The Difficulties Of Selecting The Best Of The Bunch

Bill Cottringer

“Never make predictions, especially about the future.” ~Casey Stengel.

I won’t argue with Mr. Stengel’s wisdom when it comes to baseball; but in business, employers have way too much to lose without at least trying to be good predictors. And one of the areas that is too costly as a result of poor prediction by employers is the one of employee selection. The adverse effects of ineffective employee selection practices by an employer, can literally kill the bottom line.

Needless-to-say, good employee selection practices are worth their weight in gold; unfortunately they are not so common because of the monumental challenges before employers today in the way of selecting only employees who will do the organization the most good and thus avoid all the potential “cautions” and “failures” that are so common.

There are several valid reasons why most employers don’t have or don’t consistently use accurate selection methods to get the best of the bunch. The main reasons are these four:

• First, few employers have the luxury of the elaborate R & D funds that it takes to truly know what the “best of the bunch” really is for their company or the deep-pocket resources to accurately and thoroughly measure and assure the organization it is in fact getting the best employees for the jobs under consideration. In too many cases, this is just an educated guess.
• Next, all employees should be carefully selected for a very particular job or position they are needed to do and each job at each location or department, and the different employee level (front line employees, supervisors, managers, professionals, technicians, etc) and type HR, administration, safety, accounting, sales, etc.) has to be individually considered for what knowledge, skills, ability, motivational level, personality, and character goes into the lists of critical factors against which to judge the employee’s suitability and for positive prediction for success.
• Knowing what to do in anything isn’t always easy, but doing it consistently is even more difficult. Unique branding for quality products or service is fashionable in the marketplace these days, but something that will never go out of style is doing the basics well, consistently, without letting down your guard or getting too cocky you have it all figured out. There has to be a healthy balance between permanent, core values and practices within the company foundation, as well as the attitude of enthusiastically embracing new changes that can help continued progress and improvement of the company.
• Developing a good employee selection process is always a work in progress and you really never arrive at perfection in these efforts. Thinking the opposite can be a fatal mistake. This is because workers, the workplace, jobs and selection methods all have to be constantly under repair to improve and keep getting better in response to these changes. Just consider the significant impact of technology and subsequent values of younger employees.

That is a general summary of the problem, so now onto the cure. After four decades of getting mixed results in developing and managing employee selection procedures for several different industries including mental health, education, corrections, private security and building maintenance, I finally came to the conclusion there is one most important question to ask in an interview. The simple question is, “how much is two plus two?”

I tried this question out with hundreds of applicants and always got answers that were very revealing. For example with an accounting-type personality the common answer is, “Two plus two invariable and always is exactly and precisely 4.000, without exception. Now with an engineer-type personality, the common answer to this question of how much is two plus two is, “Usually around four, give or take an angstrom here and there to account for slight variance; but for all practical purposes the best answer is around four.” With yet another type of personality—a lawyer-type—the answer becomes: “This person goes over and pulls the blinds tight, shuts the door and whispers in your ear, now ‘exactly how much would you like it to be?’”

Although this is a joke and I have always used it to summarize the type of training I like to do—being precise, practical, and flexible—it has wide applicability to developing an effective employee selection method that is equally precise, practical and flexible, according to these 1-2-3 general suggestions for improvement:

1. Separate different types of jobs (HR vs. accounting, etc,) and employee levels (front-line employees vs. supervisors or managers or professionals, etc.) in identifying a few core and a few job specific critical success factors (knowledge, skills, ability, motivational level, personality and character), which you have found by experience to be good predictors of success or red flags for problems and failure.
2. Narrow the list down to the ones that actually account for the lion’s share of success (or failure) and keep open to refining this list per natural changes that are going on with society, company, employees, marketplace and workplace.
3. Develop a practical means to find out whether or not the employee has the most important critical success factors for the job under consideration. This can include (a) a good application form (b) a customized interview forma, (c) good questions you can’t hide behind and which can get answers that are revealing, or (d) a simple on-line or paper pencil attitude or personality tests that can substantiate hunches about suspicions. But keep in mind a good application form, pre-screening written questionnaire and behavioral interview can often get you everything that Case Stengel worried about above in his baseball quote. Also keep in mind that he didn’t pick Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio; they picked the Yankees of which Case Stengel just happened to be the manager (for the later two).

Let me end with this relevant quote: “You don’t have to be a genius to be a good predictor, just clear on a few relevant factors of the situation.” ~The author.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence); “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree); and “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management;” (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); and “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or