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The Right Tool for the Job: Decision Analysis and the Hiring Process

How do you improve your chances of hiring the right person for the job? Good hiring decisions are critical to the ongoing success of an organization and represent a significant investment of time and money. We have found that the hiring decisions at our client organizations are increasingly being guided by a structured format grounded in KT Decision Analysis (DA).

A KT program leader at a healthcare organization describes how DA was fully integrated into the hiring process. “When a position becomes vacant, the job description and other appropriate information are used to develop a list of MUST and WANT objectives. The objectives captured are then used to write placement ads for internal and external use and to screen potential candidates. Following the interview process, the hiring manager must complete a DA to select the most qualified candidate. The DA is then retained to protect the organization’s integrity should the decision be challenged. The use of DA in hiring has enabled them to defend their hiring process as fair and impartial when legally challenged.”

Organizations report that the systematic application of DA in the hiring process offers these six, key advantages:

1. Candidates are compared objectively on the basis of required job outputs

2. Interviews are planned and documented effectively

3. Data collection and evaluation of candidates are done systematically

4. Subjective judgments in the personnel process are based on objective criteria

5. Repetitive decisions—such as college recruiting—are approached consistently

6. The procedural and administrative aspects of personnel practices support a rational decision making process

Personnel practices differ from one organization to the next and how DA is integrated may vary, from adoption of some techniques to incorporating the system as a whole.

In any application, lists of job requirements or objectives, in the form of MUSTs and WANTs, provide the criteria for making reasoned choices. While the MUSTs usually are not the most important criteria; they can indicate a minimum requirement for consideration—such as a driver’s license or two years of specific experience—and create basic screening criteria for a manageable candidate pool. Once potential candidates are identified, MUSTs drop out of the analysis since every candidate has met these criteria. A MUST is often restated as a WANT—the two-year requirement could be restated as a “maximum industry experience” WANT—to provide a useful basis for comparing candidates.

The classic KT book, The New Rational Manager, offers this insight on MUSTs and WANTs, “The MUSTs decide who gets to play, but the WANTs decide who wins.” While the ideal candidate would fulfill every MUST and WANT, it is likely that candidates will meet the WANTs to varying degrees. The more measurable the WANTs, the easier it is to make comparisons. WANTs are weighted to define their relative value, allowing for a variety of objectives while emphasizing the most important. In personnel decisions, screening against MUSTs and then scoring against WANTs identifies a select, top-scoring few. In making the best-balanced choice, the hiring team can see where each top-scoring candidate excelled providing an objective basis for decision-making.

As in any DA, the final step before making a choice is to weigh the potential risks and opportunities of making each of the potential choices. There are no certainties in personnel decisions. This analysis provides a no-cost way of considering any negative effects or special opportunities presented by a candidate. It is at this point that the hiring team can step back, with all the data on hand, and ask, “What did we miss? Can we afford the risks involved with this choice?”

Decision Analysis is a systematic process that integrates data with experience, knowledge, and instinct. One human resources professional described using DA for hiring this way, “When it comes to hiring a new employee, it’s easy to go with instinct and intuition. The candidate who ‘feels right’ is like the puzzle piece in the dark —it seems to fit but, in reality, it’s anybody’s best guess. The Decision Analysis process has allowed us to capitalize on our accumulated hiring experience, and funnel it into a step-by-step procedure that closes out emotional involvement and highlights the candidate that really fits our needs.”

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