Episode 32: The secret to recruiting a great team


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Hosted by Jeanne-Vida Douglas and Rob Stone

Advertisement, application, interviewing – it’s the tried and tested method for recruiting based on education and experience. But how do you measure potential employees for cultural fit? And how can you update your recruitment process to make sure you find the perfect person for the job, every single time?

This week on Xero In, hosts Rob Stone and JV Douglas are joined by Dr Glyn Brokensha, founder of Expr3ss and all-round expert when it comes to recruiting the right people for the right roles.

“The first thing you have to do is turn the whole recruitment thing on its head and say to yourself who cannot possibly do this job? Ask yourself, ‘Who doesn’t have the essential criteria that we actually must have for this job,” Glyn says.

Tune in to find out how you can improve your recruitment process.

Small business resources:

Your guide to hiring

12-step checklist for hiring employees

Expr3ss! Explains How Psychological Safety Builds Good Teams

Episode transcript

Hosts: Jeanne-Vida Douglas [JVD] and Rob Stone [RS]

Guest: Glyn Brokensha [GB]

JVD: Welcome back. Thanks for tuning in to Xero In. I’m here with Rob Stone.

RS: Hi JV.

JVD: And today we’re talking to somebody who really deeply understands culture and psychology.

JVD: It’s Dr Glyn Brokensha, he’s the chairman and co-founder of Express, which is an organisation that creates a series of technologies that make it easier to find the right people to employ.

RS: Yeah, and he’s going to drill down about finding particularly the right people for the culture of your company.

A big challenge for small business out there is trying to find the right staff. It makes or breaks small business and critical to that is finding people that are going to fit with your culture.

JVD: Absolutely, we often find people who interview well but don’t necessarily do the job well. So let’s switch over to Glyn and find out what he thinks.

RS: We’re delighted to have Glyn Brokensha, chairman and co-founder of Express today, Glyn has more than 30 years experience with people and behaviour and Express really goes to solving that staff selection issue. Now Glyn, welcome to the show.

GB: Thank you.

RS: There was a great quote that you provided saying we trust people we ought not to, we avoid people who really are perfectly nice, and we hire people who are not all that competent. All because we fail to recognise situational forces. So Glyn, what in your opinion are those forces and how can leaders overcome this?

GB: Wow that’s big question. The forces are those that are intrinsic to us. So what happens is we imagine somehow that we’re this perfect instrument that can read a document, shall we say a resume, conduct an interview, which is really date, and then have some sort of appraisal of that person at great depth, and not even really good experts can do that. And yet that’s the way the majority of people continue to hire staff.

JVD: So what are some of the mistakes that occur in that process that we’ve all kind of naturally adopted and what would be a better process we go about?

GB: So they’re unnaturally adopted really in the sense that that’s all there was. I mean if you think about how the whole thing got started. If you were a baker and you had a vacancy for someone to make bread…

JVD: Yeah.

GB: You’d send the town crier out. And so the town crier he would actually cry that around the streets and the next thing you know is you’ve got an orderly queue of people who think they can make bread outside your shop and you’ve got to choose one.

JVD: And you end up with the people who are best at listening, not necessarily the best at making bread, which has always been the weird thing about the whole selection process.

GB: Absolutely and you only get to the people you can reach. Now, lots has changed in the technology for recruitment over the past many years and that change is accelerating. So I can’t imagine that it won’t continue to do so as we get newer and newer technologies. But the core of how we select people has not changed really a bit. We read a resume, which is in fact, an applicant advertisement. Then we conduct a telephone interview probably, and then we conduct a number of face to face interviews with or without colleagues who make the interview committee or on our own if it’s just one of us. And that process really hasn’t changed in centuries and it should because we’re not very good at it. All the research shows that in fact we’re really, insert whatever expletive you like here, at it.

RS: So how is Express doing it differently?

GB: Oh wow, that’s a big question. Well the first thing that we need to do is we need to remember that a great deal of recruitment effort that people have put in in the past was originally, way back, do you remember post, when we used to send things through the mail?

RS: Yeah.

JVD: [Laughs]

GB: Now in the old days when you had to typewrite a resume and then you had to photocopy and then you had to sign your letter and then you had to put it in a big envelope and then you had to put it in a big envelope and then you had to buy the right postage and then you had to get to the post office to put it in the post box. That limited how quickly people could actually make job applications.

