The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
How to Build Effective Processes for Hiring Top Talent
January 10th, 2022
Intro: Are you finding it difficult to fill your open positions? As we start out the new year, listen in for some timely tips to hire great people in this challenging environment.
Al Lopus: Hi, I’m Al Lopus, and you’re listening to the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where we help you create a flourishing workplace. The problem employers are facing today is that more of our employees are quitting than ever before. Some people are calling this the great resignation. And now with millions of open jobs, how can churches, Christian non-profits, and Christian-owned businesses face this tidal wave of resignations while attracting new, outstanding talent? And we know that having a flourishing workplace with fully engaged employees is the solution. I’ll be your guide today as we talk with a thought leader about key steps that you can take to create a flourishing workplace culture.
So, now let’s meet today’s special guest.
How do you find the very best people to be part of your organization? Recruiting and hiring top talent can be challenging, especially in today’s competitive labor market. But mistakes in hiring can be really costly, not just financially but in terms of employee morale and engagement. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tara VanderSande, the senior engagement and talent consultant here at the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. Tara is one of our favorite podcast guests. Welcome, Tara.
Tara VanderSande: Thanks, Al. I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Al: Now, Tara, you have a rich background in human-resource leadership and consulting, and having worked with you now for 10 years, I know that you have a passion for talent and engagement. So what is it that energizes you about having outstanding talent and highly engaged people in Christian-led organizations?
Tara: I am truly passionate about helping Christian-led organizations become the best, most effective places to work. I’ve spent the best hours of my day contributing to Christian organizations in a variety of roles. I’ve been a volunteer, a part-time worker, a full-time staff. I’ve been a manager and a senior leader. And I know what it feels like to work in both toxic and healthy environments. I know that an organization’s impact and growth is dependent on the engagement of employees. So my greatest desire, really, is to see Christian organizations cultivate cultures where their staff can thrive and their ministries can flourish.
Al: So, how about if you walk us through some important steps that an organization needs to take even before they start recruiting for an open position? I mean, already I know our listeners are thinking, “Okay. I’ve got an open position, or I’m about to have one.” So what are some of the steps, especially if you’re looking for someone in a leadership position?
Tara: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I lay that out. There’s really four pre-posting steps that I think are essential for all organizational leaders to walk through. So I’m going to give you the four, and then I’ll give you a little bit more context. But the first is define your culture. The second is assess your organization’s needs. The third is evaluate and update your core responsibilities. And the fourth is identify the key competencies.
So, just real briefly, you know, your first step is to make sure you have a great understanding of your culture. Can you qualify it and quantify the environment within your organization? I like to call this the EVP, the employee value proposition. What makes your culture unique? If you understand your culture, the strengths and the gaps, you’ll be better able to assess culture alignment during your selection process.
Then, the next step is to assess the current and future needs of your organization, or potentially that specific department. So is this area growing? Is it slowing, or has it plateaued? So without this role, what responsibilities would go unfulfilled? And if this role made a significant impact through your organization, what outcomes would you expect to see 12 months from now? And that’s really mission critical so you can get an understanding of why do we even need this role?
So, then, the third step is going to be to determine the key responsibilities for the role. So if you’re replacing a transitioning staff member, it’s important to remember that that role was originally created to meet a specific need at a specific time. And over time, team roles are naturally molded to complement existing staff skills and passions. So it’s best to practice, best practice, to evaluate and redefine the role responsibilities every single time there’s a staff transition. The exciting part of this process is that it creates growth opportunities for staff that are ready for a new and different responsibilities.
Okay. Then, the last step before you even post a role is to identify the key competencies required to be successful. What skills, behaviors, experience do you really need this candidate to demonstrate in order to be successful? How would you know? What would you see or hear from them that would give you confidence to move forward?
Answering these questions will help you craft an interview outline and an evaluation guide. You do those four things, you’ll be ready to post.
