Low retention or productivity? Might be your recruitment!

Our business at edge is to support our clients in building highly-performing teams. Sometimes this includes recruitment and admittedly, our candidates go through a lot before meeting us in person: an online questionnaire about their interest and fit to the role, a 45-minute phone interview, a role-related case study submitted over a weekend and an online talent mapping survey.

Today we were interviewing agribusiness experts for an impact investment fund. (A very cool role actually!) And I think you should hear what they told me about recruitment!

The gentleman with 20 years of work experience in 5 countries tells us that the thoroughness of our recruitment process beat his current employer (a global auditing and consulting firm). He and two colleagues were hired 8 months ago to run a project of writing business plans for a large numbers of commercial farms. 2 of the 3 had left within 6 months (one didn’t perform because he lacked skills and the second resigned because he didn’t expect such workload) and he’s just recently started applying for a new job.

In summary, they lost 100% of team members on a prestigious project within 8 months.

Why is retention in the first year of employment so low? What is going on?

Over the last two years we have talked to hundreds of people about recruitment practices and analysed how it’s shaping company performance. Here’s what we have found:

1) Most recruitment processes are not tailored to the role. Using a generic job description, not having thought about the big picture purpose of the role, how it will develop over years and what spirit and drive is required to achieve results in this job and context – these are common practices in many organizations. This attracts vague applications and a pool of misaligned candidates.

Part of the causes is lack of time and expertise, but also that hiring manager and recruitment team are not working hand in hand.

This leads to hiring people for roles they are not suitable for or truly excited about. Employees join companies they don’t understand and use the title/salary ratio to make a decision. (Don’t believe me? Ask a friend what he’s doing at his new company and I bet he’ll answer mentioning either his title or tasks, not the role’s strategic purpose).

2) In start-ups and social impact environments it is crucial to find a great match of interests and passion of new hires to the company journey and context. But often, interview practices don’t allow for a conversation about ambitions, strengths, weaknesses and interests – or rather: nobody’s honest during interviews. This goes both ways!

Interviewers create one-way streets by visibly ticking boxes on criteria sheets lead by confirmation bias, asking leading questions and showing dismissive attitudes. Some are so unprepared that they even read through the CV during the interview (“So you have a Masters degree?” – “Yes”). This drives the best candidates away. And if the candidate isn’t learning much about the organization, they cannot make an informed choice on the type of environment and context they’re joining.

Candidates on the other hand give generic and vague statements or say what they think the interviewer wants to hear, they feel cornered and as if there’s only one right answer to pass the interview. The only question that the candidate is confident (or interested?) to ask is about the next steps of the process.

A better use of time would be an honest conversation where candidates get to understand the company as well would require the interviewer to put time into crafting relevant open and behaviour-based interview questions (that allow the candidates to show their skills, talents and motivation) and to let their hair down and be approachable for the candidates’ questions as well.

3) Onboarding is not given enough attention. Instead of making time for setting expectations, doing daily check-ins and regular coaching, people are left to figure things out on their own.

I understand why many bosses get excited with the idea of “throwing people into the deep end”: It allows people to show their strengths, ask only the questions they need answered, innovate and build relationships at their own initiative. And it saves time.

The drastic downsides of this approach are the opportunity costs of a flat contribution curve, reduced emotional investment which affects retention, and that it favours certain personality types (for example intuitive people).  On average employees take three times longer to perform, make avoidable mistakes, don’t get an environment to learn from their failures and the anxious manager starts doing their job on their behalf in the meantime. And some leave.

What is edge doing about this?

Every day, we imagine, that we will turn around hiring practices in small and growing organizations! What a difference highly descriptive job descriptions, honest interviews and meaningful on boarding activities can make!

Besides doing the legwork of recruitment, we build capacity in our clients: we help build recruitment and onboarding processes, train in interviewing skills, join for alignment meetings during the first 3 months. Over 20 companies have benefited from this approach already.

In April we hosted workshops around East Africa to build interview skills in over 100 social sector organizations in partnership with Segal Family Foundation.

Together with Village Capital, we are creating an open-source on boarding toolkit for early-stage entrepreneurs to help them get ready for new talent.

We are piloting an onboarding community, where we invite fresh recruits and their hiring managers to share good case practices about building functioning working relationships.

Write us if you want to be part of the above!

Want to do something different in your next hire? Here are 3 radical ideas:

  • Write the Job Description from scratch (no copy paste!), involve your team in conducting phone interviews and add a written work-type skill test before the interview stage.
  • When you get to the interview stage, be willing to be vulnerable: What is working in your company right now? What is not – and what does it mean for the person who joins? Only hire candidates who demonstrate that they have been able to handle contexts in the past that are similar to your organizational realities (ask them about stories of their past, not the future!) and who asked you at least 3 relevant questions during the interview (around team, vision, role… not just about the next steps of the selection process and the health insurance).
  • Take time to answer 3 simple questions around on boarding:
    • What does the person need to go through in their first week to be set up for success?
    • What conversation do you need to have after 6 weeks with your new hire?
    • What would success look like in terms of contribution and results after 12 weeks? How can you share this vision with your new joinee and help them own and achieve it?

Well, and of course reach out to us to see how we can support to build your systems and capacity further!