Competency-Based Interviewing

Recruitment and Selection play a critical role in organisational success.  Hiring the right people for the right jobs gives the competitive edge in terms of human capital.  We have to compensate, develop, motivate and retain employees after they are selected, so it is imperative that the right people are selected in the first place or all these subsequent activities may be compromised.

The recruitment process can take several forms including but not limited to structured and unstructured interviews, tests or assessments, work samples and psychometric testing.  In recent times, the use of assessment centres have grown in popularity and these utilize of combination of the methods just described to screen and select the most suitable candidates.  It has been proven that the use of one method alone is far less predictive of future behaviour of employees, than a multifaceted approach.  I have experienced a situation, where going on gut feeling and just an interview would have lead to selection of an inappropriate candidate.  When a work sample was produced by the candidate, it was less than ideal and thus a better decision was made with this additional information.

I will focus on the interview, as this is the most common element used.  The interview can be unstructured,  structured or a mixture of both.  Unstructured interviews allow the interviewer to ask whatever comes to mind.  While this may be more free-flowing, the relevant information to inform the decision may not be gathered.  Time may be unnecessarily wasted and inappropriate or illegal questions may be asked.  A lot more bias can be introduced, as depending on the answers put forward, the interviewer may take queues and take the interview in a particular direction.

Structured interviews are conducted using a predetermined set of questions.  Ideally, these questions should be based on competencies that have been identified as being most relevant to undertaking the responsibilities.  These can be derived from job descriptions, the Core Values or any source agreed upon.  The competencies can of course be technical in nature such as a specific skill or behavioural, such as an attitude or attribute.  The use of these allows for better comparison amongst candidates.  It also helps to reduce bias and ensures that focus is placed on areas that directly impact the accurate prediction of performance.  These same competencies, it should be noted can be used in other areas such as Performance Management and Training and Development.

Once the competencies are determined, interview questions can be developed.  These should be open-ended and be constructed in a way that forces candidates to illustrate specific examples of past behaviour.  This allows for provision of positive and negative evidence in determining competence levels.  Probing questions can be used to get more details or to find out candidates’ specific role in the outcome.  This would allow for some flexibility while maintaining the structure.

The questions can be structured by asking candidates to outline the circumstance or situation, the actions they specifically took and the result or outcome.  Furthermore, any differences in approach that they recognized after the situation could be described.  This approach to interviewing allows the interviewer to maintain control over the interview and get the most accurate information to inform decision making.

Bianca Attong


Human Resource Auditing

As the year draws to a close, we should take some time to review our achievements against plans for our organizations. We all know that we worked hard dealing with issues of productivity and leadership, but have our policies and procedures contributed to the successes or failures of the organizations for which we work so diligently. A comprehensive Human Resource Audit can assist in answering this question. You do not have time for this, then what are you really working so hard for each day?

An HR Audit is precisely that, a review of policies, systems and procedures and their implementation to determine if they met the needs effectively and if they were in compliance with labour laws and in keeping with good industrial relations practice. It will highlight areas that need enhancing, introduction or removal.

Can compliance be increased? Did the line effectively and consistently utilize the systems in place? Did the strategies focused on meet organizational needs? Are there areas where cost savings can be derived? Can risk be reduced? Are there opportunities for training and development? Did the organization perform in keeping with best practice? I am sure that you can add to this list of questions that can be answered by undertaking an audit.

In-house Human Resource practitioners can undertake the audit, or assistance can be sought from Consultants if time or capability does not permit. A series of in-depth questions can be developed as a first step. The scope of the audit also has to be determined. It can focus on specific functions that may have been of concern during the year or will be going forward, such as Recruitment and Selection. It can focus on areas that were highlighted in the organisation’s strategic plan. A general focus of all aspects of HR can also be undertaken, touching on Recruitment, Retention, Performance, Compensation, Recognition and Reward, Training and Termination to name a few. The Employee files should also be a priority as we know the importance of the mantra “documentation, documentation, documentation”. This is where many organizations expose themselves to the greatest risk.

Policies can be reviewed, but metrics must also be used to review what actually occurred during the year. The use of metrics can lead to direct strategies that can be employed to address issues revealed. For instance, the time to fill metric for key positions may show a less than adequate recruitment system. The number of grievances reaching past the second stage may suggest the implementation or revamping of non-crisis meetings with the union.

