Why Backfills Suck, and How to Reduce Them Forever

Employee Retention
March 1, 2023

Cameron Ackbury

Many of the Vice Presidents of Talent with whom we speak express to us a very visceral pain that backfills suck. They tell us that alignment on version 2.0 of the hire is no better than the first version. They state that the hiring manager blames the recruiter for the attrited employee without acknowledging that post hire successes are not the responsibility of the talent group. A Chief People Officer once told us how painful it was to write a $20,000 commission check to a recruiter only to have the employee leave the following month. Attrition is painful for the recruiting organization - both voluntarily and involuntary - and can be very costly.

The problem magnifies when the candidate selection process is broken. Many organizations use metrics like time to hire, time to fill and cost per hire to determine the success of the recruiting process. According to a LinkedIn, it takes 42 days to fill a position and dozens of interviewing hours at great cost to the business. It’s also not uncommon for us to speak with TA Leaders who state that it takes up to 8 months to fill a position preventing their organization from achieving industry standard benchmarks. We can only imagine the frustration coming out of recruiting to hire version 2.0 of the employee due to attrition.

Bad hires are painful to a company as it hurts morale and productivity and brings down the performance of the organization. Many cite that a bad hire costs a company up to 4 months of salary for that particular role. If 4 months salary equates to a fully burdened rate of $25,000 and you have a greater than 30% attrition rate, this can cost the company millions of dollars!

This is so unfair to Vice Presidents of Talent because they are held accountable for hiring outcomes when the outcome is the responsibility of the hiring manager. Data is the currency in conversations, and talent leaders have no data for their arguments for why someone does not work out. Backfills compounds and enlarges a credibility problem.

To solve the problem of backfills, or to reduce attrition, a company should change their selection process and focus on interviewing against behavioral traits, specifically the candidate's soft skills. A company should understand what drives greatness in an organization or for a particular role. For instance, a company may find that the best soft skills for a sales role may be empathy, creativity and grit whereas for a customer success role it may be customer focused, active listening and communication skills. Many organizations struggle to uncover soft skills as interview questions do not always uncover the best soft skills.

To further solve the problem of backfills, a company should also interview for cultural alignment as it drives employee engagement and satisfaction. A technology company may have a culture leaning towards entrepreneurship, innovation and results driven whereas a pharmaceutical company may have a culture leaning towards collaboration, problem solving and curiosity. Understanding and measuring their culture is extremely tough for many organizations.

Searchlight’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a new and innovative way to uncover soft skills and cultural alignment. Artificial intelligence requires a lot of data. It obtains all of this data using structured evaluations on competencies, power skills, values and work motivations from current employees. The AI learns what makes the best of the best broken down by role, and then provides output in the form of a talent model (power skills, values and work motivations) for the organization to hire against. Over time, the AI continuously learns and gets better and better.

Many innovative Vice Presidents of Talent Acquisition understand that the old way of recruiting is long gone for many reasons. First, Searchlight’s AI creates efficiencies in the hiring process by focusing on those candidates that will be successful and happy at an organization. Second, our AI tools can help reduce the impact of unconscious biases in the hiring process, which can lead to fairer and more diverse hiring outcomes. Third, our AI can help recruiters make data-driven decisions by analyzing large volumes of data to identify patterns and predict candidate success. Fourth, our AI can enhance the candidate experience in the interview process which helps the corporate brand image. Last, AI aligns the hiring manager with the recruiter from day one to bring the right candidate into the right role at the right company at the right time.

Let’s try and solve backfills as it relates to the selection process now using artificial intelligence.

Cameron Ackbury

Cameron is the GotoMarket Leader at Searchlight with over 25 years of experience driving value to organizations of all sizes. He is also an Executive Advisor at WISCPartners and a Certified Public Accountant. Cameron received his Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin and his Masters of Science in Accounting from DePaul University. Cameron lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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