So typically one person would make, maybe five job applications. Then the job boards came along and suddenly job ads are everywhere, they’re searchable, they’re cheap, they’re as long as you want them to be and you can find them easily and they last for 30 days instead of just until Friday night’s chips. So then what happened is that one person would make 30 applications and so employers became inundated with applications and found the haystack growing bigger and the needles were just the same, there was just more haystack to sift through.

Now we’ve got the job aggregators like indeed.com and Jura and so on coming along and people are making 100 applications each and they’re doing it like Tinder because these new services actually want you to be able to make a job application quickly in one click. And suddenly the poor employer is inundated with these hordes of Mordor sort of coming towards them…

JVD: [laughs]

GB: …you know, buckets and buckets of applicants who they can’t possibly assess. Even if they could have assessed them rationally and effectively when they were only five, now there are hundreds, thousands, they can’t possibly conceive of that.

RS: So what’s the solution to the pain point of having too many applicants coming through door?

GB: Well the first thing you have to do is forget about trying to pick out the one true love hiding in the hordes of Mordor somewhere because that’s not the way it works. The first thing you have to do is turn the whole recruitment thing on its head and say to yourself who cannot possibly do this job? Who doesn’t have the essential criteria that we actually must have for this job.

RS: So you work on the negative space first.

GB: Exactly. So let’s set all those people aside who haven’t got the right to live and work, don’t have a driving licence, don’t have a mining and minerals certificate III – whatever it might be, we know that those people who have generally on the internet told us the truth. And if they’ve told us the truth in a negative context, it’s almost bound to be the truth. So if someone says “no I haven’t got that criteria”, you can set them aside and you don’t need to take that any further. And again, computers are very good at that.

But once you’ve got a clear idea of who can’t do the job, that’s a great way of getting rid of the haystack.

RS: So you reduce it from 100 down to 30.

GB: Correct.

RS: What then?

GB: Then what you need to do is you need some sense of what that person’s temperament is, their attitude, their character, you might say their personality, but that’s a technical term that psychologists use and psychometrics is the science of measuring that. But what you really need is some sense of what that person’s values and temperament are. And if you have that you can break your 30 into probably four or five people at the top that you need to talk to today.

JVD: So how do you go about building a talent bank, what is that?

GB: Oh okay well, to build a talent bank, all you really need is to let people know that you have other positions and you might want to fill them in future and let them make application to be considered for those in the future and then you just need to keep in contact with them, keep the conversation going.

So by building that expectation of people who can also see the broad range of jobs that are available in your organisation. Oh so if I come in in the mailroom, maybe I’ll get to be chief financial officer one day.

RS: But how do you efficiently determine those attitudes and behaviours that are the right fit for the role and the company’s culture?

GB: I guess the gem in the heart of our software as a result of my experience in my career as a psychotherapist and a scientist before that, I developed in my practice a way of assessing people to help them in a psychotherapeutic sense and my partner in crime, Carolyn Burns who’s co-founder of Express, said this will work for recruitment.

JVD: So it sounds like you also have turned everything on its head that employers shouldn’t be going out to use the job boards and the external services, they should really own a lot of this and perhaps have that software on their own website and those explanations of the other roles on their own careers page.

GB: Absolutely, absolutely and we actually just built a facsimile of their website in our own website because that’s a lot quicker than asking most people’s IT departments to do anything. So we can get new customers up and running in 10 minutes and we can make them look like their own web presence within 24 hours or so.

JVD: What about the actual interview process, because what struck me, I haven’t had many interviews. I’ve always worked in an industry where you get employed based on your last role and people…

GB: Yeah.

JVD: …will come out and look for you as an employee. So when I found myself going to interviews for the first time in my late 30s I actually had to be honest and say, “I don’t actually understand this process, can you please give me some idea what’s expected of me so that I can give you a reasonable response.” What is it that we do wrong when we actually come face to face with potential employees and how could we do it better?

GB: I’m tempted to say, just don’t do interviews.

JVD: Oh wow [laughs].

GB: In the same way I do categorically say “don’t read resumes”, at least until you’ve got your last five people. I mean a resume is an applicant advertisement.

JVD: Yeah, yeah.

GB: We know that 74% of resumes are misleading and 40% of them frankly contain lies.

JVD: Yeah.