The results from the audit can be used to reward departments that had acceptable levels of compliance and to organize refresher training for those that did not. Feedback together with an action plan to address findings should be presented to management for discussion and buy-in.

Dedicated use of the auditing process will assist HR professionals with concretizing their impact on the bottom line and will provide avenues for continuous improvement.

* Adapted from a SHRM White Paper by Theresa Daniel entitled HR Compliance Audits: “Just Nice” or Really Necessary.

Bianca Attong

Engaging Staff at Year-End

Managing productivity is a challenge on a good day, through in the Christmas season and employees can spend more time planning their outfits for the season’s parties than on the work at hand.  Absenteeism may also increase.

Don’t get me wrong, there are also several positives that can be derived from the festivities.  So the challenge for Human Resources is to balance these against the relaxed attitude that may pervade the atmosphere.

Some ideas include involving staff in planning the festivities.  This can be achieved in a structured way to minimize disruption to operations.  Volunteers can be solicited for decorating the office, planning the end of year function, organizing activities such as the popular “Earthlings and Angels” or assisting the less fortunate in society.  Staff feels that their creative skills are utilized and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when things turn out successfully.

Our firm closes on Christmas Eve and half-day on New Year’s Eve as it is felt that employees deserve the time off for their families and the productivity levels are really quite low anyway.  This impacts morale positively.

Staff meetings are still important to prepare for the coming year, especially in these times, planning, budgeting and other related activities should be in focus.  End of year appraisals also come on stream, though these continue into the New Year.  Payment of bonuses in some companies occurs around this time.

Attention should also be given to considering the feelings of those employees whose religion dictates that they do not celebrate the season.  Other types of recognition should be planned, if possible, to ensure that they know their efforts over the past year were appreciated.

Bianca Attong

Closing the Gender Gap

Dr. Sheila Rampersad’s article in the Trinidad Express of November 18th, 2008 is titled “Women earn less than men in T&T”.  This statement was made in response to data produced by the World Economic Forum in their 2008 Global Gender Gap Report.

The article highlighted the fact that women in T&T earn half of what their male counterparts earn.  Hazel Brown, co-ordinator of the Network for the Advancement of Women, was quoted in the article.  She expressed grave concern that despite T&T’s increased rating from 2007, the gap seemed to highlight deficiencies in employment practices in the country.  Females outnumber males in the educational system from primary through secondary and tertiary levels.  They also outperform the males at examinations.  So why are they being discriminated against when entering and progressing in the workplace?  Can we regional Human Resource practitioners provide any insight?

I found Ms. Brown’s comments fascinating and this lead me to read the report.  There are some positives coming out of the report and this provides some measure of comfort.  Trinidad and Tobago leads the Latin American and Caribbean Region, jumping from 46th place overall in 2007 to this year’s 19th place ranking, the only country in the region in the top 20.  Trinidad and Tobago’s improved performance is largely in part to the number of women represented in parliament and with ministerial portfolios.  The report ranks one hundred and sixty countries based on four categories, namely Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment.

The excerpt below shows the ranking of T&T, Barbados, Jamaica and United States.

Country    Overall Ranking (2007)    Overall Ranking (2008)

Economic Participation and Opportunity Ranking

Educational Attainment Ranking

Health and Survival Ranking

Political Empowerment Ranking
T&T     46    19    52    39    1 (tied with other countries)    24
Barbados    n/a    26     9    44    1 (tied with other countries)    62
Jamaica    39    44    23    1 (tied with other countries)    91    91
United States    31    27    12    1 (tied with other countries)    37    56

There are several ways to analyse the data.  At face value, I saw that each Caribbean nation had strengths in particular factors.  This would lead to the obvious thought that we can learn from each other and maximise synergies.  We the Caribbean are ahead of the United States in certain categories, so clearly we must have something going for us.

The analysis highlighted in the report itself pointed to the trend of increases in closing the gaps.  The Nordic countries continue to perform well, seemingly they have the recipe for equality.  Closer analysis of the structure and systems of the economic, social and political facets of these countries would prove useful.  Norway, the leading country in the survey has modified legislation to dictate the gender balance required for boards of public companies, Finland, the second place country has a female president.  These countries also offer great support to females with generous maternity provisions and paternity provisions as well.

