‘If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs, but if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, Ogilvy & Mather will become a company of giants.’
– David Ogilvy from “Ogilvy on Advertising”
Recently companies like Amazon and Google have challenged the traditional methods of giving full control of candidate offers to the hiring manager. In order to remove hiring manager bias in the process (such as trying to solve a short-term hiring need), other hiring team members are given the power to either make offers or veto the hiring manager offer recommendation. At Amazon, these individuals are called Bar Raisers.
What are Bar Raisers?
Bar Raisers are involved in each step in the candidate selection process. They help with filtering and screening candidates. They help the hiring manager and recruiter select interviewers with a range of experience for on-site interviews. Bar Raisers work with the hiring team to define the competencies and divide and conquer them across the team to ensure full coverage of the evaluation criteria.
The main raison d’être for Bar Raisers is to ensure that a new hire is accretive and not dilutive to the overall organization capacity. Bar Raisers have the power to veto a hiring manager’s offer if they believe the candidate would not ‘raise the bar’ at Amazon. Of course, they must have well-substantiated reasons for such a decision. Bar Raisers can also help find a different opportunity for a candidate elsewhere in the company even if they were rejected by the interview team or hiring manager.
At Amazon, Bar Raisers can spend 10-20 hours per week across several jobs on top of their daytime job. There is no explicit reward system for Bar Raisers in their performance management process, but it is considered a prestigious role earned by only to a select few.
Is your company ready for Bar Raisers?
First off, does you company have a problem with the quality of your hires? Do you feel that you are making too many bad hires? If not, then there may not need to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
If you do have concerns with your quality of hires, what are the sources of the false-positive signal that led to the offer? Was it the wrong skills or a company fit issue? If it was a skills issue, does your company have a structured interviewing process? Do your hiring teams define the skills or competencies required for the job ahead of candidates being interviewed? If it was an issue with fit, have you defined your company values and cultural traits that you are seeking? Once again, without some structure for the hiring team on what to evaluate, inconsistency is bound to permeate your hiring process. If your hiring process does not plan ahead with competency and culture/value fit evaluation, then your organization may have more fundamental issues that Bar Raisers alone would not be able to solve.
When it comes to interviewing, almost everyone thinks they are an above-average interviewer. Most hiring managers and interviewers have an inflated view of their evaluation capabilities. Having candidate selection experts who are regular employees solves a real problem by bringing experience, best practices and consistency to every job req.
When hiring managers have an immediate need that needs to be filled, they are much more focused on their short-term goals than the overall health of the company. Hiring someone that partially solves a near term problem for the hiring but then creates downstream organizational issues. Bar Raisers are specifically responsible for ensuring this short-term pressure is minimized.
In fast growing organizations that are hiring thousands of new employees each year, it is very common for a relatively new hiring manager to be less familiar with the company culture and organization work norms. Bar Raisers ensure that new hires will fit in well with the company’s values and adapt well to their new environment.
What is average? In a company with thousands of employees, determining if a candidate would be in the top 47% vs the top 53% is very subjective. Given a natural bell curve distribution, being able to make that kind of judgment call with such accuracy is very difficult even for someone who is familiar with hundreds of employees. This leads to the next concern…
Are bar raisers really above average at picking winners? Another large high-tech company is testing their modified version of the Bar Raiser program, but will not give Bar Raisers veto power until they have collected statistically significant data which proves that a Bar Raiser has shown to have a better hiring recommendation-to-good-hire batting average than hiring managers and regular interviewers. While it is nice to assume that Bar Raisers are better at drafting great team members, each Bar Raiser will be different and you may find that not all Bar Raisers have the golden touch.
One additional item to consider is to ensure the proper context of the specific functional role and business team. Google now has over 50,000 employees. It is very difficult to see how an ad support specialist in their customer operations group is raising the bar for the company compared to a software engineer working on the next big idea. In large companies sometimes you just need someone who wants to come to work and do their job really well without bigger aspirations or greater organizational impact. This is good for both the company and the employee, even if the role does not require someone to be an above average contributor when compared to the entire organization. Not every role requires demonstrated leadership and creativity skills in order to be successful.
Introducing a Bar Raiser program is a big investment for both the company and the Bar Raisers. The key to hiring great employees is ensuring consistency in how the job-specific competencies and cultural fit attributes are evaluated. This can be done in many ways. At Procter & Gamble, a ‘promote from within’ company, all managers are expected to be able to have these abilities – so the responsibility is shared amongst the hiring team. Picking the best practices that are right for your company’s stage in its lifecycle and your specific culture is most important. What is probably most important is senior level commitment to a structured candidate selection process and ensuring that there is a data-driven system in place to continually improve your hiring capability.
About the Author: Ray Tenenbaum is the founder of Great Hires, a recruiting technology startup offering a mobile-first Candidate Selection platform for both candidates and hiring team success. Ray has previously spent half of his career building Silicon Valley startups such as Red Answers and Adify (later sold to Cox Media); the other half of his career was spent in marketing and leadership roles at enterprise organizations including Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Booz & Co. and Intuit. Ray holds an MBA from the University of Michigan as well as a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from McGill University.