Reference checks on job candidates


After interviews have taken place you will want to take a few more steps before you decide whether to make an offer to one of the job candidates you have for a vacancy. You may want to ask candidates to complete assessments or you may want to get the perspectives of their former colleagues before you make a decision.

The reference check template shared here contains a few questions to help you understand whether one candidate may be preferred compared to another given their experiences and approaches.

This link shares the template from google drive

Additional steps after initial interviews or between rounds of interviews could include:

  • Tests or assessments.
  • Practical exercises like a business case or even a presentation to be made to some senior leaders or experts at your company.
  • Reference checking with former colleagues, former direct reports or former supervisors of the candidate(s).

Background checks are used in some countries but can be harder to obtain in countries or regions where data and privacy protection laws exist. In most cases, criminal background and/or financial history information can only be obtained if the prospective employer can show a direct link between the requirements of the role and the information it wishes to obtain. Reference checks are typically easier to conduct in most countries, but be mindful of the kinds of information that you would be reasonably able to obtain given local laws.

Be mindful to:

  • Ensure that you notify any impacted job candidates (i.e. in areas such as Europe) about the data you wish to obtain and how you would process this data to avoid the risk of non-compliance. Job candidates need to know this at the start of the process and they must (actively) agree with your proposal for collecting data before you are able to proceed.
  • Ensure that all data obtained during the recruitment process is archived or destroyed after the process has been completed for a specific vacancy. All HR personnel who deal with such data would need to understand that this also includes any data that have been saved to their individual computers during the process.
  • Make sure the data you wish to obtain is relevant to the hiring decisions you wish to make. And make sure that those who would speak with candidates or possible referees can explain the connection.

Assuming that you have taken all precautions to ensure you are not incurring any risks with your planned reference checking approach, here is a template with questions for you to consider when you contact the list of referees provided by the job candidate.

You can use the template in a few ways:

  • Set up a time to talk to each referee via phone or Skype and go through the questions, capturing his or her responses.
  • Send each referee a form and ask him/her to complete it and return it to you – typically via email. Be aware that this approach does not offer you much opportunity to ask further questions to clarify without creating a few extra emails to the original string.
  • Set up the questions as an online survey (for example using www.surveymonkey.com) and share the link with referees. Note that data interpretation may be an issue here – not knowing what a referee meant by a specific score or comment. This also means you would have to contact referees again to clarify feedback. One way to improve data interpretation is to build in comment fields to explain scores.

Finally, it is important to understand that a reference check is just one of the data points that could support decision-making related to hiring the best candidate for the vacancy. Feedback may be incomplete for a number of reasons:

  1. The referee wishes to avoid any unpleasant situation with the former employee and wishes to be cautious in his/her responses.
  2. There may be laws in the country which specifies what referees can or should say and what they cannot comment on.
  3. The previous company may have clear policies about what can be shared by referees, which may be limited to job title and years of employment at the company.

Getting feedback from those who previously worked with a job candidate can still be valuable – understanding how the candidate’s knowledge or work methods would fit in with the job requirements or the company culture. For this reason, it can be good to get more perspectives. Just be aware of possible risks given the changing legal environment as you obtain feedback from referees.

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4 Questions to ask about metrics


Understand first, then act

empto6Without the right level of scrutiny, it can be easy to misinterpret a metric (key measurement, KPI) and waste valuable time and resources debating and taking actions to “fix” things that may not be “broken.”

Let’s take an example to illustrate: Employee turnover. Let’s say I show you this number and tell you that this represents Employee turnover at a company:

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I would imagine you would have some questions for me? Let’s go through some questions I expect you to ask me as we clarify what that number means. (Answers in blue from an HR representative at a fictitious company)

  1. How do you define turnover and how did you calculate that?

Answer: The company defined employee turnover as the number of employees who left the company. And they calculate that number this way:

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If you think this number is high or low, hold your horses, we have a few more questions to ask before we can come to a conclusion.

  1. Over what time period was this number calculated?

Answer: It represents the employee turnover over one quarter. 

An unusually high or low number can be an anomaly if it represents, for example, one day or one week out of a year. And that could be for many reasons including possible entry errors or calculation errors. If it is an average over an entire year, an unusually high number may indicate an alarming trend.

  1. What is this metric about?  

Here you would like to understand the reason why they are tracking the metric and how they are using this metric for decision-making.

Answer: “We want to make sure that we retain employees and do not have too many people leaving thereby causing us to have to retrain people on a regular basis. We also want to avoid constantly having to hire and onboard people to replace those who left. We think it is disruptive to the business. We have set a limit of 7% as a reasonable employee turnover maximum.”