The report draws four conclusions.  The one that I find most relevant for us, Human Resource practitioners, is the correlation between gender gap and national competitiveness which has impact on GDP and quality of life for citizens.  The report correctly emphasizes that the most critical factor in the determination of national competitiveness is the effective use of human talent.  The skills, education and productivity of the workforce are all contributing factors.  These, as far as I know, all fall directly within our purview as HR professionals.  So we are poised to have a direct positive impact on our countries.

From recruitment and selection practices which embrace diversity and women in the workplace and give equal pay for equal work, to compensation and benefits where a cafeteria style menu can be implemented to cater to women’s specific needs, to training and development geared at giving the best minds, even if these are female the right tools to climb organizational levels, to policy and procedure development that promote equality, Human Resources can certainly mould the organizations that will lead to women being paid the same as men.  The regional HR associations could probably highlight their work to Ms. Browne so that she would know that HR professionals are doing their part to close the gender gap.

The report makes very interesting reading.  I strongly recommend it.

Bianca Attong


HR and the Global Economic Downturn

As economies all over the globe are slowing down, with rampant predictions of gloom and doom, what can we HR professionals do to keep the workforce positive and productive during these challenging times?

Communication comes to mind first and foremost. Employees must be made aware of how organisations anticipate the current conditions may affect them. We cannot hide and think we are immune or insulated from the problems of the leading economies, for this village we live in is now truly global. While we may not be able to share all our strategies to combat the crisis, we can at least relay a sense that we are in control and working to minimize adversity.

Focus groups can be established to generate solutions to mitigate the circumstances. Employees can brainstorm and present and discuss options to the wider workforce. This also goes a long way to ensuring buy in.

Revenues are going to be reduced and there may not be much that can be done to change this; so the costs or expenses have to be closely monitored. Finance can work along side Human Resources to advice management on where costs can be better managed. Costs for items such as kitchen supplies and stationery can be immediately addressed. Other costs can also be tackled with some closer analysis.

Technology can be utilized to greater effect with the introduction of teleconferencing and video conferencing facilities in-house or rented through service providers. While there may be short term costs associated with these, the long term savings may well be worth the initial outlay. We know first hand from our experiences with the CaribHRForum that virtual teams do work!

Emphasis must be placed on succession planning and retention of key employees during these times of uncertainty. Organisations can ill afford to lose prize talent when they need it the most.

Employees will be feeling more apprehensive and stressed, so that productivity can be affected. The use of Employee Assistance Programmes therefore becomes critical. Team Building sessions as well as those that focus on Stress Management may be timely.

Most of all, Human Resource professionals need to continue to be the warm, empathetic human beings that we are and smile as we seek to be a ray of hope in an otherwise unsettling world.

Bianca Attong


Mentorship and Its Benefits

Mentoring is a career development method whereby less experienced employees are matched with more experienced colleagues for guidance either through formal or informal programmes.  Most CEO’s you speak with, will say that they are where they are because they got guidance or advice from some other experienced individuals this most likely was through an informal mentoring relationships.  In fact these relationships often continue for their entire careers.

There are many advantages for both the mentor and the mentee or protégé in both formal and informal mentoring relationships.  I have worked in an organization where there was a formal mentorship programme and the benefits were quite evident.  The excitement, enthusiasm and commitment generated had immediate positive impact.  The mentees were young and most were new to the world of work.  So, having experienced employees to help them overcome obstacles showed that the organization was serious about them and committed to their future and success.

Benefits for the mentee include job related coaching and counseling, a better orientation and induction into a new organizational culture, more intimate knowledge of the organization and its operations, the potential for networking opportunities, the ability to reach full potential at a faster rate and the mentor’s personal experience in similar situations.

The mentor also gains from the relationship.  To share and guide another individual on a path to success is a truly rewarding feeling.  Also the mentor’s commitment and loyalty to the organization are enhanced through the experience.  Of course, they must be willing to make the relationship work, by dedicating time to the role and providing timely feedback.

All organizations can benefit from the implementation of such a programme.  The areas of recruitment, retention, human resource development and culture are all impacted.  Programmes can be informal, that is a basic outline is presented and employees chart their own course through it.  Structured programmes which often include milestones for various phases of the relationship and deliberate matching of mentors and protégés take more effort, but the rewards can be significantly increased.

There is a lot of material out there, so starting a programme is not that difficult for those with limited resources.  For larger organizations the programme can be implemented through the use of a trained facilitator.  In these challenging economic times, organizations, guided by Human Resources have to make the effort to keep valuable employees; an informal mentorship programme may be one such avenue.

