How Well has the Profession been Serving Companies and Employees?
The change from Personnel to Human Resource has meant a lot more than new lettering on the door. For many companies it represented an end to seeing employees as an expense, and finally envisioning them as the firm’s prime asset. But how far has the profession progressed since this major step of two decades ago? Herb Greenberg thinks not far enough.
For over 40 years, Greenberg and his Princeton-based Caliper, Inc. have tested candidates for jobs ranging from CEO’s to pro athletes. Simply, Caliper’s tests are considered the industry standard, and are used by 25,000 companies, in l8 languages worldwide. Such experience and breadth has given Greenberg a long term perspective as to what extent human resource executives are leading the charge toward a more qualitative selection process. "What the human resource profession currently needs is courage to buck the old corporate myths,” says Greenberg. “And this is not easy, since sometimes owners stand ready to fire an HR person pushing new trends.”
* Job Slot Mentality. Since corporations were formed to build Egypt’s Pyramids, company owners have pushed the vision that their business demanded a fixed number of positions. Human resource executives have been directed to keep these slots constantly filled by rotating in a succession of similarly trained employees. When one sales manager leaves, look for someone else who has eight years experience as a sales manager.
This job-slot myth sets up a knee-jerk response among employers to scour their competitors for identical replacements. “Think about it,” says Greenberg. “Why would a person in Company X leave to join Company Y to do the exact same work?” It is possible that Company X has not treated its employee well, but the odds are just as likely that your disgruntled candidate is a screw up, unfit for that work. The result is a grand recirculation of mediocrity. Two years ago Greenberg told this writer that some companies were just beginning to broaden their search scope. Today, he sees some progress in this broadening. But a lot of work remains to be done.
* Fear of Training. This myth has it that any training is so costly in time and cash that it should be nipped in the bud at hiring. The goal of getting the new employee to hit the ground running, as with the job-slot mentality, leads the hirer back to candidates with identical experience. Fit them in quickly and cheaply becomes the motto. Greenberg, taking a counter view, insists that selection should be aimed primarily at the individual, and only secondarily his experience. “Provided the basic core competence is there,” he says, “human resource people should be saying ‘we don’t care much about what you’ve done. We care more about who you are.’” Increasingly, companies are busting this myth. Training is being seen as an investment, not just a frill expense. Each individual becomes envisioned as a finance-producing asset. Thus, the goal becomes to sharpen the employee’s skills constantly for peak performance - rather than hastily grind him into work.
Such searching for potential quality, rather than a quick fit, will naturally widen the search field. Greenberg feels that although human resource professionals have made great progress in reshaping the new approach toward training, they are still markedly slow in this next step. Despite the national retirement age dropping to 55, and the years of active ability ever increasing, the old anti-age glass ceiling remains alive and very well. Here again, it will take courage from human resource executives to shatter what frequently management has long set in place. Similarly, despite endless lip service, companies are not reaching out to the disabled and minorities. “These represent vast talent pools which are being largely bypassed,” says Greenberg. “For all kinds of firms, I have found top sales people from retired teachers and engineers, from immigrants of all groupings, many of whom are still perfecting the language.” It’s less a matter of charitable outreach than using all one’s at-hand resources.
* Damn the Resume. We have now relegated resumes to the status of hood ornaments - a nice branding touch, but no real indicator of the item’s quality. More and more companies call for resumes to be e-mailed. Savvy candidates have learned that this means the human eye will be replaced by an electronic one. So, applicants now put in key words that will buzz the computer’s “good boy” button. So, applicants now put in key words that will buzz the computer’s “good boy” button. One wag of a consultant tells candidates to always insert the 12 Boy Scout goals (trustworthy, loyal, helpful, etc.) in the keyword section of their resumes. This process would be a great joke for a stand up comedy routine - if people’s careers were not at stake. Greenberg is not suggesting that resumes be abolished. Rather, he suggests that they, along with their long list of work experience, be de-emphasized and set more properly into second or third place. * Thrifty Testing. Nearest to Greenberg’s heart, and ire, are job selection tests that sacrifice thorough accuracy for thrift. First and least effective are the online, automated tests. Right behind come the cut rate companies that lead with their price. To effectively get inside a candidate; to judge his passion and the psychological motivators which drive him, takes enormous research and experimentation. If the test questions are obvious, the test is fakable and applicants will lie like champs to give employers what is required. A good, non-fakable test must be applied to group after group, and then properly tweaked. The process is expensive. Yet for the employer who invests in this guidance and selects the best possible candidate, the return is great. When selecting a candidate testing firm, Greenberg advises company owners first test the tester. Can the test group legally and morally prove that their tests involve absolutely no discriminatory questions? Does the tester know your industry, and is his test custom tailored to your specific job? Finally, what does the test company do with the data? Some companies just give results, others give a thorough explanation of the data, tell how it was achieved, and provide further counseling.
Greenberg admits that the human resource professional bears an ever increasing burden. From legal strictures to global hiring practices, more is expected of him. At the same time, as companies learn to value their employees, they are giving greater rewards to those who judiciously select them. When human resource executives are boldly speaking out for changes, more owners are listening. Says Greenberg, “the profession’s generally on the right track. I just wish the engine were chugging a little faster.”
Herb Greenberg, had always seemed destined for a lifelong career in academia. Born of Polish immigrants in Detroit, Greenberg earned his first degree, a psychology and sociology B.S. at New York’s City College. At New York University, he then earned a masters in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in psychology. Greenberg first taught at Texas Tech University, and by l960 was an esteemed psychology professor at Rutgers University. In academia he might have stayed, had not a life insurance company approached him to develop some prescreening test to halt their sales people’s appallingly high turnover rate. “I examined all the existing personality tests and found one flaw - fakability,” Greenberg recalls with a laugh. “Job applicants would lie like troopers, telling personnel recruiters everything they wanted to hear.” He developed a 150-question test based not on true or false responses, but on situational and characteristic evaluations which job candidates could not second guess. Armed on this breakthrough evaluating tool, Greenberg and David Mayer founded Caliper Inc. in Princeton. Today, Greenberg still oversees Caliper, Inc. His radio show “Winning in Business” can be heard on WOR, Sunday nights at 9 p.m.
Article Summary: They have been given the task of grooming businesses’ greatest success factor. How far have they come? Where could they improve? Herb Greenberg, for 40 years one of the nation’s most respected testers of executive candidates, holds the scales to human resource professionals, offering both his praise and some sage suggestions.