How Nate Silver Hires

Apparently Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has some opinions about employee selection after  months of candidate interviews.  “Companies in general ought to spend more time on their hiring — it’s not the kind of thing that should be left to HR reps,” Silver says. “You know, clubhouse chemistry matters.”

From TIME: http://time.com/12551/nate-silver-fivethirtyeight-hiring/

Not That Difficult

I tell clients that effective HR functions for small and mid-sized organizations are built on a framework of three key components: regulatory compliance, employee relations, and efficient transactions.  Of these three, compliance and transactions are not value added.  For sure, employment-related lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, and distracting, but the process of achieving and maintaining compliance with myriad state and federal rules and regulations doesn’t improve quality, or increase efficiency, or lead to better widgets.  Likewise, transaction processing, like payroll and benefits administration and record keeping, are essential functions but add zero to the bottom line.  Employee relations, that continuum of hiring to development and retention to de-hiring, is where opportunity lies for HR to make an impact to overall organizational improvement.

So when a company like JP Morgan, a huge firm that can darken the skies with flocks of HR professionals, is the subject of an EEOC press release, it’s very puzzling to those of us who work with much smaller enterprises.  Compliance with these kinds of state and federal statutes is a basic, fundamental job for any HR department.  This is not technically challenging, and it’s not particularly expensive or resource intensive.  It does require some intentional leadership and focus.  As I explain to my clients, take time to do what must be done, including compliance, and then focus time, attention, and energy on building HR competencies that benefit organizational stakeholders.

It’s really not that difficult.

Big Data: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

HR professionals are falling over themselves professing allegiance to the latest and greatest idea to grace the pages of the New York Times and The Economist among others – “Big Data.”  Apparently HR hasn’t been doing much of a job with assisting organizations on the best way to hire and retain people, so now the promise of shiny new selection algorithms and aggregations of “quizzes and games” promise to turn hiring into a “science.”  One blogger writes “No longer are we just trying to fill empty seats as quickly as possible.  Instead, we’re trying to efficiently identify the right candidate for the job,” an admission of past practice which might say something about the healthy skepticism developed toward HR by the corner office.

By using mountains of data regarding everything from online habits to text messages to relationships on eHarmony, companies can now avoid pesky interview questions about past performance and specific behaviors.  For example, Big Data tells us that job hoppers really aren’t a risky hire, they just probably weren’t tested properly (assuming they stick around long enough to validate the results).

Certainly this approach is new, but revolutionary?  More likely this is just scaling up practices that are of limited value to begin with, a form of personality testing on steroids.  No doubt it’s hard to make good hiring decisions, and hiring managers need to continually and self critically assess their capabilities.  HR’s best bet is to help make them more effective, but “Big Data” instead reinforces tendencies that, although highly placed in the pantheon of conventional wisdom, only contribute to HR’s lack of perceived value.