1Definition from Society for Human Resource Management Knowledge Centre

The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Effective Mentoring, Dr. Norman Cohen
Making the Most of Being Mentored, Gordon F. Shea

Bianca Attong

Back to School Blues

“Sorry to be late, the traffic was crazy!” This was the employee’s greeting as she hustled through the door ten minutes late, sweating and complaining about the bad drivers, breakfast in one hand and Blackberry in the other.

This will be a familiar scenario at workplaces throughout the Caribbean as the school term has re-opened. Employers are faced with increasing challenges in managing employee punctuality and productivity, in the face of increasing gridlock at all times of the day. The problem is not peculiar to us, in a 2007 study by Career Builder and USA Today, 31% of late employees cited traffic as the cause of their tardiness. I am certain that that percentage would be much higher in our region.

The punctuality issues definitely impact productivity and the bottom line. If an employee arrived ten minutes late each day, another paid vacation week would have accumulated by the end of the year. Multiply this by the number of employees in your organization and then in the industry and then across all industries in the country and the region. Millions!!! No wonder in a recent International Labour Organisation study it was found that value added per person employed in the Caribbean is nearly three times less than in developed economies.

Productivity is impacted not only by the time lost each day by late arrivals, but by time taken to settle in and focus, time for breakfast that was missed because employees left home at 4 am to beat the traffic. Then this is repeated during the day by employees leaving to pick up the children from school and drop them off.

Solutions! Solutions!

1. Develop a culture of being on time – begin meetings on time, discuss the important issues first, do not repeat information for late comers
2. Reward employees for perfect attendance and punctuality;
3. Discipline employees for tardiness and absenteeism (we can debate about the pros and cons of solutions 1 vs 2);
4. Have a clearly documented attendance and punctuality policy;
5. Introduce flexible work arrangements, telecommuting, compressed work weeks (9-80), job sharing – these help with recruitment, retention and morale;
6. Discuss the importance of being on time at the offer stage; during Orientation Sessions
7. Train managers in dealing with these issues and encourage them to coach employees
8. Remind employees of the existence of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to help them cope with work life issues;
9. Organise sessions through the EAP on Stress Management, Work Life Balance;
10. Provide on-site catering of breakfast;
11. Introduce a shuttle service for employees and their children
12. Encourage car pooling (some people even ride bicycles around now)
13. Offer on-site child care or benefits towards child care arrangements

1 Key Indicators of the Labour Market, Fifth Edition, International Labour Office, Geneva 2007

Bianca Attong

Olympic Lessons for Caribbean HR

Well, the Beijing Olympics have come and gone.  The lessons and stories, however will last for a long time.  From the mind-boggling opening ceremony, to the pride Caribbean people felt and continue to feel at the tremendous success of our athletes.  Congratulations to all!!!! Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis – everyone.  The world was forced to take notice of this beautiful region for reasons other than sun, sea and sand.

Of course we the people of the Caribbean have always known that we excel in all spheres of endeavour.  I think the time has come and the opportunity is ripe for us in the Human Resource profession to really harness this excitement and sustain the momentum for positive results.  We have been talking for a long time; the time has come to act.

The games of the 29th Olympiad have really provided a plethora of analogies for us to draw from and move forward.  A few things that stood out for me in terms of relevance to Human Resources included, the limitless potential that collectivism can achieve, the ability of good coaches to recognize and develop raw talent, the use of benchmarks and performance measures in a systematic way to manage performance, awareness of the competition and best practices, the attributes of successful athletes, the importance of teamwork and proper technique and the value of recognition and reward.

Much has been written and discussed about the individual versus the team and collective.  I think it has been proven time and time again, that there is strength in unity.  The politicians of the region seem to be shaking things up again in terms of integration, so why not us as Human Resource Professionals.  This forum is a start and the challenge is for us all to do our part, so that we can chart a way forward in earnest.

Richard Thompson, Trinidad and Tobago’s double silver medalist at the games, credits his secondary school coach, as identifying his raw potential and putting him on the path to success.  Every organization is full of “high potentials”, it is our job as HR to work with management to identify these employees and put programmes in place for them to achieve their full potential while meeting the organisational vision.

