This column was originally published on Jeff Neal’s blog, ChiefHRO.com, and was republished here with permission from the author.
Most of us in the HR world have worshiped at the altar of “time to fill” for many years. We use/d it as a proxy for everything we wanted to make better in HR, particularly the hiring process. The idea was that getting the average time to fill down to a good number (whatever that was arbitrarily determined to be) would mean we were doing a good job with hiring. It would make applicants more interested in applying for jobs in our agencies, send the message to HR staff and customers that HR was responsive, and generally raise the level of performance in HR. I have to admit I used it for years.
Looking at it as someone who is not in the HR trenches anymore, I have concluded that it started out as a good idea. But, like many things good ideas in government, over time it has become a caricature of itself. Rather than driving real performance, it often provides an excuse for just the opposite.
Let’s look at the typical 80–day hiring model as an example. Is 80 days a good target for filling jobs? No. For most jobs, it is far too slow. For some jobs it is far too fast. There may be a few jobs for which it makes sense. The fact that the target is the same for every job is a big part of the problem. The truth is that the time it takes to fill a job varies from one position to another. The use of average fill times is another part of the problem. If I fill three jobs in an average of 80 days, you do not know how long it really took. It could be that one took 160 days and two took 40 days. If you are the hiring manager or applicant involved in the 160 day case, you are probably unimpressed when I tout my 80–day average.
If we really want to improve the hiring process, we need to move away from one-size-fits-all metrics into measures that are tailored to the type of jobs we are filling. Tailored metrics can tell us how we are really doing — metrics like the 80–day measure tell us nothing. If the job is simple, is filled often, has an abundance of candidates and does not require a security clearance, it should be filled within 30 days or less. If it is a Secret Service Agent who requires a TS-SCI clearance and has to go through an Academy training program (that is scheduled well in advance), it may be that 9 months is a reasonable time. If we are filling one job, it may take much less time than when we fill 100 jobs. If we are hiring newly graduated students, we might make an offer 6 months to a year in advance. Does the HR office fail when it makes an offer a year in advance and adds 365 days to its time-to-fill? Of course not.
Once we get rid of generic time-to-fill metrics, we can determine how well the hiring process meets targets that make sense. It is critical to remember though that time-to fill measures responsiveness, but it does not say anything about the quality of the hiring process. We could be hiring great candidates or bad ones. When we hire great candidates, we could be misrepresenting the job in the vacancy announcement and turning them off because what they applied and were selected for is not what they thought they were getting. Unless we add a quality measure to the mix, we have no clue whether we get good results or not. That means every agency needs a quality of hires metric as well. Such a metric can be determined by a post-hiring survey that goes to the hiring manager and the selectee a few months after the employee reports to the new job. The hiring manager can be asked how the process went and how the new employee is doing. The new employee is asked how the job matches up to the vacancy announcement and their satisfaction with it. Both can be asked about improvements to the process.
A combination of job-specific time-to-fill targets and post-hiring quality metrics is absolutely essential if we want to improve the hiring process. Absent that, we are left with meaningless targets that tell us nothing, enable nothing and change nothing. Making this type of change does not require legislation, new regulations, or any other bureaucratic steps. It is simply good management and can be implemented now.
Jeff Neal is a senior vice president for ICF International and founder of the blog, ChiefHRO.com. Before coming to ICF, Neal was the chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security and the chief human resources officer at the Defense Logistics Agency.