Food Forum: Talent search

Bringing automation to the hiring process reduces turnover and improves performance.

By Bob Hogan

Doesn’t it seem like consumers and businesses feel just a little bit better if the service or product they are buying comes with some sort of stamp of approval? Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the times, our need for security, our aversion to risk, or our need to cull the myriad of providers down to the best few.

But no matter the reason, certifications seem to be everywhere these days and attached to a growing number of the things we purchase. What if you could take this proliferation of certification and turn it in a different direction—take it beyond products and services and apply it to employees?

While every industry segment would benefit from employee certification, those with the highest turnover rates would seem to gain the most. Take the supermarket industry. In 2008, the industry produced an average profit margin of 1.84%. In the same year, the industry experienced a 30% turnover of its roughly 3.4 million employees, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

It seems the inability to take cost out of the hiring process and optimize turnover has resulted in a reluctant acceptance that maybe it’s just a “way of life” in the industry—a necessary cost of doing business.

That mindset is about to change. Recent advancements in behavioral research and web-based technology are significant, and they are converging. That psychology-technology confluence will result in a significant paradigm shift—a shift that will revolutionize the hiring process and change the dynamics of the supermarket industry.

Advanced technologies enable applicants to be assessed across a predetermined set of eligibility and suitability criteria: experience, education, skills, attitudes, motivation, interests, task preferences, work environment preferences, and interpersonal skills.

Results are automatically weighted and scored. The manager interviews only the top-scoring, ideal candidates, using a customized interview guide that optimizes and standardizes the interview process. All applicants are immediately notified and unsuccessful applicants are automatically stored for recycling purposes—the better scoring applicants readily available for future openings at this store or for current openings at another company store in the same community.

The result: The new automated hiring process has simultaneously improved efficiency (and estimated 80% reduction in administrative work) and quality (only highly eligible and suitable cashiers are on the job).

The process can be applied to any job in the supermarket (or in the corporate office, for that matter). Companies hoping to make high and immediate impact might start with the most strategic positions such as cashier, department manager and store manager.

If the new model—an automated system that provides sharply improved hiring efficiency and results in higher quality hires through total candidate assessment—can optimize turnover, lift margins, improve customer service, drive loyalty and build brand equity, then what’s to prevent it from changing the way the supermarket industry hires its employees?

The reasons are often cultural. Companies tend to approach innovation with a bias toward product and service development rather than process-related activities. In the food industry, that tendency appears even more pronounced.

Although executives say innovation is a top priority for driving growth, most recognize flaws in how their companies manage and govern innovation. Often, the “ownership” of innovation does not reside at the senior leadership level.

However, if a company can take a wider view of innovation possibilities—and if senior leaders are personally committed to its execution—those cultural barriers will naturally and quickly disappear.

But then there are the non-cultural, often legitimate reasons to avoid adopting the new model. The company is committed to its HR software platform. They need legal assurances and require global coverage. They see value and comfort in a tool they‘ve been using. They see challenges around training their staff on a whole new system.
These are reasonable issues, and they are real—which means that if a new model is going to truly change the way business is done, then it cannot simply be a better mousetrap; it must also have the awareness and athleticism to recognize and respond to potential barriers to its adoption.

With the new system doing most of the heavy lifting, the company’s human resources staff and resources can be redeployed toward more strategic and thoughtful pursuits.

Bob Hogan is founder of HBL Advisors, a management consulting firm based in Chicago. He can be reach at

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