Knowing that this is about retention helps to understand the metric more. For example, you could now start to form an idea in your head about the employees that a company would like to retain. To ensure you lose no more than 7% of your employees through resignations, you would want to ensure that internal communication is going well, that employees feel appreciated and that there are development opportunities for them etc. (These would be all the efforts you could make to increase employee engagement and satisfaction).  But it is also immediately obvious that 21.6% is much higher than 7%! So we need to ask more questions.

  1. What is the context of this metric? 

With this question, you are trying to understand if there were any events or special circumstances that may have contributed to this metric being unusually high or low.  It may also highlight how this metric compares to other periods – is it higher or lower than in the past?

Answer: “The metric is much higher than in previous quarters. During this quarter, we had to lay off some people due to losing a large customer. We also let some temporary workers go. And some people have chosen to take early retirement with the incentives that we offered around the reduction in workforce.”

Going back to how they calculated the 21.6% you may now wonder if they did the calculation correctly. If the metric is about making sure that they retain employees then it would be logical to ensure they do not include those who leave involuntarily – due to a lay-off for example. And there was also mention of temporary workers. Workforce planning often includes having a pool of temporary/agency workers who can more easily be let go of in the event of an organizational downturn. From that perspective, it would also not be useful to include those workers in an employee retention metric. It is time to question the number of people who left the company – the 108.  Having obtained more information about the 108 employees, we see that this number represents various groups including retirees, agency workers, redundancies, and resignations.

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In this case, the only unplanned people that the company “lost” = 32

In that case, the metric calculation would result in 6.4% which is below the 7% limit that was set as a goal.  It is important that the definition of the metric is clear about which groups of people who left should be included or excluded in the calculation.

In summary, we can make some suggestions for this  HR team:

  • Clear name and definition. Perhaps the metric should be redefined and possibly renamed if their intention is to capture how many employees (not temporary workers) resign from the company and to keep that % below 7%.
  • Share definition with stakeholders. Just looking at 21.6% employee turnover can be alarming so it would also be very important that the metric is well understood by the team and its key stakeholders outside of the team.
  • Accuracy. To avoid any possible calculation errors, it could help if somebody audits the metrics before the dashboard is finalized and distributed. The credibility of the HR team can be impacted if an executive team regularly sees errors or inconsistencies on the HR dashboard.

Keeping track of key metrics to monitor the success of specific processes or initiatives is important. That way you would be able to easily identify if a project or an objective is in danger of failing to achieve desired outcomes at the end of a year. Early identification also enables you to take the appropriate actions to correct an alarming trend. The key is to ensure that metrics on a dashboard are accurate and easy to interpret by those who view it. Be intentional and critical when you choose the metrics to track and when you define them to stakeholders.

When reviewing metrics, ensure that you truly understand what they represent before drawing premature conclusions. Planning actions to rectify premature conclusions could be a waste of your valuable time and resources when they are based on erroneous assumptions.

Preparing Managers to participate in a Staff Reduction process


 

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It is a critical activity to perform correctly: staff reduction, mass employee lay-offs or a reduction in force. This is the situation where employees are laid off based on a declining workload or business instead of for non-performance reasons etc. Not executing this activity correctly can expose the company to many liabilities and potentially law suits. There are several steps to take in this process and in most countries there are specific requirements which may include employee and/or union consultation and involvement and some steps could also be subject to approvals by governmental organizations. In many countries there are very specific justifications that a company has to be able to provide to show that the process of selecting who to lay off was fair and equitable and that no discrimination took place.

When your staff reduction process calls for a manager or supervisor to conduct the employee notification meeting, this set of slides may be helpful as you seek to orient them to the principles involved, the process to follow and also to raise awareness of the human impact of such a lay-off process. Without proper preparation of the managers/supervisors before the notification meetings they are very likely to make incorrect statements or to forget to make important statements or they may act in ways that could be interpreted as discriminatory. The resource that I share will help you minimize that risk as you first orient managers/supervisors in a group and then have each manager/supervisor work with his/her HR Representative to practice how to conduct the notification meeting correctly during the staff reduction process.

Orientation for Managers to conduct Employee Notification meetings link.

