Use The Summit Principle In Your Hiring Process For Improved Performance And Lower Employee Turnover

A good hiring process is built on solid, proven principles and hiring process design that should be taken very seriously. But one principle of hiring process design ranks way up in importance and can have an immediate impact on an organization’s ability to improve hiring and staffing decisions. I call it “The Summit Principle.” Use it, and your hiring decisions will immediately improve.

When I was in operations management many years ago, I remember attending a meeting in our Detroit, Michigan facilities with the General Manager and his Department Managers. They were having a problem with lost business and their customer attitude survey scores. Customer attitude scores were based upon research conducted by an independent customer service consulting company. Their findings showed that on average, customers said service was not satisfactory. A frequent reason for their dissatisfaction was the number of new people servicing them who were not familiar with their needs. They were telling us that we had an employee turnover problem… which we did. They were telling us that we were not hiring very good people. The management team was determined to turn the situation around.

There are usually a lot of reasons for high employee turnover, but experience has taught me that poor hiring and staffing decisions are always on the list. I was there to help them figure out what was wrong and what we should do about it.

A good place to start was a complete review of their hiring system. We looked at their hiring process. Everything seemed in order. The process was well designed and they had even added a few extra steps. On paper, their process should have been effective. We reviewed their hiring standards, which seemed to accurately reflect job requirements. I tested their knowledge and skills of interviewing. Everything seemed fine. We knew that we had a serious problem somewhere, but we were getting nowhere finding the answers. We were tired and frustrated…it was time for a coffee break. We didn’t know that a revelation was about to unfold.

The General Manager and I were talking as we walked to the break room when young, excited Service Manager stepped in and interrupted.

“Jim”, he nearly shouted, stopping the General Manager by his arm. “I just interviewed a woman that I think is perfect for open service job. She is outstanding!”

The line of us stopped and stared at the young man.

“Look”, he said sheepishly, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but is there any chance of you breaking away to talk to her? She’s fantastic… I think she’s perfect for the position!”

There was a short period of silence… we had experienced an awaking, a revelation.

This was a management team committed to hiring well. In very clear terms, they had defined job requirements and hiring standards. They had a disciplined, step-by-step process for hiring, and they were excellent interviewers. They were doing everything right, until we all experienced what was wrong. “She’s fantastic… perfect for the job!” It was as we say, an “A-Ha” moment.

Do you think Jim would have been totally objective in the interview? There’s no question that Jim’s appraisal of the candidate would have been affected by the comments from his subordinate. And what if the tables were turned? What if the General Manager made those comments asking a subordinate to interview a favored candidate? I think your can predict the outcome of that interview.

That young manager did us a great favor – he contributed more to solving the problem than he will ever know. No matter how well you have defined hiring standards, designed hiring processes, and refined interviewing skills; nothing matters if you lose objectivity. Without maintaining objectivity, everything is for nothing. Your judgment is biased. This manager taught us a great lesson and established a new hiring principle that we’ve taught thousands of managers over the years and we continue to teach it to this day. It’s one of the most important fundamentals of any hiring system. That young man created the… Summit Principle.

Simply stated, The Summit Principle tells us that no one should talk about a job candidate until the interviewing process is completed. You may have the personal authority to reject candidates passing through the hiring process. That’s fine. But “bottom line,” when you meet a candidate for the first time, you should only know what is written on his résumé and that he was not rejected by someone earlier in the process.

If you’re serious about improving your hiring process, this principle will immediately improve your hiring results. You should have a rule in your hiring system – “No one discusses the candidate until the interviews are finished or the candidate rejected.” Talking about candidates and passing along biases and opinions corrupt processes more often than you think. Guard against it.

There should be a summit meeting embedded in your hiring process following all of the interviews. This meeting is the first time that interviewers should talk about candidates who successfully made it through the process. The summit meeting gives interviewers the opportunity to share information and impressions. The summit meeting increases objectivity of hiring decisions. You eliminate biases and opinions passed along from one interviewer to another during the interview process.

I believe the summit meeting should be facilitated by the hiring manager, regardless of rank in the company. A second alternative is an impartial manager or someone from the Human Resources Department staff. The purpose of the meeting is to allow interviewers time to provide the hiring manager with facts, information, and impressions about the candidate’s qualifications, fit with the job, and fit with the company.

Failure to enforce the summit principle will always bias interviews and corrupt your hiring system. The moral of the story: put a summit meeting in your process. No one should talk about candidates until the interview process is over.

William E. Miller
Performance Leadership, LLC

Bill Miller has a unique blend of practical management experience and creative talent. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati majoring in Business Marketing and Psychology. Bill enjoyed a successful career spanning 35 years with a well known fortune 500 corporation. He played a significant role in growing a small family owned company to the multi-billion dollar corporation it is today. He was Vice President of Operations of the company’s great lakes region before returning to the corporation’s headquarters to lead the company’s management development programs. He helped the company build one of the most successful management teams in the country.

Bill founded Performance Leadership, LLC in 2003. Performance Leadership focuses on helping clients improve performance through improved HR strategies involving hiring systems, effective leadership, human relations, and controlling healthcare costs. He has taught thousands of new and experienced managers and has been a keynote speaker to hundreds of outside organizations including CEO roundtables, executive associations, and college campuses.

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