Bob Corlett returns to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Bob has worked in staffing and consulting for over 25 years. He is the founder and President of Staffing Advisors, a retained search firm near Washington DC. He developed The Results-Based Hiring Process® and is one of Washington’s best known thought leaders on staffing and recruiting. Full Bio…
Why That New Metrics Initiative Will Destroy Your HR Career
by Bob Corlett
My wife makes her living analyzing the academic achievement of students in our public school system – (thanks to the “No Data Left Behind” act). So, when she moved over to a low performing school, with a new, data-driven principal, I was interested in how that would play out. Would brilliant analytics and new leadership improve the academic performance of the school? Naturally we were hopeful, because I’m a process guy, and well, analytics is her job. But analytics were not the key to the school turnaround. They were helpful, but secondary. It’s something else that’s turning the tide.
Time magazine just ran an article about the schools in Finland. The Finns are rock stars in global education – by almost any standard they have outperformed virtually every other country in the world for many, many years. How do they do it? With more metrics? No. They did it with better teachers, and just a few metrics.
“The Finns … do as little measuring and testing as they can get away with. They just don’t believe it does much good.”
The Time article shared 3 BFO’s – (Blinding Flashes of the Obvious) about Finland:
1. “Finland’s sweeping success is largely due to one big, not-so-secret weapon: its teachers … It’s the quality of the teaching that is driving Finland’s results”
2. “The U.S. has an industrial model where teachers are the means for conveying a prefabricated product. In Finland, the teachers are the standard.”
3. “In the U.S., they treat teachers like pizza delivery boys and then do efficiency studies on how well they deliver the pizza.”
One of the keys to the Finns success was selecting the right people to become teachers, investing in their development, and then freeing them to use their expertise to teach, unconstrained by a standardized curriculum geared toward standardized test scores. No “teaching to the test” in Finland. Instead they start with a highly skilled professional and trust them to use their judgment. There is a lesson for HR here.
The transformation in my wife’s school did not happen two years ago when better metrics were introduced. The transformation only happened as better teachers were introduced, and teachers who resisted accountability left. Great people first, a few metrics second – metrics are only useful in the hands of a skilled operator. W. Edwards Deming, the godfather of the American quality movement cautioned that “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” But my corollary is this: “A bad person will screw up a good system every time.” Great metrics did not help the bad teachers.
When you ask the question “What are some good metrics to use in an HR department?” you are already on the wrong track. That first wrong question will launch a misguided drive toward an efficiency goal, often at the expense of a business imperative. (It will lead you to think it’s a good idea to lower your cost-per-hire by making top candidates all apply through your irritating Applicant Tracking System). Efficiency oriented metrics initiatives like these are a career disaster. They simply turn HR into pizza delivery boys (or, as John Sumser would argue, girls). You’ll train the real decision makers to say, “Hey HR, while I am driving real business results why don’t you go get me a pizza (or new hire? Oh, and can you guarantee delivery in 30 minutes?”.
If you are not steeped in metrics now, don’t borrow them from some other organization. Instead, look at two or three things that consistently drive results in your organization (like hiring great people, and then start looking for ways you can have a measurable impact on that.