Al: Tara, I love these four steps: define your culture, or as you called, the employee value proposition. And as I look at these four steps, that’s probably the thing that many organizations are lacking at this point. You know, what have you done to define the culture? You described this earlier as, you know, the elevator speech of why somebody might want to work at your organization. So I like that. The other is one that we oftentimes, you know, I’ve seen managers instead of really evaluating and updating the core responsibilities, they kind of dust off the old job description and say, “Okay. We’re good to go,” but, really, yeah, great advice. And then, key competencies for each job, the fourth thing.
How about a recommendation on a place where a leader might go to find key competencies that they might tie into these jobs?
Tara: Yeah. There’s two different places that I’ve just gleaned a lot of wisdom from. And one is Lominger has a set of tools and a suite of competencies that you can look at the definitions for those. Another one, it’s an organization called DDI, and they have a set of professional competencies. I’ve worked with a couple different organizations where they wanted to create their own competencies and definitions, and I would say that’s definitely something you could explore, but you want to make sure that everybody’s on the same page with what each of those competencies really needs and what are those behavioral attributes that go with them. But those are two things that they could explore.
Al: Great. Thanks.
Well, we’ve outlined a good foundation for finding the right person, and it’s so much more than just posting an existing job-description outline, as you’ve mentioned. So we’ve been hearing about the tight labor market, and can you share some strategies for recruitment that can help an organization and a manager if they don’t seem to be getting the pool of talent that they need for a position?
Tara: Yeah, indeed. According to the latest Department of Labor statistics, the U.S. is experiencing the highest voluntary turnover rate in over a decade. And even a recent Gallup poll found that over, well, or almost, 50 percent of employees are actively seeking a different job right now. So the bottom line to that is that people are evaluating their purpose and their priorities. So now is a great time to attract this influx of talented people, and they could be transitioning from like-minded organizations or even the marketplace.
So, I have two quick thoughts on recruitment. First, I think it’s beneficial to lead your recruiting efforts with who you are and not just what you do. Employees want to know that the best hours of their day are making a difference in their community and in the world. Second, showcase what differentiates you from other workplaces. This goes back to that EVP, the employee value proposition, that I talked about. But you really want to be communicating those tangible and intangible benefits of your work culture. So do you offer child-care reimbursement? Do you have flexible shifts or unlimited PTO, paid time off? Do you have internal and external growth opportunities? And are you certified as a best Christian workplace, which would probably be one of the best things that you could communicate.
Al: Amen. That’s a great point, and we oftentimes find that when organizations are certified as a best Christian workplace, that they attract a higher caliber of person.
Well, finding a good fit really is important, and we often talk about the three Cs: character, competence, and chemistry. And these are really important concepts when we’re talking about interviewing. How can the hiring process uncover these qualities?
Tara: Yeah. Well, you can’t assess a great fit without a predetermined set of criteria, and that’s why it’s so important to start with those four pre-posting steps that I mentioned. Then, you can best determine alignment of the role through behavioral-based interviewing. So this involves identifying a specific set of interview questions that will uncover past experiences or behavior that’s specific to those competencies.
So, I’ve got an example. If your role requires process-management competence, you could determine three to four questions that request examples of successful and even unsuccessful process management from the candidate you’re talking to. So here’s a couple of questions. Tell me about a time you needed to create a new process. Or share an example of a situation where a process wasn’t working well. What did you do? What was the outcome? Additionally, it’s a good practice to ask the candidate what they learned from the experience and how have they applied that learning today. You can use this methodology for both your character and your culture questions as well, especially if you’ve taken the time to define the behaviors that contribute to your healthy culture.
So, here’s some examples of that. Tell me about a time you interacted with a difficult guest or a customer. Or tell me about a time you had to give difficult feedback to someone, or a time your boss changed expectations for an outcome at the last minute, and how did that task or your project turn out? And I also like to ask, tell me about your best boss and why that relationship was so effective.
Al: Wow. These are great questions. And Tara, over and over, behavior-based interview questions have proven to help select the best candidate. And it’s not something that a lot of frontline managers have been trained in. And those are great examples. Yeah. So specifically, you know, give us a short definition of behavior-based questions, just to summarize it.
