Four Experts, One Question: How do you put the right people into the right seats? Share:

Steve Williamson, Dir. Product Development, eRep, Inc.
Monday, January 25, 2021
Four Experts, One Question: How do you put the right people into the right seats?

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Tags: #hiring #recruiting #HR

We chose four experts in HR, recruiting and employment consulting and asked them one question:

How do you put the right people into the right seats?

Many top business leaders will tell you that hiring the right people is the most critical contributor to operational success. Despite this, there are many reasons and excuses implemented by leaders and hiring managers and human resources professionals for why they consistently hire the wrong people.

We wanted to speak with four experts in hiring, recruiting and human resources and see what they have to say about the challenge of putting the right people into the right seats.

To evolve the topic from the mere theoretical and into the practical world, we also asked our experts to chime in on four scenarios we might face in the workplace. They gave us their insight into how to address each of these challenging situations.

The Experts

Our experts are: Katie Achille, Phil Cookson, Phil Marsland, and Laura Mazzullo.

Katie Achille Katie Achille is a PR professional, marketer, and serial freelancer with 15 years experience supporting HR and recruiting technology organizations from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. She launched a massive employer brand project at Verizon, wrote a book with a former presidential cabinet member, supported the marketing needs of top lecturers such as Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman, penned entries in an encyclopedia of military science, and taught Pilates. Her work has appeared in top publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Venture Beat, Business Insider, Human Resource Executive, Workspan, and more. Katie is also a contributing writer at RecruitingDaily. She holds a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University and an MA in Historical Studies from The New School.

Phil Cookson Phil Cookson is a Director at Creative Resource, a leading recruitment company for the marketing and creative sector in the UK. For 17 years he's been helping agencies and brands in the marketing and creative sector to find and retain talent to enable them to succeed and grow, as well as mentoring marketing and creative talent throughout their career journeys. Phil is also Co-Founder of School of Thought, a not for profit organization that runs an annual creative course and competition that has been running for 6 years.

Phil Marsland Phil Marsland is a senior HR professional and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. After 20+ years in private and public sector organizations, he founded Blue Tree Consulting in 2016. His multi sector experience and talent for insights and pragmatic solutions helps him to really hone in on his client's needs and provide exactly what they want.

A graduate with Masters level qualifications in Executive Coaching plus Strategic Leadership, Phil is also passionate about promoting aligned organizations where individual abilities are to the fore, facilitated by great leadership with a focus on well being. He is currently studying for a Mental Health and Well Being qualification, along with pursuing his passion for running and writing, with his first book currently in draft. He lives in the Roman/Viking/Medieval city of York, England which regularly wins the Number 1 place to live in the UK award, and he is married with two children.

Laura Mazzullo Laura Mazzullo is the Founder and Owner of East Side Staffing, a boutique Recruitment Firm specializing in the placement of experienced HR professionals. East Side Staffing's values are Kindness, Curiosity and Humility. Laura is led by those values and is committed to, and passionate about, talent acquisition by consistently creating new ways to innovate and partner with her HR network. Laura has developed a successful career in recruitment and brings an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for building relationships. She also offers coaching and consulting services to Talent Acquisition professionals, HR Hiring Managers and HR job seekers.

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The Question

How do you put the right people into the right seats?

Katie Achille: A lot of putting the right people in the right seats goes back to the candidate experience. The right hires are the ones who want to do the job, the ones who are willing to learn what they don't already know and dedicate themselves to getting the job done. They're the ones eager to join the company and to be a part of the team. When we rely too heavily on checking boxes and making sure an applicant has the exact background we're looking for, we risk missing the mark entirely. We need to forge authentic connections with job seekers and empower them to show us their true selves. That's the information we need to make our decisions.

Phil Cookson: People should be a key focus for any business, as ultimately success will be defined by a business's ability to get as many right people in the right seats as possible (it's not possible to make 100% good hires in my opinion; every business and leader has to accept that there will be some bad hires). Firstly, I think businesses need to define and understand their culture and the qualities that they value and look for within the business. This enables you to look beyond and around simply assessing skills and experience. If you can articulate and demonstrate this throughout the business and also publicly, you're likely to attract like-minded people wanting to join. If you can then join this up with talented advocates in your people and talent functions, and establish relationships with the key recruiters in your main disciplines that you will hire within, you'll be in a very strong position.