These programmes can include training, stretch targets, assignment to challenging projects and often international exposure.  HR needs to be careful however; to ensure that there is a sound plan in place for these employees future in the workplace.  A great deal of time and money is spent and sometimes employees leave organizations as the great opportunities and positions promised to them to utilize this development does not materialize.

The athletes’ performances were all incredible, but certainly the performance was relative to all past performances in the history of these and other games.  Usian Bolt’s record-breaking times are awe inspiring because we are able to compare them to times of other athletes.  This emphasizes the need for performance targets and measures in relation to benchmarks.  Human Resource professionals need to embrace the use of metrics and targets and encourage the organizations for which they work to do the same.  Employee and organizational performance should be measured continuously.  While most appraisal processes capture employee and organizational performance in terms of standards and metrics, HR can do better for itself.

How many HR professionals can say that they track organizational metrics on a regular basis and use the results to inform decision making or influence strategy?  I recently started capturing some simple information, absenteeism in terms of time and cost as well as time to fill key vacancies.  This has enabled the organization to take notice of how absenteeism affects the bottom line.  This has also meant support for initiatives that HR needs to put in place to reduce these figures.  The time to fill metric has assisted me in streamlining the recruitment and selection process.

Put another way, the absence of metrics and measures does not optimize the efficiency of operations.  There is no way to hide from the figures, so capturing them forces me to be more resourceful.  Several HR professionals I have encountered have never tracked metrics and some admit they do not know where to start.  SHRM’s website is a starting point, there is a list of several metrics and their related formulae.  Also contacting a colleague who already does this is extremely useful.  You can recommend this as a topic at your local HR Association.

Awareness of the competition and best practices were also a lesson to be learnt.  Know your competition and what makes them successful.  Who are the industry leaders?  Who is known for innovation, training and development or other things?  As HR practitioners, we need to be in community with each other, through any means.  Be active, network.  Libby Sartain and Martha Finney make this point in their book HR from the Heart.  We can learn from one another and therefore strengthen the collective HR function and organizations as a whole.  The Harvard Business Review of June 2008, has an interesting case study, that addresses losing staff and in particular to the competition.  The need for HR to take an active role in managing these situations is highlighted and knowing the competition is a start.

Successful athletes share certain traits in common.  These include talent, discipline, desire, good support system and motivation.  HR can play a part in enhancing similar attributes in employees.  The systems and processes in the organization must support these.  Whether identifying talent, effective leadership, counseling and coaching, motivation through intrinsic and intangible compensation philosophy.  Peter Senge, in his book, the Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, speaks about building a shared vision.  The employees and organisations’ vision must be in congruence, so that employees as he puts it can continually enhance their capacity to realize their highest aspirations.

Teamwork and proper technique were quite evident in the relays especially.  The Americans were devastated when their women’s and men’s 4×100 were disqualified after dropping the baton.  The point is that you can be talented or have great employees, team work is necessary on some occasions and ensuring that employees approach their work in a systematic manner is critical.  Often times, there is no Orientation and Induction in place and employees complain of having to figure things out as they go along.  No job description is provided or if it is, no targets and standards are outlined.  This is not the ideal situation.  Proper documentation of procedures, where applicable can lessen the time taken for employees to reach their optimal performance levels.  Consistency in approaching tasks can also assist with the internal branding of operations.  The intangible results displayed following teambuilding activities, whether structured or unstructured as in social activities go a long way in improving morale and strengthening the team.

Lastly, the recognition and reward of individual and collective achievements, is imperative to sustaining success.  The expressions on the faces of those athletes, as they received their medals, the tears of joy and pride seeing their flags being raised, and the anthems of their countries played were touching.

Organisations must ensure that they have Recognition and Reward Policies in place.  Again, this does not always have to be monetary, an e-mail, a thank you note, public recognition at a staff meeting, a picture on the notice board are all simple but effective ways to send out a positive message.  Of course monetary rewards are great, but do not let a budget dampen your efforts.  The Corporate Leadership Council in a four year survey of more than 100 000 employees around the world found that employees join organizations for rational motives such as better career opportunities or benefits, but stay and give their all for emotional reasons.  These emotional reasons include connection to the mission and how they perceive their contribution is valued or recognized.

Congratulations to the Empolyers’ Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago for implementing the Champion Employer of the Year Award.  Congratulations to all the winners.  This public recognition of organizations with good HR practices will motivate all organizations to be the best they can be, perhaps a Champion Regional Employer might be a useful idea to assist with integration.