Remember:

  • It is not only the impacted employees who are going to have an emotional reaction to the staff reduction, employees intended to remain at the company may be losing valued friendly connections with peers – even friendships. Be sure to reassure those whom you intend to stay with the company to stop them from looking around for other jobs during the uncertainty that is created in the workforce when a reduction in staff is planned or in progress.
  • It is very important to plan the notification meetings to take place very fast. The shorter the time of uncertainty and people waiting to be called in for a meeting, the better your chances of restoring the morale of the remaining employees and avoid retention risks.
  • During times like these is when your company’s values should drive decision-making and how you talk to employees. Your branding messages can claim honorable conduct and make promises of fair treatment, but it is during staff reductions that you get to prove that you meant it. Employees will remember how you conducted the staff reduction more than they will remember what is written on your posters about company values.
  • (HR/Office Manager) Remember also to check in with the managers and supervisors who conducted the notification meetings. It is tough to tell a number of people that their jobs will go away and watch them have emotional reactions to that.

The staff reduction process is tough on everyone and it is vital that you plan it and conduct it exactly according to the rules and laws of the country where the people are employed. Internally you also need to make sure your planning includes an orientation process for those managers and supervisors who have a role in the notification meetings. And most importantly, check in with those who will remain after the notification meetings are complete to ensure that your business activities can resume soon after.

 

Performance Review and Merit Increases


performance and reward processes

Performance management, salary reviews, desired behavior of leaders and employees and reward and recognition mechanisms are all very much connected and very much over-lapping with each other. Making changes to any one of these areas without considering how the other areas will be impacted would be foolish. People will always adjust their behaviors and efforts to ensure the best personal outcome for themselves. It is up to the company to ensure that these interlinking areas are in harmony with each other in order to reward and drive towards desired behavior and outcomes.

The resource I have here ties a specific overall individual performance review score to a specific range of possible merit increases. Management demand to have a fixed and structured approach for this is easily recognized, but it is also true that more than one aspect should be factored into selecting overall increases for employees. Some additional factors could include what is the budget for increases that year? How did the company perform in the last year (overall)? What is the labor market like at that time – are some jobs in high demand and do you risk retention issues if you do NOT ensure good compensation packages that compare well to the local market?

I would caution anyone to consider unintended outcomes when attempting to standardize and establish rigid structures for considering individual performance and linking that in a fixed way to increase percentages. Be careful what you specify and indirectly require from managers and employees. Your intentions may be good: to reward your best performers for their contributions and to ensure those with lesser performance improve or leave the company. You may end up with people for example not sharing information or not collaborating with others if doing so could hurt their own income potential.

One approach to tying the performance review process directly to the merit increase process is attached here. This example does not take into account some of the considerations highlighted above when it comes to selecting the actual increase percentage and I chose to share this resource anyway, because it does happen that HR is asked for a process like the attached on a regular basis and I want to make an example available to you if you find yourself in that situation. I do suggest you consider ways to incorporate the other aspects as outlined above when you finalize your proposal to implement a more structured approach to tie performance management to compensation review.

Performance Review process linked to Merit Increases resource link.

My main advice is to think it through carefully to ensure your good intentions have the best chance of being reinforced by your performance management and salary (or compensation) review processes. And I would also add that you should remain flexible in working with your documented process. Be ready and willing to adjust and update it as you gather input about how successful your process is in driving desired outcomes – results and behavior that you and the executives would like to see in your pool of employees.

 

Performance Management Process


final perf imp

One of the most fundamental areas where HR has to add value to companies/organizations is to manage and improve the outcomes of the Performance Management Process. HR’s accountability clearly goes beyond the setting and maintenance of  a process to manage individual performance outcomes. The resource I will share here is however mainly focused on the individual aspect of the Performance Management Process – including some links to the salary/compensation review process and the individual development process.

This generic Performance Management Process shows the various basic steps that would need to be followed over a 12 month period to create an annual process. There are references to the link with a salary/compensation review process and also the link with identifying and reviewing individual development needs and progress along achieving improvement goals.

Performance Management Process resource link.

Implementing a process like this would need a change management plan if your organization has never done anything like this before. Even if you have had some form of a performance management process in place, but would now like to expand on it to include some of the elements shown in the attachment, a change management plan would be recommended. Before you start you would of course ensure that the manager/director, who is accountable for the performance management process at your organization, is aligned with your ideas and suggestions and strongly supports the direction you would like to take.

The benefits of having a documented process for Performance Management (like the shared resource) are:

  • It is easy for HR to ensure new employees, current employees, new supervisors and existing managers understand the process and their role in the process.
  • It is a way to help stakeholders understand and then prepare for the input and activities that need to be completed in order to support the process.
  • Linked to a balanced score card, this process can make it clear to individuals/departments how they collectively and as individuals support the attainment of larger organizational performance goals.
  • Knowing that there are check-in moments or feedback and discussion moments around performance expectations, progress and development needs and activities can be a strong way to reinforce employee engagement as many employees tend to consider other employment options when they feel that their development and career progression goals are not being met by their current employer.