GB: And the typical lies are the extension of experience, the falsification of qualifications the covering up of resume gaps – all of these things are things that people do all the time and listeners to this will probably recognise that the last time they wrote a resume, they didn’t write it to show up their deficiencies, they just left out their deficiencies. When was the last time anyone listening to this wrote in a resume, “I don’t have a driving licence” or “I can’t do this”, we write what we can do.

So in the same way that we set resumes aside, the interview should really only occur when we understand the person, as a result of having some kind of characterological assessment, preferably ours of course.

In fact, Google, Laszlo Bock, the Senior Vice President of People at Google, looked at 10,000 of their hires and he concluded “It’s a complete mess. There is no relationship between interview, resume and success in role”. They couldn’t find anything.

JVD: Wow.

GB: So you might just as well have thrown a dart on a dartboard. It’s cheaper, it’s quicker and if you’re a poor interviewer, you’re actually doing better than if you conduct an interview. You know, I think it’s just important that people rub along together okay. Now that’s the key part of the interview for me.

RS: Go and have a beer with them.

GB: Can I sit down and have a coffee or a beer if I’m a drinker, or whatever, can I actually just get on with this person and yes, in an interview, they’re trying their best to be personable.

RS: So I’m in the final round of interviews, it’s passed through all these screens and you’re hiring me, Glyn. What would be the top three questions that you would want to deliver to flesh out the cultural fit and work out whether they’ve got the right behaviours and attitudes to be on your team?

GB: The three questions would depend on what I saw in the report from the temperament study that we do. So in other words I might say, in true behavioural interview style, “Tell me about a time perhaps from community or work or, you know, church or sport or whatever it might be, tell me about a time when you had to correct someone and they wouldn’t easily accept that correction.” And as you know, in a behavioural interview, usually people turn it around and try and generalise it. “Well I would… I think the right thing to do is…” But one has to keep people focussed in behavioural interviewing so it’s like, “No, tell me about an actual time, it doesn’t have to be from work. There must have been times when you tried to give someone some kind of redirection that hasn’t been well received. Tell me about a specific time.”

And so what one’s trying to do is get another view of that person, other than resume, interview and second interview and reference checking.

Now, fundamentally we’re flawed at making many judgments. So we’re not good at reading many documents and making complicated comparisons of skills and abilities based on all sorts of different factors and layouts. We’re more likely to be influenced by the font and the whitespace quite frankly.

GB: Why not alter the assessment method to actually match the way in which this person is going to be working.

JVD: So again, automate what you can but then when you’re actually face to face with someone think a bit more about the way you’re asking the questions and what you’re asking them.

GB: Particularly your own, you know, your own cultural biases. Your own response to accents and to the way people speak. We know that unconsciously people respond to things as esoteric as lip colour and how it changes and eye blink rate and pupil size.

RS: So what are some of the dangers of defining cultural fit in the workplace?

GB: It’s a really good question. One is culture is not people like us, PLU. But so often that’s what cultural fit boils down to.

JVD: Yeah, exactly.

lyn: Or is this a person like us? And that’s the worst way to match people to culture.

JVD: Yep, yep, yep.

GB: Culture is what everybody knows and everybody does but nobody thinks about and nobody talks about.

GB: You need to find people who have the same value driven results to challenge us. So if your value-driven result to being offered an opportunity to make money is, who cares as long as I make money, that’s what we’re here for. Then you wind up with Enron and you wind up with, you know, the banking collapses in the US. You wind up with people who are amoral and whose values actually don’t fit with the majority of “the rest of us”. If you have an organisation whose values are to deliver excellent customer service even if it costs us, then you need people who have that same value otherwise there’ll be a value clash and each party will struggle to get their values forward and no-one will be really happy.

So in cultural fit, you’re talking about getting a sense of who someone is. Their temperament, their values, their character and if you can get a sense of that if it fits well, then they’ll have a happy work experience and they’ll stay and they’ll be productive.

JVD: So it sounds like the sort of overall spectrum approach, if you like, that you’re taking is to find some tools that do the heavy lifting that do – that take the dross away and think a little bit more about the actual interpersonal communication that you take when you’re looking to hire.

RS: You’re matching the culture of the organisation with specific behavioural situational questions because that’s going to be the best predictor of outcomes.

GB: We’re talking about just a whole range of people, some of whom will be really well suited to this organisation and this particular role, this particular team in this particular state even, and you can measure that. And then some of the others will be really suitable for a similar role in a very different organisation and they’ll be really happy there and they’ll stick and they’ll have a good work experience and that’s the proposition that we think we give to applicants as well.

