Are your managers accountable or relying on reference checks?

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Our lives are engulfed with social proof

Not long ago, we went for a stroll as a family to some nearby shops and I wanted to see if there was a better croissant on offer.  I looked up a French Bakery that had an average of 4.3 stars on Google. Fantastic, yes?  

No. These croissants were plain, dry, and overall unimpressive.  So how did it get a 4.3-star rating?  There were many things wrong with the decision-making here:

  • First of all, who are these people giving these ratings and why do I place any value on what they think?  
  • What were the criteria they were using to give this rating?  Was it the same as mine?
  • Were they buying a croissant? Or did they buy the sausage roll?


We love social proof.  How much do we rely on it these days?  Let’s look at some of our regular activities in this present era:

  • Need to find a new place to eat?  Look at UberEats, Google and Zomato ratings
  • Looking to buy a new drill for odd jobs around the house?  Check out product reviews.
  • Want to make a purchasing decision on Amazon?  Go straight to the reviews.
  • Vivino for wine
  • The list continues…

What’s wrong with this?  Well, not much really when we want a fast and approximate answer to something that has low impact.  The value of getting quick guidance is high and the relative impact of this guidance being wrong is low.  

This doesn’t mean that a 4.3-star bakery can’t also be fantastic.  The issue is that we come to expect social proof as being the truth.  But it’s generally ok, as the impact though of buying a pastry for a few dollars that weren’t to your liking is very low.  We move on and then have new content for our blogs, so it’s not all bad.


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Too many managers rely on social proof for significant decisions

So how does this analogy relate to management accountability and hiring decisions?  Well, I’m glad you asked…


Reference checks.  

Have you or your one of your managers ever been really excited because you heard a glowing reference check for a prospective employee to join your business?  If your answer is “yes”, well that’s ok – there is nothing inherently wrong with that.  

Answer this question: have you or any of your managers ever referred to how the reference checks were really strong, yet wondered how you ended up with a bad hire anyway? 


We’re now getting closer to the problem.  

What took place was that you heard from a manager in some other company, who you don’t know, who doesn’t care about you and mentioned that the person you’re looking to hire was great.  They don’t know much about your company or the position you have on offer.  What are their standards as a manager?  We all know there are plenty of managers who are not good at assessing performance or accept mediocrity at best. 

So when a hiring manager relies heavily on reference or backgrounds checks and their gut feel as their main way to assess a candidate, what does this say about them?  Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely still conduct reference checks and they can provide value.  It’s just that they should be conducted at the right point in the recruiting process, not the sole contributor to a hiring decision.


Managers who lack accountability use social proof as an excuse for poor decisions

Besides the lack of knowledge of different methods of assessment, if a manager continues to mention reference checks when a new hire doesn’t work out, they are also lacking accountability. The impact of eating a poor croissant is low.  I can make a decision based on social proof and whether or not I like the look of the place.  But the impact of a poor hiring decision can be astronomical.  Yet very often we use a similar method for making such a major decision.

“The references were good!”

“How are we supposed to know…?”

“You can’t pick it, sometimes it just doesn’t work out…”

“Everyone makes a bad hire at some point..”


Do you know one of the biggest telltale signs of a lack of accountability?  It’s not admitting that you have a problem in the first place. 


Accountable managers want to learn how to get it right

Taking accountability means ensuring success, or at least taking the right type of action to get there.  Shift your mental model away from hiring as being mostly luck or gut feel and accept that there is a successful process you can learn.  This is hard to do. But this is what accountability looks like.  

Whether you are buying a croissant, making a croissant or hiring for your team.  If it’s important to you, you will find a way to consistently deliver the right outcome.  If it’s not, you simply rely on gut feel and social proof.  Challenge your management team to do it differently.  Don’t accept the perplexed look when a bad hire with good references doesn’t work out.  Demand a different approach.  Lead the team in a new direction and let those who refuse to change start contacting their old references to prepare for their next victim.


Other Resources You Might Find Helpful

I wrote an 8-part ebook recently for business leaders who believe their people are part of their growth and competitive advantage.  It’s called How to Build a High Performing Team On Purpose.

If you’re interested to learn more about Inject’s interview and recruitment process and how we can help your business, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or contact us here.

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