Tara: Yeah. So behavioral-based interviewing is asking about something that you did in the past. It’s not about what would you do in the future. And I do think that’s where a lot of well-meaning hiring managers get tripped up, because they really want to have an understanding of how someone might fix a problem in their current organization. So the best way to ask it would be, tell me about a time that you had to learn something new and apply it to solve a problem that was urgent. But hiring managers will often ask the question of, if you came into our organization, how would you fix our retention problem? Right? So those are two different things. One is asking, what have you done? And the other one is saying, in your dream world, in your imagination, what would you do?
Al: Great summary, thanks.
So, you’ve worked with so many organizations through the Best Christian Workplaces Institute to hone their human-resource processes. And what are some practices that stand out in terms of excellence in recruiting and hiring that those listening can glean from?
Tara: Yeah. So what we would consider a flourishing organization, those with a really healthy work culture, they hire for character first and competence a close second. You can coach on competence, but you can’t coach character. And this is important for all organizations. I mean, even those that can’t discriminate for religious alignment, these leaders are still assessing values-based behaviors and actions to ensure the best culture fit.
Another thing is flourishing organizations have a collaborative process for hiring. They don’t go solo. They include a diverse team of people in the interviewing and selection process. And for more senior roles, they include elders or board members and key volunteers in developing those role requirements and those competencies we talked about.
The last thing that flourishing organizations do is they develop their people internally, both through volunteer pipelines and their existing staff. It’s easier to assess skills and behaviors of the people that you see working alongside your team day by day.
So those would be three things that stand out to me.
Al: Yeah. Yeah, your point about really developing people, developing a pipeline, just Google “pipeline leadership,” and you’ll find a previous podcast. And I also like your idea of character first, and we can train competence. That’s been such an issue for Christian leaders. Let’s, really, look for character and go from there.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
Female: As we come through the COVID-19 crisis, leaders everywhere are asking, how do we understand the tensions our employees are experiencing coming back to work? How do we keep our employees engaged, hold on to our best talent, and position ourselves to thrive as an organization going forward? If you’re looking for a way forward, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute can guide you onto the road to a flourishing workplace.
The first step to begin the journey is our well-known Employee Engagement Survey. This proven online tool pinpoints where your organization is already strong and where you can improve your employees’ workplace experience, resulting in more productive people. That’s right. You’ll have more engaged, productive, and fulfilled people. Time-consuming guesswork won’t get you there. Instead, let us help you with a fact-based, hope-inspiring action plan that only our Employee Engagement Survey and skillful coaching can provide. Sign up now to begin the journey to build a flourishing workplace culture and a thriving organization. Find out more at bcwinstitute.org.
Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
Sometimes, especially in situations where you’re in a hurry to find somebody to fill a job, this team-interviewing concept, people want to rush and maybe just hire somebody after a couple of interviews. What’s your reaction to that?
Tara: Yeah. You know, I’ve had a lot of conversations with leaders about that, and I think that also carries into the, “Would we use the same process for part-time and full-time roles?”
Tara: And I would say a consistent process that all hiring managers can follow, regardless of the role, is also going to give all of your staff confidence that you’re selecting the right people for the right reasons at the right time. So when it’s a part-time role or you’re up against an urgent situation, I recommend using panel interviews. And so you can have one interview with four different people, and, then, you can get their observations and their assessments based on what they’re seeing and observing. But I at least like to have more than two people as a part of any interview process so you can have a great discussion about what you see, what you don’t see. And so that’s how I would shore up the time.
Al: Yeah. And then, as you say, come back and have that conversation. I’ve had situations where there have been a number of interviews, but then the team never really does pull back together to say what they’ve learned and test each other. And of course, it’s even better when you identify those questions ahead of time—
Al: —for people. Yeah.
Tara: I really like to have each person assess on a numeric scale, especially when you’re looking at competence. And so when I’m looking at process management, I’d say on a scale of one to five, how strongly do I feel confident that this person exhibited the skills or behaviors we wanted? So I’m not saying, how much did you like that individual, but I’m asking a very specific question about a competence. And then, those individuals can submit their scores and also some of their observations and commentary. And it’s a great way to pair just both what you’re seeing and what you hope to see, that whole potential side, to, again, in a quantitative number that you could use to do assessment.
