How to Hire High Performers

Sometimes, those of us who lead non-profit organizations, are inclined to hire anyone with a normal temperature. We make the assumption that anyone willing to work for subsistence wages is qualified to do what we need them to do. We point with pride to the hard work being done by underpaid staff members, as well we should. But it all comes back to bite us when those semi-volunteers leave us after three months to pursue their next dream. Or the mismatch can be so great that it leaves a new hire with little choice but to not return from lunch during their first day on the job.

As most of you know it is not unusual to see entry level staff turnover in the range of 30-50% and turnover rates above that are not unheard of by any means. All of which leads to excessive personnel costs and dissatisfaction amongst the people we are trying to help; no one likes a constant parade of people in and out of their lives.

So the turnover problem begins with premature hire decisions; that is, hiring the first warm body to come along, but it also has to do with the fact that we really don't have hiring standards. We don't have a standardized model which governs how we make hire decisions. Most times we know a whole lot more about the performance potential of a $7500 copier than we do about a $18000 entry level worker that we have just hired. So, while the internet is full of tips and guidance for applicants, most of us have never learned the proper way to find an applicant who will be a high performer. The good news is that we can learn how to do this.

What you need is a clear and consistent system of hiring. Start by specifying the essential competencies required for success on the position you are trying to fill. Then design a series of questions that allow the candidate to illustrate from past performance their experience with that competency. Always ask "what have you done?" Never ask, "what will you do?" Finally jot down the answers that you would like to hear from a qualified candidate; positive indicators that this candidate has the competency you are looking for. It's tough. Because as the candidate is talking you are listening for three things: skill level, motivation level and the degree to which this position is a "fit" with the person's career. There are normally compromises made since the perfect candidate is not out there; you're looking for the best one. Remember, most skills can be taught. Whereas, the motivational style of a person may have been with the candidate since childhood and highly resistive to change.