Stop Chasing Star Employees. Cultivate Your Own
Instead, they're too busy chasing stars, the best performers that you and your competitors both want. And in this hyper-charged atmosphere for talent acquisition, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Too many companies are looking to competitors to find brilliant prospects, instead of hiring from within, promoting, or finding someone else who might be a better fit.
Groysberg, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and the author of Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance, has, among other things, examined the performance record of employees who worked at GE, widely considered a well-run company, with some of the most productive and engaged employees in the world. GE's employees are also highly sought after by competitors. Still, Groysberg found their performance results after leaving the company were pretty much mixed.
"What made [star employees] great and what made them great when working for someone else was the team platform, the culture, and the processes," Groysberg, says. "And to recreate something like that with another company is not easy."
So rather than covet your competitors' A-team who may fall flat in your organization, spend some time finding the right employees for your company. To aid in this process, an increasing number of small businesses are developing alternatives to the traditional modes of hiring--that is, relying on human preference and instinct.
Instead, many are using neuroscience to create new recruiting tools that aim to help business owners make smarter choices about who they hire, or to discover how their current employees could do better in general.
Test, Test, Test
Among these companies, Pymetrics, of New York, uses games grounded in two decades of neuroscientific research to help recruiters make decisions.
The goals are not new. Tests such as Myers Briggs, which primarily assess personality and aptitude based on written responses to questions, have been around for close to 80 years. But what they're trying to determine is indeed new.
Whereas tests such as Myers-Briggs essentially rely on self-assessment, the games used by Pymetrics hope to arrive at more objective ideas of the people playing, combining things like emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence.
In Pymetrics' case, it has created 20 tests which people take online. The games themselves examine about 49 different characteristics, including memory, attention span, pattern recognition, attention to detail, and ability to plan, as well as emotional characteristics, such sensitivity and risk tolerance.
Data is submitted back to Pymetrics (minus identifying information) for scoring, and then resubmitted to the customer who matches it to their employee or prospective hire. As Pymetrics goes along, it builds a more complete database of profiles, including success records of candidate types at their particular jobs.
The Aha Moment
Like most entrepreneurs, Frida Polli, Pymetrics' co-founder and chief executive, spotted an opportunity and took it. She was about to graduate from Harvard University with her MBA (she already had a PhD in neuroscience), when she realized that the recruiting process was antiquated. During the job search, she found herself answering questions that required self-assessments, but none of these questionnaires used new methods from testing she had learned about in her neuroscience studies.
"You fill out a career-assessment survey, about how well you've done, but you answer questions about yourself, and the limitations were clear," Polli says. "A lightbulb went off when I saw recruiting first-hand [and] none of these more advanced techniques had trickled in."
Together with co-founder Julie Yoo--a big data scientist from MIT who also has a neuroscience degree--they founded Pymetrics in 2011.
Pymetrics, which has five employees, funded itself entirely with revenue from the business until December 2013, when it raised $2.5 million from Khosla Ventures. It has tested its online software with a dozen companies, eight of which are currently in beta. (Pymetrics is also offering its product as a free service at 25 college campuses, sending matches to companies looking for specific employee profiles.)
Brave New World
While the entire field may sound slightly Orwellian to some, the goal of the dozen or so companies in this field is to make better decisions around hiring, as well as organizing employees within businesses so they perform optimally.
"The resume is not very informative, and everyone looks the same, so to jump from the resume to an interview is tough," Polli says. "The recruiters we talked to wanted something that would be a more objective data point, that would give some insight into a person's strengths and weaknesses."
The entire recruiting market is worth $120 billion in the U.S., but the market for hiring solutions, such as neuroscientific testing, is about $30 billion. Pymetrics' competitors include companies such as Knack, Prophecy Sciences, and Kalibrr, yet each has a different take on how to apply neuroscience to its tests. Prophecy Sciences, for example, uses tests that measure biological responses like heart rate, eye-movement, and pupil dilation in response to questions.
Mercer, the human resources subsidiary of consulting firm Marsh & McLennan based in New York, has been testing Pymetrics' games internally at first with 700 employees. Specifically, Mercer is trying to get at the personality differences in the highest performing sales people, hoping to find common threads that can be used to develop the rest of the staff.
"We flag our top performers in sales roles, they play the game, we get a profile and then we try to match others to the profile," says Barbara Marder, a senior partner at Mercer.
Mercer is not using it as a punitive exercise say, for instance, to weed out weak performers. Rather it is using the tool to make the organization better, and to develop its employees, says Safiya Karsan, chief of staff for Mercer's talent business
"We believe it is about playing to strengths, it's not about being the best," adds Karsan. "It's about having a fit with the organization emotionally, socially, and psychically."
Looking ahead, Mercer may offer the tool to its own clients to help them with their own recruiting, Karsan says.
Ultimately, the technology and testing services Pymetrics and others offer can serve an important role, giving executives more insight into their own companies, as well as the people they hope to recruit. But such tools can never replace human judgment completely, Groysberg and other experts say.
And that's something Polli agrees with. "We offer another data point that's free of bias and subjectivity, and hopefully people will trust it as an objective data point," she says.