Collective Intelligence - Featured Story in HR Executive Magazine

"Advances in intelligence collection -- from both internal and external sources -- are helping organizations with everything from solving real-time problems to checking candidate references."

Meri Miller-Decker, director of talent acquisition at San Diego, Calif.-based Petco, says her organization has been using a collective-intelligence tool for the past 18 months from Checkster, a Mill Valley, Calif. based technology firm,to help process "at least a couple of thousand" candidates' reference checks.

People who have been listed by a Petco job candidate as references are sent an e-mail via the solution, in which they are asked to evaluate the candidate based on the same set of questions, which can be customized and open-ended. Candidates typically submit eight or nine people as references, while others put in the maximum of 20 names, and the respondents' relations to the candidate are identified (as direct reports, previous supervisors, etc.)

"Previously, we conducted one to two references on each finalist candidate prior to extending an offer," she says. "This resulted in one to two perspectives and took approximately 30 minutes per check, including phone tag and time on the phone. Checkster now automates the process and allows us to do it up front."

Petco uses the reference-check tool for corporate hiring positions, leadership positions in the company's distribution centers and all store managers and above, i.e. field managers, she says.

Miller-Decker says the new solution now reaps an average of six responses for every eight or nine invites sent out. Part of its success hinges on protecting the privacy for all involved.

"We never get individual results, just a group view," she says. "The results are never brought down to a single person, so, from a protection perspective, we see people are more comfortable offering their opinion."

The insight that the solution provides can be startling, Miller-Decker adds.

"Especially at higher levels, when you're looking at director or above, you get a very interesting view, much more so than you would from just one or two people," she says. "A group of individuals can give you a unique perspective on how you're doing, and that's going to be more valuable than from a single source," she says.

And because the process can be done before an offer is extended, "this allows the information to be incorporated into the selection process at a point when any 'red flags' can be further evaluated than at a stage when the decision has essentially been made," she says.

[...] One organization, Alviso, Calif.-based Tivo, is even using the intelligence it gathers from the Checkster application to give managers some perspective on the types of training and supervision that new employees who have gone through the reference-check process will require.

William Uranga, director of talent acquisition, says Tivo's recruiting team handles hiring decisions from the vice-president level on down among the 600 employees nationwide.

He says what makes its collective-intelligence solution even more useful, from a talent-management perspective, is that a PDF report is generated that takes the finalist's self-assessment and does a comparison to the reference-givers' assessments.

"It's interesting to see how the candidate assesses himself or herself versus how the others do it," he says. "Where we find this most helpful is that the conversation isn't so much, 'Do we hire this person?' because, at this point, you're not uncovering anything shocking, but it turns into more, 'How does the hiring manager best manage the person they're about to hire?'

"There's a lot more texture" to the references now, he adds, and "the manager is getting a much clearer view of the person they're charged with managing. You've got individuals who need to be led, coached and mentored accordingly."

Collective intelligence does not come by randomly aggregating feedback from a group of intelligent people. Some fundamental principles need to be respected in order to increase its accuracy, according to Yves Lermusi, CEO of Checkster, a Mill Valley, Calif.-based technology firm.

In the talent-management space, three factors are critical when relying on collective intelligence:

  • Diversity. Consider this not simply in terms of gender or ethnic background, but also when it comes to diversity of knowledge, experience, personality, cognitive style, etc.

  • Authenticity. This is understood as the ability for each participant to be free to express his or her real thoughts, and not to be engaged in a hidden agenda or deceptive tactics.

  • Discernment. Even if you assemble a diverse group that can be authentic, the results will be enhanced if you can improve discernment. In other words, enable participants to discern difference and relevance. This is often achieved by using a framework, such as validated competencies.
Republished from a February, 2011 article in HR Executive Magazine

Author: Michael O'Brien
Link to Original Article