By Dan Gephart, October 20, 2021

Here at FELTG, we often get inquiries from HR professionals and supervisors wondering what they can do about their poor-performing and/or misbehaving employees. By the time someone seeks our guidance, the employee has already created havoc and damaged morale or, at the very least, lowered productivity.

As any regular FELTG customer or reader knows, that’s our bailiwick, and we can help you take the steps necessary to rid your agency of the problem.

If you listened to the press and certain politicians, you’d think all these employees were bad people. But that’s not the case. Many times, employees struggle with performance issues (and sometimes conduct) because they are poor fits for the job. And that often goes back to the hiring manager.

Look, we all know hiring someone into the Federal workforce can be a long and patience-trying process. And we know that if you’re in the market for a new employee, you’re likely short-staffed and working hard to pick up the slack. You probably feel like you don’t have enough time or energy to focus your full attention on the hiring process.

Who knows, maybe you get lucky and hire a star. But more likely, failure to go all in on the hiring process will probably result in you reaching out to FELTG within a few years to ask us how to handle your “problem employee.”

Even more importantly, President Biden has issued Executive Orders that charge you with  promoting diversity, especially among traditionally underserved populations. In the most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, 79 percent of employees agreed that their supervisor was committed to a workforce representative of all segments of society. That’s a solid C+. Let’s just say that there is a lot of room for improvement.

Here are 5 tips to help you navigate the hiring process successfully:

1 – Prepare. If you’re just going through the motions to get to the interview, you are miscalculating greatly. As Barbara Haga will explain in her December 7 virtual training Successful Hiring: Effective Techniques for Interviewing and Reference Checking, “the time invested in preparation pays huge dividends.” The pre-interview part of the hiring process includes writing the position description and job announcement and preparing interview questions.

Skipping over any of these parts will come back to haunt you at some point. So closely review the job description to ensure it’s up to date, and that all the duties and functions are specified, and the required skills and abilities are included. Make sure the job announcement gives a full and accurate description of the job. Nobody should be surprised about the job they’re taking on. Also, the major duties and responsibilities should match the essential functions of the job, which should be measured by critical elements. Doing this now will help you later. 

2 – Make sure your selection criteria is job-related. Once you get to the candidates with the minimum qualifications, it’s onto the selection criteria. These criteria are often unique to the specific position and will be key to selecting the most-qualified candidate.

Ensure your selection criteria is equally applied to all job candidates and beware of the subjective. It’s OK to be subjective. In fact, it’s often necessary. But if the criteria is not job-related, you could be on shaky ground. For example, in Varley v. Attorney General, EEOC Appeal No. 01972338 (1998), the agency selected a polygraph examiner based on his “people skills.” But these skills were not in the guidelines. Good judgment, self-motivation and – get this folks — ability to work well alone were in the guidelines. People skills should not be a consideration for someone who works alone.

Applying subjectivity to criteria that is not strongly job-related could lead to discriminatory decisions, which leads us to our next tip.

3 – Beware what you ask. You’re going to ask a lot of questions before you know if you have the right person. But those questions should only be asked if they are providing information “essential for determining if a person is qualified for the job.”

Agencies can get into trouble when requesting information that touches on protected categories. Those categories are race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and reprisal/retaliation, age, genetic information, and disability. Not only should you not ask about these categories directly, be careful that your questions don’t indirectly elicit answers that you give information about protected categories. Read the next article by Michael Rhoads for more on this topic. And join Katherine Atkinson on October 26 for a half-day virtual training on Nondiscriminatory Hiring in the Federal Workplace: Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility.

4 – Avoid the first impression trap. Three years ago, I wrote about a brand-new professional sports mascot whose introduction to the public went completely haywire. The initial reaction to Gritty’s first press conference was so incredibly negative, it’s hard to believe that the Philadelphia Flyers’ furball made it to a second day. But he did. And, as I noted in the article, he started to grow on people. I mean that positively, not in a “I have a rash that won’t go away” way.

First impressions are formed within milliseconds and are based heavily on our biases. Relying on that “initial gut feeling” will lead to poor hiring decisions as well as a staff that looks and thinks a lot like you.

By the way, Gritty has come a long way in the last three years. The one-time laughingstock is now one of the most recognized and popular mascots in all of professional sports. In fact, Business Insider Magazine recently ranked Gritty the top professional mascot out of 110 in American professional sports leagues, a spot ahead of his neighbor the Phillie Phanatic. Sadly, mascots are all us Philly fans have to cheer these days.

5 – Make effective use of the probationary period. During the probationary period, the employee’s MSPB appeal rights are limited. Consider those first 12 months, depending on the position, as part of the hiring process. Most employees will be on their best behavior when they start a new job. If, during that probationary period, it becomes clear to you that the employee is not able to do the job, remove the person. It’s that simple and it’s only fair to you, the employee and the team.

Oh, and one final bonus suggestion. If you do not have DEIA on your mind as you’re making these hires, then you’ve made a big mistake. DEIA – diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility – is a major component of President Biden’s Executive Orders, which charge agencies with making the Federal workplace look more like America. So, if your applicant pool is looking like it’s always looked, then it’s time for you to find new places to recruit. As FELTG Instructor Marcus Hill told virtual attendees earlier this year, it’s time to “go where the candidates are.” Consider social media and online forums. Visit colleges and universities that haven’t been a part of your usual search and include technical schools if you haven’t already. Have you looked at community programs or non-profit organizations as sources for recruits?

And you can just ignore this advice. Then I’ll expect to hear from you in a couple of years. [email protected]

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