RS: Which makes sense why you’re replicating the web pages so you can increase the database of applicants.

GB: Absolutely, yes.

RS: That’s smart.

JVD: It reminds me of a party mix, you know the party mixes that you buy that have all the different types of lollies in there.

GB: Absolutely, yeah.

JVD: Sometimes you need a pineapple, sometimes you need a milk bottle, hey.

RS: Now I’m a firm believer you hire on attitude and behaviour. You can coach skills and you can coach other things. One of the biggest mistakes I think managers can make when they’re hiring is not being self-aware of their own behavioural biases…

GB: Yes.

RS: …and that can result in, you know, bad selection. You’ve created an algorithm that kind of uncovers some of the behavioural characteristics, but in that as soon as you create an algorithm you’re exposing yourself to false positives.

So how do you overcome that and then what’s your advice from what you’ve learnt there for managers out there when they are hiring on attitude and behaviour?

GB: So what we’re doing really is using the survey of character, temperament, whatever you might like to call it, using that to point out people you should be engaging with quickly because those are the people who will probably get snapped up quickly by people moving faster than you.

So we talk about this as an interview priority process. These are the people that in our opinion you should engage and converse with quickly and knowing that their strengths and challenges, knowing the kind of person they are, you can engage with them intelligently and talk to them about the different sorts of scenarios they might encounter in your workplace and that way the interview does become appreciably more predictive of success in role.

Reference checking is always a great idea and reference xchecking vis-à-vis someone’s strengths and challenges is also a great thing to do. If you say to a referee, oh, you know, “How was Jo?” Then he’ll say that she was terrific, you know, she came to work for us, great not a problem. But if you say, “Listen did you find that Jo sometimes had difficulty saying no, and – and separating people from issues and was a bit overwhelmed by the personal side of things, you’ll get a much more considered response along the lines of, “Well funny you mention that but…” or “Actually no, I could see that was in her, but she controlled it really well.” You’ll get really good feedback on that.

So we’re not saying, don’t read a resume, we’re not saying don’t interview, but we’re saying read minimal resumes, conduct minimal interviews and be smart about the way you do it, that way you’ll actually see behind the façade of the first date and the second date. I often say, hey we have lots of interviews before we get married but the divorce rate is still 19% in the first year.

JVD: What you’re saying about references is really interesting because there’s been a couple of examples recently of people who have actually been taken to court for giving negative references if it can be shown that that led to the job not being secured.

To what extent can we actually trust references and referees to tell us the truth and create a space where they can do so?

GB: I think once again what you’re trying to do is flesh out your false positives and false negatives as best you can. We’re very fortunate in Australia, most referees are willing to give a reasonably dispassionate view of their past employee or to, you know, to turn away and what’s not said is very often just as valuable as what is said.

But fortunately in Australia, I mean, we haven’t got to the stage of this person started on this date, they finished on this date, they left in good standing and there were no disciplinary issues, and that’s your reference. But many countries as well, notably the USA, that tends to be the way referees have to respond.

And I hope we don’t go down that track because this is about people.

JVD: Is that the future that we’re looking at in Australia and then how do you get around that when you’re trying to figure out what someone’s work history actually is.

GB: I think that is the future I don’t think we can escape that litigious culture which we seem to import from the US every time it rears its ugly head. And that’s a shame I think it’s a shame that people can’t speak their mind but I think it will come and I think it will mean a dramatic increase in difficulty of selecting the right people.

JVD: Glyn, thank you so much for coming in and sharing these fascinating insights. I’m certainly going to pay a lot more attention to my own behaviour as well as that of others around me now. [Laughs]

RS: Yeah, thanks Glyn.

GB: My pleasure.

JVD: Well that’s just turned everything I thought I knew about HR on its head. [Laughs] It’s like, don’t interview, don’t advertise, you know, look at the negative space, look at what people can’t do as opposed to what they can do.

RS: Yeah, it’s really interesting how he focuses on situations and how people will behave in different situations and that being the biggest predictor of success in a future role.

JVD: And I’m sure everybody listening in got something out of that, whether as an interviewee or somebody who’s looking to bring on more staff, or someone who’s really thinking about the direction of their company and what sorts of skills and cultural elements they need to bring in.

RS: Yeah, it was great conversation we got so much out of it.

JVD: Thanks again, Rob.

RS: Thanks JV.

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