Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On the Job Assessment

In the print version of this SF Chronicle article, "More Companies Try Out Workers Before Making Full-Time Offers," the paper highlighted the following quote from a local CEO:
I've had people who are horrible at interviewing but are awesome employees, and people who are great at interviews and horrible employees.
My personal experience of the above was one of my motives for researching examining procedures when I worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The CEO and I are not alone. In interviews of senior VA officials who were being considered for advancement, nearly all reported that the decision they most regretted in their careers was an employee selection.

I mentioned in an earlier post that work samples tend to be superior to interviews as predictors of job success. Naturally, a 90-day work sample tends to be superior to a 2-hour work sample.

Please note that the firms described in the article aren't starting with "permanent" employment and using traditional probationary periods. The difficulty with such periods is that you have to fire a poorly performing employee, and most employers are reluctant to do so unless performance or behavior is egregious. The "test periods" described in the article allow employers to let individuals go without firing them.

Internships and residencies should serve as such "test periods" for ministry. They do to some extent, but not as effectively as they might, because supervisors are reluctant to make negative evaluations, and they don't have to live with the consequences of their positive evaluations. It is rare for a minister to be employed by his/her internship site (a special dispensation from the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC) is required).

This reluctance to be candid reminds me of what a U.S. Marine officer one told me about the officer evaluation process. He said that all Marine officers are outstanding, but some are just more outstanding than others. To make comparisons among officers, you had to read between the lines.

The MFC has a tough job. Like senior Marine officers, it too has to read between the lines when reviewing the material in a candidate's package. For example, a seemingly minor comment by an internship committee may become major if it's duplicated in other evaluations. Sometimes the various evaluators have not seen one another's evaluations. The MFC must put the whole picture together.

The above reminds me of Spiderman's code: "With great power comes great responsibility." (Variations of this thought can be found in Socrates, Rousseau, FDR, and Churchill.) I add that with great power comes the need for great humility. The purpose of this blog is to start a dialogue about how the fellowshipping process be the best possible exercise of that responsibility.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Interviews vs. Work Samples

OK, I thought I was pretty radical, but Dan & Chip Heath, authors of the "Made to Stick" column in Fast Company magazine and the book of the same name have exceeded me in dissing interviews in their article: "Hold the Interview: Why it may be wiser to hire people without meeting them."

Their citation of a study at the University of Texas Medical School is compelling, and parallels the findings at the University of Michigan Law School sited by Malcolm Gladwell in his video (see link with discussion here). I love the following quote:
With so little proof that interviews work, why do we rely on them so much? Because we all think we're good at it. We are Barbara Walters or Mike Wallace, taking the measure of the person. Psychologist Richard Nisbett calls this the "interview illusion"--our certainty that we're learning more in an interview than we really are.
The brothers Heath then go on to laud the merits of work samples, which are more valid predictors of job success.

We can do a better job of interviewing through the use of performance-based interviewing techniques. But the Heath article strikes an appropriate cautionary note: We would be wise to place less weight in the examining process on even the best of interviews.