform a high-level HR role

Studying/preparing for one of these bad boys is far from a joke. Even HR pro’s with 10+ years of experience could always use a refresher course, and it appears that most people DO sign up for some form of preparation. A very popular method is buying and reading the SHRM Learning System books, or taking a prep-course that uses these books.

Unless new information is applied in their every day job, I would assume that most new knowledge isn’t retained for long. Therefore, I don’t believe that passing the PHR or SPHR is proof of expertise. No offense to the certified experts out there. What I’m trying to say is that anyone can go through a prep course and cram/retain the information long enough to help them pass the exam. I’m sure total bozo’s have breezed through the exam and have turned out to be a bust in the workplace.

My answer is not “C”.

B) To gain an advantage over other job seekers

Times are tough and competition for work is extremely high. Job seekers need to gain an advantage wherever they can, and a certification may just be the trick. Also, more and more job descriptions prefer or require candidates to already possess the certification. This means PHR/SPHR certified job seekers boost their chances and hop over some of their competition.

Nothing replaces solid connections through networking, relevant experience, and solid interviewing skills, but when hiring managers won’t be complaining when they notice the candidate is certified.

I’m not quite ready to make my choice, but “B” is looking strong!

A) To gain promotion beyond entry level HR positions with their current company

From what I’ve seen and experienced, when a worker is a solid performer, the company is willing to bend a few rules and qualifications to get them promoted. Maybe some organizations are strict on their requirements, but I just don’t see that happening everywhere.

I’m sure some people might answer “A”, but I’m not.

What is my answer?

I’m going with “B” as my final answer. I feel that the main reason people should look to become certified is to distinguish themselves as better candidates. Like I’ve mentioned, I don’t see a PHR/SPHR certification as proof that someone is an expert, but with so many positions making it a requirement, it seems like HR professionals can be expected to feel forced into handed over a great deal of time and money in exchange for a shiny new certification.

What is your answer?

You may disagree with me, and if so, I want to hear your reasons. If you’ve become PHR or SPHR certified, how has it helped you in your career?

Let's Hit Some Controversial HR Topics

I love talking about controversy. Politics and sports are my favorite pass times but certainly HR issues rate up there professionally. Halogen Software got together a bunch of us for this HR Raging Debates series which was a big success. Now we’re taking it live.

Tomorrow (Tuesday December 15th) at 2:30pm EST (11:30am PST), we’ll be doing a live webinar with many of the guests in the series including:

  • Josh Bersin
  • Kris Dunn
  • David Creelman
  • Richard Hadden
  • Ed Lawler
  • Libby Sartain
  • and myself

You can register for the webinar here. Looking forward to hitting a couple of the issues live!

Are You Hiring Clowns?

It is a disturbing trend: Companies are asking stupider questions of candidates than ever before. You know why? Because they can.

Look, I get it. You heard about some tech company doing it. You read How Would You Move Mt. Fuji? and thought it was brilliant. You want to be innovative. Or hip. Or whatever. Hell if I know, I’ve never been any of these things.

Whenever someone wants to ask a stupid question in an interview, this is what I ask:

Are We Hiring Clowns?

If so, I have no problem having a clown jump through hoops and put on a circus act. I do have a problem with making people who aren’t clowns put on a circus act and jump through hoops though.

That whole thing about resumes and interviews being poor predictors of success in the workplace has to do with the fact that doing well in those situations rarely has anything to do with the job at hand. Let’s stop pretending that we are savants when it comes to interviewing and realize that successfully finding the right fit based on a standard resume and interview protocol is more of a happy stroke of luck than anything else.

So why are these tech companies spending thousands of dollars developing complex puzzle questions if they don’t get results? I would suggest three things:

  1. They think it works because they continue to see success. I would say that they are successful in spite of their erroneous selection methods. Many companies can be successful in this situation.
  2. They think they are more innovative than they actually are. Using the two commonly cited examples, Microsoft isn’t really an innovator of new products (just reinventing their current products like Madonna every couple of years). Google’s most successful innovations outside of search have come through acquisition (YouTube is arguably the most successful product by Google outside of search and they bought it).
  3. They’ve become part of a hazing culture. If everyone in an organization has had to go through the pain of that sort of selection process, they believe that everyone in the future should as well in order to become part of the culture there.

What are your thoughts on these interviewing tactics?

Want To Fight H1N1? Change Your Company Culture

I have been inundated with e-mails regarding the H1N1 flu virus that is sweeping the world. Whatever I did to get on these lists, I appreciate the reminder that living in a state of physical isolation helps insulate me from all of your petty diseases. For those of us who don’t have that option though, what can you do to fight the disease? If you’re in the working world, the answer is simple:

Change Your Company Culture

Why? In many companies, the stigma of calling in sick (or worse, calling in with kids sick) is incredibly strong. Strong enough to compel even the most disgustingly sick to try to “stick it out” and “give it a go.” When their manager sees them, they say something along the lines of “Thanks for at least trying to come in. You can go home now.” Thanks for trying? Like it is a good thing to try to soldier through illness and expose your workforce to potential harm?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

h1n1 two

Is your company paying lip service to this little guy?

If your company is actually serious about stopping the threat of H1N1 (or any easily communicable disease), they would do the following:

  1. Provide a generous sick time allowance so people don’t have to choose between working sick or not paying the bills.
  2. Allow work from home whenever possible and get systems set up to accommodate it now.
  3. Don’t allow anyone to work sick, discourage it from the top down and lead by example at every. single. turn.
  4. Punitive measures for parents of sick children? Now your crappy policies impact daycare providers and other caretakers.
  5. Advise managers on identifying warning signs and teach them how to balance workloads.
  6. Understand the impact that forcing a sick person into work can have (hint: this person can get your healthy employees sick)

Not doing all of these? Then you’re paying lip service and are part of the problem.

And really, this goes for any communicable illness like the annual seasonal flu. Poor policy making on the part of companies or poorly conceived company cultures have caused millions of hours of lost productivity in the workplace. All because we couldn’t stand to lose 16-40 hours of productivity from a single employee.

And why do we do things this way? So we can prevent a few abusers of the system? Employees that do that are, at least in my experience, already poor performers who should be managed up or out. Here’s the real question: why are you still employing these losers? Drop them.

Now even as an individual employee, you can follow the CDC’s advice to the letter and still get in trouble because the company’s culture hasn’t shifted.  You can either see your career prospects plummet as a sickly or needy employee or you can actually get the same disease from your co-workers who are trying to stick it out. That’s why it is a company wide thing. That’s why it is a culture thing. Are you ready to get on board?