October 10, 2012

When Hiring is a Good “Workout”

brightspot Culture, Designing Experiences

We are big on prototyping – quickly coming up with and testing out ideas to see if they actually work. Since we do this all the time with our clients, we thought it only made sense to apply it to how we hire and we build brightspot. Like any prototyping exercise, it’s a way to “fail faster”, to mitigate risk, get feedback, and build consensus.

As a small and growing business, hiring a prospective brightspotter is a big decision for us. But no matter the size of your company, when adding a person to your payroll, you want to know that their skills, knowledge, experience, and intangibles fit with the organization’s projects, clients, people, and culture. But the typical hiring process – reviewing a resume, running through interviews, etc – doesn’t really enable you to see someone in action or see what it’s like to work together.

So, in our recent rounds of hires, we have applied these concepts of prototyping and iteration through what we’ve started calling a “workout.” We provided candidates with a hypothetical client scenario to reflect on and then to design, lead, and document a mock-workshop working with one of our staff. We saw candidates – and each other – in action, in a safe but realistic setting. Both sides experienced first-hand what it would be like working together. We got to know each other very quickly.

“The Workout”

Each session included prep work on both sides. Candidates were briefed with a “plot” setup and our expectations. We created a short scenario similar to a typical client situation – a university library transitioning their offerings and organization to be more user-friendly, via an integrated service model that brings together the circulation of books/devices, research support, and technology support in one place. Candidates were asked to prepare by getting to know the material – but not much was given, as the goal is to see how they think on their feet, adapt, and work in a scenario they will likely encounter as a brightspotter.

Role-Play: The Team

We all took on roles of the staff members involved in the workshop, based on individuals that we often see emerge in our client workshops. Short personas were developed on each of these roles. An example:

Chip: 35-year-old with a Masters in Computer Science who has been with IT Services for 8 years. Chip is the leader of the new cross-functional team for the library’s integrated service point. He is excited about the prospect of interdisciplinary work, especially applying technology to streamline and enhance the other services, but also concerned about “turf wars” and managing a team with different backgrounds and more senior staff. As technology support is not a traditional library service, he is a bit of an outsider. Chip is a hard worker, sharp thinker, and generally works alone but has mentored many student workers. 

Rather than structuring it like a typical “Case-study Interview,” we all participated, making the experience more collaborative and iterative. Our serious participation with the creation of roles was essential – as our workshop strategy is all about creating a consensus with all parties and personalities involved. We threw out hypotheticals as we went, watching both for candidates’ reaction and testing out potential solutions ourselves. The role-play also gave us a great opportunity for client empathy – getting to walk in our clients’ shoes helped us see our process in a new light.

Support: Coaching

These Workout sessions are not about throwing candidates into impossible situations. We want them to succeed, and be able to show us their best stuff. Each candidate is given a “Collaborator” – a brightspotter who is assigned to support them along the way. The “Collaborator” not only guides the candidate through the process, available to answer questions prior to the workshop, but also works with the candidate to prep and plan, and move through the Workout as best they can. Prior to the Workout, the candidate also has the opportunity to interview the team leader one-on-one (in character), giving them the opportunity for more preparation.

Results: Stretching it Out

Following the Workout, the candidate submitted and presented a short deliverable documenting the workshop and high-level recommendations. While an important part of the process, the most effective – and fun – is definitely the Workout itself. Some of our team really got into their characters, and we had some great insights into the client side. In addition to learning about candidates personally and professionally, we’ve learned new tools and approaches from them – some of which we already incorporated into client workshops.

Candidates agreed that it was a great way to meet and get to know each other, and believed it was entirely worth the extra effort. All were appreciative of the time invested by our team to plan and implement it. Overall, the approach is a great addition to our hiring process, and we look forward to using it as we grow the firm, and implementing it for clients as well.


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