Why Dr Sullivan Is Wrong: Assessment not selling is the Remaining Recruiting Challenge.

Sourcing is dying. As Dr Sullivan eloquently points out, new tools make what was once hard, finding people, easy. With the birth of online tracking tools, software, and social media the cost of finding people will dramatically decrease. Bad news for recruiters, good news for companies.

However, the next recruiting frontier is not selling but assessing the multitude. The recruitment industry, and business more widely, loves predicting who will become successful but isn’t very good at it. There is a gap between what science knows and what business does.  Selling is not the answer. Better assessment is. (To be fair to Sullivan he mentions this in passing).

When I met academics specialising in ‘decision making in uncertainty’ and sports teams implementing their thinking it was clear that business was ignoring two factors when it comes to hiring: Human bias and statistically driven decision making.

As Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize Winning Economist, said to me in New York, one of the keys to good decision-making “Is NOT to let humans make the final decision.”

Kahneman’s work on the “The Outside View” is a must read for recruiters because it explains why companies often make drastically bad forecasting decisions.

The inside view, most companies adopt this, is when we focus on the specifics of one candidate, try to form a coherent story around them and somehow convince ourselves that success is just around the corner.

The outside view starts with the opposite: It takes into account the general failure rate of the reference class of candidates and can therefore provide a much more accurate prediction of a candidates performance.

Yet, the bottom line is that you cannot sell AND assess as Sullivan suggests. They are mutually exclusive. Selling while assessing is like trying to make love while doing the washing up.

Often, this “selling” theory can be the reason that CEO hiring is fraught with difficulty.  James Citrin, of Spencer Stuart, told the HP search committee if they picked Leo Apothker, they would be remembered for making “one of the best CEO picks ever.”

Is Citrin selling or assessing?

Coincidentally Apothker left after 10 months and HP lost 30 billion dollars in market capitalization during his tenure.

I will write more thoroughly about quantitative decision-making and human bias in further posts but the future will belong to a new breed of recruiters who understand how to mitigate bias and use stats to make decisions. For years, Baseball has been hiring MIT grads and former NASA scientists like Sig Mejdal at the Houston Astros to make more objective personnel decisions. It’s time business caught up.

HR and recruitment teams are not hiring people of this calibre or background. In a recent study we completed (released next week), only 10% of HR and recruitment professionals in the FTSE 100 have even the most basic of numerate degrees.

This fact alone is shocking and slightly frightening. But where there is complacency there is opportunity.

In short, recruiters and companies cannot sell themselves out of this problem. They must think their way out.

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