Phil Marsland: The traditional answer is that you identify the purpose of the role, its accountabilities, and the competencies needed (technical skills and behavioral). You then advertise based on the above and select against the same.

This is still your baseline level for good practice, but you should add some flexibility to your process, too. Use of psychometrics can not only help you assess ability but also personality and preferences. If you are really sophisticated you can then build teams of core base skills and different but aligned and complimentary thinking and behaviors. You thereby avoid everybody being in the same mould and thus limiting your organizational capability, problem solving skills, creativity and ultimately your competitiveness.

Laura Mazzullo: Maybe this sounds like an unnecessary step-a nuanced view on semantics, but wording really matters in hiring, otherwise organizations can head down a road towards biased hiring and a culture-lacking inclusion. The first step is defining 'right' with your hiring managers. This is the same as when a hiring manager says 'we need someone who fits in here'. You have to define these words with them. Hiring for culture fit is a red flag towards that slippery slope towards a culture that lacks diversity. The discussion needs to be slowed down to look inward and gain clarity on exactly what the role requires and we now have some tangible, actionable, real things to identify in the ideal candidate. This is why structured interviews based on company values, core competencies, required skills and experience is necessary. We can't keep going into another year of hiring based on 'gut feel' vs data. Structured interviews hold you accountable for ensuring you are making strong decisions based on logic and data, not just emotion and feeling.

When we think about 'right people in right seats' are we also stopping to discuss what candidates want? What is the right seat for them? Too often, hiring managers naively assume that their 'right person' will automatically want them back. Really take the candidate's feedback as actionable data. This will lead to stronger engagement and retention if we aren't looking at it only from our own lens. We need to ensure what's right for the candidate is in consideration as much as what's right for the hiring organization.

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Four Scenarios

We presented four scenarios to our panel of experts, examples of specific hiring situations where putting the right people into the right seats may not be a cut-and-dried situation. This is the advice they gave.

Scenario 1: The Big Boss wants a particular person to be hired for a role, but their experience and education lags far behind other candidates. What do you do?

Phil Cookson: I'm a big believer in trusting gut instinct when it comes to hiring, and that there is far more to hiring than experience and education, so if the Big Boss has an instinct about this person I would want to discuss why and what they see in that person, but I would be inclined to trust it. If you decide to battle the Big Boss on this hire, you're probably going to have to refer back to how you defined the role and the person spec at the outset, and push back using documented evidence; it may not be easy.

Find out why this candidate is of interest beyond what their resume [and the Big Boss] says. - Katie Achille

Phil Marsland: Unless you feel the need to die in a ditch (make a stand as a matter of principle and risk your relationship and perhaps your position, too) on this one due to your personal values or perhaps safety critical factors, then you support the Big Boss's decision. You may also offer to support their appointment and offer your help to develop the candidate and get them up to the right level.

Laura Mazzullo: My first thought is how this particular person got into the process if their education and experience is lacking. Were the core competencies they're lacking required for the role? Were they defined and agreed upon by the hiring team? It shouldn't have even happened if the answer is yes to those. This is the beauty of following data. This is where biased hiring can go awry and Leaders need to know this isn't how recruitment works. Was the candidate in the hiring process because they actually have the required experience and education, just less impressive than the others? That's a different conversation. The key is: people should only be interviewed if they are in real consideration. As a Talent Acquisition professional, you need to have the confidence and have a voice that is willing to bravely tell even 'The Big Boss' how things work in recruitment. There is a process to follow. There is a system in place for a reason.

Katie Achille: I work to understand why the Big Boss wants this particular candidate. Do they see something I don't? Again, it's my opinion that experience and education only take you so far. A more qualified, more educated job seeker might not even want the job. Or they might take it and leave the second something else comes along. Find out why this candidate is of interest beyond what their resume [and the Big Boss] says.

Scenario 2: All of the employees currently in a role perform at a satisfactory (but not exemplary) level. You need to hire an additional team member, someone you are confident will be a top performer. How do you define what success in that role should look like?

Phil Marsland: You define success by looking into the market and into competitors and how they define top performers. This will help to set a benchmark of excellence against which you can recruit. This could be a combination of technical and behavioral competencies.

In addition to this, your performance management process should show the current satisfactory performance and gap to an excellent performer. You must make sure this process works and that employees understand the standards to which they can aspire.

