Figures don’t lie when it comes to recruiting the right people, says KSL Resorts VP of HR Ed Eynon
By Nancy Flagg
Ed Eynon followed sports of all types growing up, but his interest extended beyond just a love of the game. He was fascinated by the connection he saw between talent and numbers. Echoing UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden’s philosophy, Eynon believes that there is an “instant correlation” between a naturally talented player and scoreboard success in a way that rarely occurs with a team of merely competent players.
As Vice President of Human Resources (HR) at KSL Resorts—previously an HR leader at the Olympics, the Cheesecake Factory and Golden Corral—Eynon translates the talent-to-numbers link he observes in sports into his HR management practices.
Natural Talent Wins the Day
In his HR selection processes, Eynon assesses an individual’s talent in three ways: skills, knowledge and natural behavior. He gives priority to natural behavior every time.
“The natural behavior of wanting to be excellent can’t be taught,” Eynon said, whereas skills and knowledge can.
He defines skill as the “how-to” steps to an activity, such as boiling an egg, making a bed or changing a tire. Knowledge refers to having a reservoir of useful information tucked in one’s brain. Natural behaviors are reoccurring traits that are “deep down, hardwired in your DNA,” he said, such as being analytical or warm or having good common sense.
Eynon cites several examples of the power of natural behavior. In basketball, Michael Jordan was arguably the best ever. As a freshman guard in 1982, he was called upon to take the winning shot to beat Georgetown for the National Championship. Although his North Carolina Tarheels team was loaded with older, more experienced players, his natural behavior and talent came through. He wanted the shot, he was poised enough to take the shot, and he buried the shot. It’s tough to teach those things.
In baseball, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels has been an All-Star three times in his three years in the major leagues—all by the age of 22. Most recently, Trout was awarded the MVP title at the 2014 All-Star Game, which features the best of the best baseball players.
In tennis, Eynon points to the amazing successes of the Williams sisters at early ages. In swimming, the same goes for Michael Phelps, Amanda Beard and Janet Evans. In golf, there’s Tiger Woods. And again in basketball, LeBron James.
Accordingly, when selecting employees for an organization, Eynon hires those with natural behaviors best suited for a specific position. “It’s either in you or not in you,” he said, so he uses a scientific method to discern the presence of the desirable attributes and the absence of negative ones.
Scientifically Based HR
Eynon stresses that while natural behavior is the most important aspect in hiring, it is also the most difficult to discern. Typical hiring processes require a resume and an interview before a candidate is considered, but that process does not go deep enough, according to Eynon. He takes a scientific approach to selection by partnering with the Talent Plus Organization to drill deep into a candidate’s natural behavior.
Though a resume and personal interviews are helpful in determining an individual’s skill set and knowledge, Eynon contends that the most important part of the consideration process is to understand and assess the desired natural behavior of the candidate. There are many behavioral tools out there, but there are four significant features that enhance the validity of a deeper assessment of natural behavior:
A proctored interview. Online assessments taken at one’s leisure may not truly represent a candidate’s perspective because the candidate may seek input from family, friends or the psychologist who lives next door. It’s kind of like homework, where there is a gray area in how far parents should help. A live phone interview or proctored face-to-face interview provides greater assurance of who is being assessed and, hence, greater validity.
A fast pace. Questions should be asked and answered quickly. Spontaneous answers give the most honest response; they do not allow time for the candidate to rethink their input or attempt to outthink the interviewer.
Validated questions. The assessment should focus on questions where the answers will differentiate between top and bottom performers. For example, when asked about what he or she likes most about being a restaurant manager, a top and a bottom candidate may give the same answer: good service, hot food served on time, delighted guests. The top performer, however, will also talk of developing the staff, whereas the bottom performer usually will not mention this topic.
Open-ended questions. Multiple-choice, true/false and other types of questions that restrict responses do not yield enough information. Questions should be open-ended in order to allow interviewees to more fully express their perspective. Thus, the assessor gets a more comprehensive, truer view. People do not fit into four or eight or 16 neat categories or behavioral types. Candidates are as different as fingerprints, and they should be allowed to fully express those differences.
Eynon introduced the Talent Plus-structured interview during his first year at KSL, a company that specializes in managing iconic American resorts. He has shown measurable results in improved guest service, increased retention of top talent and enhanced revenue generation.
“If we hire the right people using a behavioral-based selection system based on science,” Eynon said, “those people will deliver measurably better P&L [profit and loss] results.”
Good & Bad Words
Intuitively, it makes sense that sound hiring decisions result in better company performance, but Eynon goes a step further. He shows the link between HR actions and the boost in a company’s EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That ability, he said, elevates HR from “a necessary evil” to a valuable financial and strategic partner in the company.
Eynon extensively uses social media resources, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, to demonstrate the impact of HR efforts. For example, when HR hires the right people—who in turn naturally provide greater guest service—surveyed visitors express more positive ratings on social media. Positive reviews lead to greater occupancy and room demand, which result in measureable increases in revenue and average daily room rates.
“A good word or a bad word makes all the difference in the world these days to the cyber-based consumer,” Eynon said. “Those reviews are shouted out not to the old traditional 15 people a customer may have talked to in the past, but with the advent of social media, now to millions of potential guests.”
In two resorts, Eynon was able to prove that the proper execution of four basic guest service principles would have brought positive customer reviews resulting in a five-diamond rating from AAA. Such recognition instantly boosts property values by millions of dollars.
Top Four Causes of Attrition
Once a company has high-quality teams in place, it is critical to retain them. Eynon introduced an initiative called “Retain Top Talent” to find out why people voluntarily leave a company. His study revealed four reasons that account for 90 percent of voluntary attrition. The four reasons are:
Relationship with supervisor. A wide array of boss troubles exist that make people want to leave.
Career path. There should be opportunities for career growth, or if that is not possible, there should be opportunities for learning.
Money. If compensation is handled well, it will still be a top-five employee concern, but not the No. 1 reason for departure.
Time and scheduling. The number of hours or scheduling of work can be major causes of dissatisfaction.
The reasons for attrition, according to Eynon, can be known and fixed. A business needs to proactively put measures into place that will “avoid what appears to be inevitable.” One corporation that Eynon joined had turnover in excess of 100 percent for multiple years. He built seven habits into the culture that attacked the root causes of turnover, such as instilling in managers an appreciation of how to treat relationships and how to help careers develop. The change resulted in a drop in attrition to 65 percent among tens of thousands of employees. Eynon believes that most companies do not dig deep enough in their exit interviews to determine the root cause of turnover, and as a result their efforts to reduce it are ineffective.
For Eynon, numbers tell the story every time. His unique contribution is his ability to make the link between talent and results clear so that the Chief Executive Officer and all stakeholders can see and believe the connection.
Nancy Flagg is a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California.
Ed's Key Partners:PeopleMatter (Workforce solutions) | The Lapham Group, Inc. (Executive Search) | Aspire. People. Performance. Profits. (Training & Consulting) | Unifocus (Workforce Management) | Benetrac (Benefits HRIS) | Greger Peterson (Executive Search Firm) | Burnham Benefits | Avero (Restruant Software)
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