Al: You know, one of the biggest issues around hiring, of course, is making mistakes, and anybody that’s been in leadership for a while knows how much it hurts when you’ve made a mistake. So, let’s talk about some common mistakes that you’ve seen in recruiting and hiring so that people listening in can avoid some of those. What are some of the mistakes that you’ve seen? And I know we’re going to have a couple of chuckles about this.
Tara: Yeah. Well, first, let me just say everybody has made at least one bad hire. And those are things that we’re all going to learn from, even if you have the best process possible. But some of the most common mistakes that I see, first one is just making an emotional decision. You know, leaders often hire by that gut feel because an individual might have just natural charisma, or they might be from your alma mater or a church that you were a part of, or they have even a similar family background. But these gut hires will often miss critical information about a person’s ability to perform the job or even their cultural alignment. And that’s another good reason to use multiple people in an interview process. You know, it helps calibrate what you’re seeing and what that gut response might be.
So, another mistake that I see is just hiring too quickly because of the urgency. And especially today in our labor environment where talent is really difficult to acquire, understandably, just there’s an incredible amount of pressure to fill the role when responsibilities aren’t being fulfilled and team members are overworked. But I can tell you, it is much more difficult to fire a really nice person than it is to hire them. So I recommend working a consistent and thorough hiring process to make sure you get the right person for the right role.
Al: And haven’t you heard people say, “Oh, I want to hire that person. They get it”?
Al: You know, it’s nothing else; it’s they get it, and so that’s all that’s important. But there’s so much more. Exactly.
Well, two years ago, many of us would have never dreamed about hiring somebody without meeting them first, and now so much of the hiring process is happening through online meetings. And how about some tips for a hiring manager who may be used to the more traditional in-person interview process? How can you get past the screen and connect with a candidate for a good selection process?
Tara: Yeah. What a great question. You know, communicating through a screen has its challenges, for sure. And we’ve learned a lot of different ways to navigate those over the past two years, especially. So let me give you a couple of tips to have a more successful interview. So when both you and the candidate share the same expectations, both for how the interview is going to go, everything from the duration to the flow of questioning and also the technology set up, you’re going to have a much better interview. So make sure both you and the candidate take time to practice with the video platform, adjust the settings in advance. It is so unnerving to start a conversation with technology issues, and what you really want is just to have the best, most realistic experience with this person.
Then, I also recommend, on the hiring-manager side, practice your interview script in advance so you’re comfortable with the flow of questions and you’re going to have more natural follow-up questions. So I do like to write out all my interview questions in advance to make sure that they align back to the competency. And then I also want to be thinking about, like, what are the follow-up questions I want to ask? Like, how did you apply that learning, or what happened next, or what was the response from your boss? So that will just help you be more fully engaged and so you can observe the candidate’s responses from the words they use, their tone of voice, and their body language.
The other recommendation I have is take a minute or two to warm up the conversation by introducing yourself. So don’t just say your role and who you are, but maybe give a little more personal background. What’s your family make up? How long have you lived in the area? Do you have a favorite hobby? What you’ll see is that that candidate will relax enough to be able to engage in the conversation, and you’re going to feel a stronger connection with them, and it’ll be just higher quality.
And the last thing is, just remember, you don’t get as many high-quality nonverbal clues in a video meeting. Really, to get great nonverbals, you want to be able to see more than just their face. You want to see their hands; you want to see their body language. So you do need to pay attention for facial cues. Listen to their word choices. Listen to their tone. And if the candidate appears confused or anxious, just check in with them. You know, ask, “How can I clarify this question?” or “Do you want to take a minute to adjust your settings?” or “It looks like you might have a distraction. Do you need a second to get settled?” And that’s okay, because as human beings, we really just want to have a robust conversation to understand, is this a good fit?
Al: That’s great advice.
Now that we’ve hired the right person, because we followed all of these great techniques, let’s talk about onboarding. I know onboarding itself could be a whole separate podcast all by itself. But how about two or three of the most important things an organization needs to do for a successful onboarding? because, you know, once we’ve gone through all the effort to hire the right person, let’s get them onboarded because that does make a big difference, doesn’t it.