Laura Mazzullo: I wonder why a company is keeping a team filled with satisfactory employees and not investing in their development right away. What's the advantage to having mediocre performers in whom you aren't investing? Upskilling is going to be KEY in 2021. Invest in them to have 1:1 coaches, trainers, consultants. Go for it. Make sure they have external support to complement what you're teaching them as their leader. Also, it's fantastic to hire someone who you have confidence in as an excellent future performer! Should hiring be anything but this?! Success in the role should have been defined from the start of the hiring process so the candidate is clear on what they can expect. Candidates will ask these now on an interview process: How will my success be evaluated in the first 30, 60, 90 days? If a year from now you've said I've been an exceptional performer, what will I have done? How will you know that to be true?

How success is defined is based on conversations with the team and the current Leader at the very start of the hiring process: What is missing now? Where are the gaps? Where can we be adding more value? What does our business need from this team they aren't getting? Really be willing to talk through the good, bad and ugly of the current department WITH the current department. You'll not only learn their areas for development, but get a clearer understanding of what an exceptional candidate would look like for this role. You are basically doing an audit of the team to assess what could be improved with the addition of a new hire. I'm not a fan of comparing people to people 'this person is better than that one"; it creates a culture of competition and gossip that isn't very healthy. "We need to hire someone successful because the current team stinks" isn't a good hiring strategy. Firstly, train them or decide who is no longer adding value (different discussion). Instead, identify what the role itself requires from someone, what the team requires of someone, what the business requires of someone, what the values of the company are, then build the profile of 'success' from those answers. Success is one of those words that can have a million definitions based on the answers to these questions. This is why intake meetings are so important! They are the time to dig deeper and peel back the layers of the onion to gain clarity.

Katie Achille: Before making that new hire, you need to figure out what's missing for your existing employees. Are they complacent? Is it something more tangible? This is important to identify, especially if these employees will be working together. It would be unfair to pin the shortcomings of everyone else on someone new. But knowing what's lacking will help you determine what you're looking to achieve and how an additional team member might fill the void.

You define success by looking into the market and into competitors and how they define top performers. This will help to set a benchmark of excellence against which you can recruit. - Phil Marsland

Phil Cookson: I think the best outcome from this scenario is that the new top performer will set a new standard for the rest of the team. This will likely have two possible effects on existing members. One, they rise to the challenge and improve their own performance, or they feel the new standards are not something they can live up to and they move on. For me, success in the role would be in redefining expectations for the role and the team, in an upward trajectory.

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Scenario 3: As part of a performance audit, you conducted psychometric assessments for everyone in the company. There were a few top performers but the data shows at least half of the staff are in the wrong seats for their psychometric profile. What do you do?

Laura Mazzullo: Just because the 'assessment' said the performer is in the wrong seat, would said performer agree with that assessment? Have we spoken with them about the results? Have we asked them if they envision something different? Have you figured out a path on how to get them there? Have we decided if these assessments are really working for us based on this data? If the conversations with employees show they are, in fact, miserable in the positions they're in, how did we get here? How did that happen in the first place? Where was the disconnect in our hiring efforts? In our leadership? Our engagement? Be willing to hold up the mirror and see your own team's role in this type of data. These are opportunities to adjust and evolve. They do need to be as self-reflective as they are transformative. Be willing to take accountability for how we got here, and then be willing to try something new going forward.

Long-term, psychometrics need to be embedded into the recruitment function of the business to ensure [mediocre hiring] doesn't happen again. - Phil Cookson

Katie Achille: Don't discount their overall value to the organization. Sit down with the workers who don't match and talk to them about their work, career goals, experience as an employee, and supplement the assessment results with their perspective. If they genuinely are misaligned, consider whether there are better opportunities for them on a different team. If that's not the problem, having a meaningful conversation could uncover other unseen factors impacting their work.

Phil Cookson: This shows there has been a long-term issue with hiring within the organization, and it isn't likely to be solved overnight. First, investigate the possibility of moving people into more suitable roles; can that be done? Are they willing? Second, it is possible with training to modify an individuals profile within the workplace, it takes time, patience and buy-in from the individual but it is possible. If you and they are willing, develop a training plan for each individual. Long-term, psychometric needs to be embedded into the recruitment function of the business to ensure this does not happen again.

Phil Marsland: In this situation you must report back to the Board clearly stating your findings. This should be objective and clear, for which you need your detailed reasoning and perhaps visual representation and charts, too.

