By Ray Bixler, SkillSurvey President & CEO

In a recent blog post, best-selling author and expert on employee engagement, Kevin Sheridan took issue with the notion that “employee engagement” has run its course and has instead become a routine “check-the-box” exercise. He suggests, rightly, that perhaps we should start holding the people checking the box accountable for defining, encouraging, and measuring engagement at their organizations.

When a process that involves people becomes thoughtless and perfunctory, it guarantees bad results. A case in point is reference checking.

Organizations that consider reference checking to be a worthless, low-value activity get worthless, low-value feedback—or worse, no feedback at all—about potential new hires. And that leaves the organization in the dark about whether a candidate will help or hinder its efforts to build the “magnetic culture” that Kevin so passionately endorses.

Driving transformation across an organization starts with ensuring that you’re bringing talented people on board who are aligned with your company’s vision and culture. By turning a reference process that’s all about checking boxes into a data-driven, accountable, and automated process, organizations are making better hiring decisions, reducing turnover, strengthening their brands, and improving engagement.

Feedback from former supervisors, peers, and direct reports about a candidate’s professionalism, interpersonal skills, adaptability, and commitment is helping our customers identify the people who are more likely to succeed—and thrive—at their organizations. But that doesn’t mean they’re inventing their own versions of what it means to be “Googley.” SkillSurvey’s job-specific surveys are scientifically validated to provide reliable feedback on the “fit factors” needed to perform well in a particular kind of job. Was the executive candidate able to set a course of action and motivate others? Was the manager able to set goals, assign tasks, and manage feedback? Did the pediatric nurse demonstrate empathy and compassion?

Detailed feedback about these kinds of soft skills can help organizations identify candidates who are likely to succeed in a specific role. We see the greatest impact when our customers use Pre-Hire 360 early in the hiring process—and not just because recruiters can make more informed decisions about which candidates to present to their hiring managers. Those hiring managers, in turn, are more able to ask relevant and probing questions during interviews and even design development plans for new hires.

I’ll use my own company as an example. At SkillSurvey, we recently hired a new marketing executive with a great performance record. During her interview we probed a bit on feedback from several references who noted her reluctance to delegate responsibility. I really don’t want employees who burn themselves out. Since she’s my direct report, we’ve paid close attention to work-life balance and that’s paid off in a happier, more productive senior manager.

Our cloud-based, mobile-ready solution also helps organizations collect more references faster (on average 4 to 5, often in less than 2 days). With more references actually providing feedback, companies have a more comprehensive view of a candidate’s strength and weaknesses. By eliminating the time spent making phone calls that too often net little valuable information, recruiters are able to focus their talents where they matter most—identifying and evaluating best-fit candidates. And by making the reference process more transparent, the candidate experience is improved.

With automated reference tools, organizations can also build a better candidate pipeline by inviting references to become members of their talent community. With less reliance on resumes and deeper networking ties, organizations are better able to find best-fit candidates with passion for their work.

Building a more engaged workforce means being ready to select the right person for each job. But a recent study by Deloitte points out that “fewer than 40 percent of all hiring teams use any form of formal prehire assessment.” Ultimately, organizations that hire engaged employees are more successful, more able to attract top talent, and more ready to achieve ambitious goals. The first step is transforming an ad hoc reference practice into an accountable and strategic assessment process. That’s a box I’d be more than willing to check.

Kevin Sheridan discusses this topic in this Human Capital Institute, webinar “Hiring Right: The Foundation for Building a Magnetic Culture,” You can view the recording here.

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