Tara: It really does. And you know, onboarding is such a critical element of the employee-engagement and -retention process. I mean, analysts have found that a great onboarding program will actually increase retention by 82 percent. But the biggest onboarding challenge is just this inconsistent application. Actually, recently Gallup poll found that only 12 percent of employees could say their organization onboarded well. And onboarding, it goes beyond training. So you get hired, you do all your initial paperwork, you get the on-the-job training, but onboarding has more to do with, how am I learning and engaging the culture? How am I connecting with other people? So effective onboarding even goes beyond 90 days. So our flourishing organizations provide onboarding activities for staff over a six-month period and sometimes even longer.
In addition to this on-the-job training, effective onboarding is going to include a connection directly to the senior leaders, this job-to-mission alignment, the “help me understand how what I do on a day-to-day basis is connecting to the outcome of our organization.” It’s also going to include great cross-department introductions and collaboration, and opportunities to provide feedback about what the new employee is learning and experiencing.
And lastly, we’ve found that utilizing a buddy system, pairing someone up with somebody either in their department or a similar role, it will increase your employee’s job proficiency by 87 percent. So it is super important.
Al: Wow. Those are great ideas. I remember previous discussions with Doug Mazza, who was the president of Joni and Friends for 20 years, and he really made a strong impression with new employees by having their supervisor waiting in the waiting room for them when they reported their first day. And then, after going to their desk and receiving a gift from Joni Eareckson Tada, and then going to Doug’s office for a cup of coffee that he would make for them, and just talking, as you were saying, that’s job-to-mission alignment right there, and connecting to senior leaders day one, that really made a big difference. But, yeah, onboarding is critical.
Well, Tara, gosh, we could talk about this for a long time, and I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. And you know, even going back to initially four key steps of starting off with the process of defining your culture; assessing your organization’s needs; not just dusting off the old job description, but really evaluate and update the responsibilities; and identify key competencies. Also, you really pointed out communicating who the organization is, what’s the culture and what differentiates you as an organization is really key. Character, competence, chemistry: key parts of interviewing process. Really focusing on behavior interviewing. You gave us some great examples. And having a thorough process and finishing up with onboarding. Those are all really great insights.
How about anything else that you liked that we’ve talked about?
Tara: Yeah. So the one thing that I do think about is, you know, there’s a lot of energy and time going into attracting new and talented people to our organization. But we want to make sure that we are also attending to our current workplace culture, because although we’re living in unprecedented times, what employees seek in a job remain the same for years on end. Employees want to contribute to meaningful work in an environment that values them for their personhood, their time, and their talent. You know, these job seekers are looking for trustworthy leaders that involve employees in the future of their organization. So you can spend a lot of time hiring the best candidate, but they won’t stay long if your environment is toxic. So I just want to encourage leaders to do both. Seek out those great people. Make sure there’s a great alignment to that person, to the job, but make sure that that culture can retain them. Train your managers, keep connecting your people from their job back to the mission, and create trust with employees, with the leaders, reaching out, connecting, and collaborating and communicating on an ongoing basis. So to me, you’ll be on your way to flourishing if you do those things.
Al: Great advice. And yes, the antidote to the great resignation, people leaving jobs, is a healthy, even flourishing culture. No question.
Al: So, Tara, if someone wanted to connect with us on this topic, what’s the best way for them to reach out so they might even get some additional information?
Tara: Yeah. We’d love for our listeners to reach out, both with questions, observations, or even your best-practice experience. And you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. So again, that’s email@example.com. What we’ll do is we’ll collect all of the information that we get and reply back to you all as a group, with some of the frequently asked questions and our responses.
Al: Great, thanks.
Ladies and gentlemen, Tara VanderSande, I want to thank you for your contributions today. And most of all, I appreciate your devotion and service to the church and to our loving God and the way you help organizations move toward excellence in their employee practices. Thanks so much for taking your time out today and speaking into the lives of so many listeners.
Tara: It was a pleasure.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
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Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.