In terms of actions it depends how far 'wrong' people are in terms of being in the wrong seats. If it's a long way then you need to start conversations with them about alternatives and/or performance management. Some may surprise you and develop to the required standard, others may resist whilst others may be grateful for being released from their pain.

Scenario 4: Some who interview well don't necessarily perform well on the job. Some who perform well on the job may not interview well. How do you overcome this to ensure you consistently hire people who will always perform well in their roles?

Phil Cookson: You have to look beyond a good interview as some candidates can interview really well but don't always match with their performance. Always ask, "Does this person align with our organizations culture and vision?" Go back to the core competencies that you are looking for, don't get blinded by a great interviewee by overlooking your key requirements. You absolutely must check out references to see if they just talk a good game. So many organizations don't bother with references. I also find someone that is nervous in an interview can be a positive thing. Nerves show that it means something to them to be interviewing with you, and I think that has value. Sometimes inviting them back or having another informal chat will help them to relax and for you to see beyond their initial interview that didn't go so well.

Phil Marsland: It always surprises me when people rely on interviews as an indicator of performance in the job. Unless the job is "Being interviewed" how can it be a reliable indicator? Plus, there are the twin risks of interviewers overestimating their abilities and judgement, and candidates just being good at blagging interviews or just freezing on the big stage.

To make good selections for the job you should have a process that uses competencies and evidence, psychometrics for ability and behaviors, and where possible an assessment that recreates a slice of the job. It's even better if you can do a job-based trial period. Using all of these can help you come to a balanced decision for each candidate, just remember that even a full blown assessment centre will only give you around 70% predictive validity relative to job performance. But this is much better than a CV based interview chat at around 20% predictive validity, especially if you know that astrology and handwriting analysis give you 15%. So beware, because its not often written in the stars.

I make sure that we set expectations [amongst the hiring team] on what we're really evaluating in the interview process. - Laura Mazzullo

Laura Mazzullo: In every intake meeting, I talk to my hiring managers about the fact that interviewing is a skill. Some people are really savvy, experienced, well-practiced and advanced at this skill. Some people are rusty, less experienced and a beginner at this skill. Neither is a direct correlation to their ability to their job (Unless 'interviewing' is a skill that is useful in their day-to-day job).

I make sure that we set expectations [amongst the hiring team] on what we're really evaluating in the interview process. Also, this is where so much bias creeps in "Her hair was messy" "She didn't make eye contact well" "He seemed nervous" "He talked a lot" — this stuff creeps in to every hiring process. Let's get it back on track: What are our core competencies? What are the required skills that we are actually evaluating these individuals on? I'm sure everyone reading this will say "C'mon! No one says these things." Yes, they do. I work only with HR Leaders as Hiring Managers and they say these things almost on every search. It's a work in process. Hiring is ALSO a skill that needs honing, refining and practice. So, some of this judgement comes from a lack of education on hiring. As TA partners, our role is to probe deeper if the issue is relevant to one of the core competencies we're evaluating. So if they say "Bob really went on tangents and talked over me, interrupted me..." and one of the core competencies we're looking for is a 'succinct and empathic listener" this is valid feedback. You have to be able to tie the interviewing feedback back to a core competency. Otherwise, cue dark road towards biased and ego-driven hiring processes.

Also, sometimes I have to remind my hiring managers "When you last interviewed as a candidate, how did you feel? How did you want to be evaluated? How did you want to be treated? Were you nervous?" It's important to remind them that quickly dismissing talent over something trivial impacts an actual human being. It helps them keep empathy front and center in the process.

Katie Achille: First, we need to recognize that consistency and performance aren't mutually exclusive concepts. Candidates and employees are subject to off days, weeks, even months. To flip the examples included in the scenario: if a candidate looked great on paper but didn't interview well, maybe they are just out of practice. If an employee isn't performing well on a current project, perhaps they are struggling to keep up with the workload. We need to prioritize humanness as part of work. Call the candidate back and ask them what happened. Pull the employee aside and see what's going on. We can offer one another support and kindness and still ensure the job gets done. It's within our capacity as professionals.

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Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - Dir. Product Development, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in information technology, software development, and project management spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (, and when he isn't writing he is an aspiring multi-instrumentalist and composer, a virtual pilot in a home-built flight simulator, and a cyclist.

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