This list is not exhaustive. For more information about benefits see links like Benefits of performance management or Importance of Performance Management

 

Developmental Assignment Process Map


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A decade ago it seemed to be more common for employees to be on developmental assignments for longer periods of time. These days the duration of assignments seems to have become shorter. The required steps are not much different though. Some of the biggest unintended outcomes of assignments are:

  • The employee (and/or family) did not fully understand what they were getting into and found it too overwhelming at the assignment location – wished to return earlier or resigned.
  • Employees did not understand how the assignment was adding to their skill sets or competencies and were often frustrated and demotivated.
  • Employee on assignment no longer felt connected to the home office and were anxious about what happens after the assignment – wished to return earlier or resigned.
  • Employees (and families) experienced a high level of anxiety associated with the assignments due to inadequate preparation and support before, during and after return to home location.

It is vital for the organization to have a clear process around the mobilization, preparation, sustaining, return, development of assignees and there are multiple organizations (internally and possibly externally if outsourced) which need to contribute to the process in order to make the assignment a successful one for the company and the employee

The Developmental Assignment Process Map resource shared here shows a simplified version of such a process map. It takes into account the logistics part, which may be an internal organization (Center of Excellence) or an outsourced party, the role of the manager, the role of the employee and how the Business Partner can contribute to ensure the entire process yields the desired outcomes. There are also some suggestions for surveys to capture any feedback to identify useful improvements to the process.

Developmental Assignment Process Map resource link.

Some additional tips:

  • Make sure that managers are clear on the process, the various steps and the specific roles and responsibilities. Most employees will ask their managers for advice and information first. The role of the manager is very important to ensure future retention of the employee by staying in touch and ensuring the employee continues to feel valued by the organization during and after the assignment.
  • Create or outsource a solid assignment preparation program for employees (and families as applicable). This includes cultural awareness training, language training and developing the right mindset and approach to living in a new country for a period of time.
  • Apply attention and diligence when outsourcing logistics and defining the SLAs associated with mobilization. Lost goods, delays in finding accommodation, faulty or missing paperwork can cause a lot of unnecessary distraction and anxiety on the part of an employee on assignment. Conduct regular audits and have discussions with an outsourcing partner/COE using the surveys as a basis to provide input aimed at improving the experience of assignees.
  • Ensure either the Business Partner or the Manager has discussions with the employees to be sent on the assignment to ensure they understand how to leverage the opportunity to improve on their own skill sets/competencies and how they should contribute to the learning of those at the assignment location and again to the learning of those at the home office upon their return.

Being sent on an assignment is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the assignee. It can bring out the best and worst in a person as he/she (and the family) is faced with huge life changes compared to life at the home office. The experience can lead to increased maturity, improved leadership skills and understanding and increased knowledge and skills if managed properly. As the manager, business partner or any other stakeholder in the process, it is important you ensure there is a clear process map detailing the various steps by process contributor and that each stakeholder is acutely aware of the bigger picture while performing own parts.

Problem Solving Template


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The most frustrating part of noticing that outcomes planned are not achieved is trying to figure out where exactly things are going wrong. Sometimes it could be an object or piece of equipment that is not working well. It could also be a process that is at fault or perhaps it is human action or inaction that is causing the lack of performance. The resource I am sharing helps one to work through the known facts about the lack of performance and what is generally known about the equipment, process or activities needed to make the planned outcomes materialize in a structured manner. This offers a better chance that the root cause leading to the lack of performance can be discovered.

The Problem Solving Template is MSWord format and consists of a table. The What, Where, When and How Big aspects are covered in column one and discovering the differences between what is known and observed vs known about how things should work is covered in the rest of the columns. The last column is an opportunity to reflect on what is written in the other columns, notice the differences between what is observed and what is known about how things should work to identify possible root causes for the lack of performance.

The Problem Solving Template link

It may seem tedious at first to complete the information indicated, but when the reasons or causes are less obvious this is a great way to summarize what you know about the situation in one place. We often know more than we realize and we simply need a way to put things together logically to spot the reasons behind a malfunctioning element in a failing piece of equipment or a process.

This tool can be used by an individual or in a group context. Sometimes it helps to have more than one person look at the same information and brainstorm through the elements shown in this template to get to the root cause(s). I also recommend that you retain a copy of this completed template to serve as a “lessons learned” to others.  I believe each one of us and every company/team should continuously strive to learn to remain competitive and innovative (creative). Others may be able to solve future issues by reviewing your completed sheet for the issue you solved.

Functional Capability Analysis Example


Wanting to improve on how a function, such as Human Resources (HR), performs requires one to analyse the difference between your expectations for the function, the norm in the marketplace for that kind of function and of course reality. The resource I am sharing today helps you look at various functions/departments at a location/office and compare the reality vs what you expect to see. This knowledge or insight helps you plan your approach going forward.

What you expect from a function could be a mixture of what you know is considered “normal” service delivery and capability for that function at that particular location and it would also contain operational expectations based on your strategy. For example: you may have a strategy to gain more marketshare by applying your IT department in different ways to support R&D and that means your expectation for the service delivery and capability of the IT function may be higher than what is considered “normal” in the marketplace for the location where you are at.

Functional Capability Plotting is an excel spreadsheet which helps you rate existing functions at a location against expectations for capability and service delivery. You may also wish to split those two topics into two different graphs in case you feel that there may be differences in your ratings. (The graph is generated automatically when you have filled in the scores in the yellow and orange cells)

Functional Capability Plotting  resource link

When you have completed the analysis portion using the attached resource, consider this: what do you need to Stabilize in the next year? [situations that are fluctuating/not stable or actually currently meeting expectations so do not make any further changes just maintain status quo]. What do you need to Improve and Develop? What do you need to leverage and incorporate in your value propositions going forward? [Where are you currently doing better than customers know and/or you are far better than the norm and it is giving you a previously unknown edge?]

Knowing the capability and service delivery for each of the functions at your location can help you map out operational and organizational development priorities when you review how important these functions are to achieving your strategic goals. Any changes you need to make to up-skill a function or change the mindset or management approach in a function can be documented by using an Action Plan. (The Action Plan shared in this post can help with that).

Internal Communication Effectiveness SURVEY


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Employees should receive regular information about the company and should be informed about planned changes, successes in the company and how their efforts have lead to good outcomes and wins for the company. Managers also need to be heard and have their views, goals and plans shared with employees who can help them achieve the planned successes. Employee opinions and feedback should also be captured and reviewed by managers to enable better decision-making and improve in areas where company actions or activities are not as effective as originally planned.

Ensuring that employees receive important and relevant information about the company on a regular basis and in the right ways is mostly the responsibility of the HR function. In some cases HR shares this responsibility with the Communications department.

Internal Communication Effectiveness Survey  link

Effectiveness of internal communication should be evaluated periodically. I would not repeat a survey like this one on a monthly basis unless you are going through a specific change initiative in this regard and would like to ensure you have a good understanding of how well your change process is going. Once per year or once in 18 months should be a good evaluation period. Keep it short to optimize your chances of getting good feedback and a high level of participation.

Tips:

  • Ensure your questions are specific and simple – survey respondents should know what exactly you are asking about. Do not combine more than one question into one.
  • Always make a post-survey action plan and share that with survey respondents and other stakeholders in the success of internal communications.
  • If you are an HR Director or in HR Management – stay close to the creation of internal communications. Read everything before it is released or published internally in your area of responsibility. The tone of communications and the contents of messages that are sent into the company very closely link to how employees are interpreting how the company’s management “feels” about them and you will often find disconnects started with some internal message that was misinterpreted.

Feedback from internal customers on HR Function SURVEY


In the same way that companies would approach external customers to gather their views on what is going well and what needs improvement (customer satisfaction), the HR function should reach out to its internal customers to find out how satisfied they are with the services and support that they receive. It is true that there are more than one model for HR service delivery, but that does not change the fact that it is wise to gather feedback on the services and support that you do provide given the structure and focus for HR in your company.

The HR function is often guilty of focusing its developmental and improvement efforts exclusively on helping other departments and neglects using those same skills and expertise to improve the HR function as a whole and developing the people who deliver the HR services to others.

The HR Function Feedback Survey can help you gather the information you need from your internal customers to help you identify specific areas of excellence in HR and also those areas where improvement may be needed. When improvement is needed it will often imply additional training and development of some HR representatives and may also  include communicating the HR vision and goals more clearly within the HR function. Remember to recognize and reward those who were part of delivering excellent services when you review the survey results.

Tips:

  • Do be sure to provide survey participants with feedback on the outcome of the survey and the actions that you plan to take as a result of the survey. This motivates participants to continue providing you with valuable feedback in the future.
  • Create an action plan and communicate that clearly within the HR function so that everyone understands which areas you plan to address and how you plan to do that. It may help to set specific metrics around your planned improvements to make it easier to report progress.
  • Regularly update stakeholders – internal to the HR function and those who are internal customers in your company – on the progress of improvement efforts as you implement the post-survey action plan.
  • Remember to celebrate successes (milestones and outcomes achieved) and be prepared to add additional actions to your plan in cases where your improvement efforts are not reaping the results you had planned for.

The HR Function Feedback Survey link