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Russell T. Westcott

Quality Insider

Quality Begins With the People You Hire

Hiring the right people can reduce costs in the long run.

Published: Monday, December 19, 2005 - 22:00

Early on you recognized the economic effect of shipping defective products to customers and/or providing inferior services. You countered this deficiency with elaborate inspection proceduresIn more recent times, you’ve focused on improving your organization’s processes and decreasing inspections. You have embraced continual improvement and implemented systems to prevent defects. You’ve gleaned and leaned your organization to reduce production-cycle times and respond to competitive demands for rapid order fulfillment and lower prices. You have recognized that employee satisfaction within a positive and progressive working environment translates into better customer satisfaction. You’ve correctly linked better training and support of self-development as a strong factor in retaining good employees, and furthering the goals and objectives of the organization. You’ve even begun to look at processes other than those directly pertaining to the delivery of products and services (e.g., marketing, product development, sales, supply-chain management, financially-oriented processes and processes relating to human resource management).

But, in your efforts to improve quality, have you looked at what your organization does to ensure the people you hire are people who can help attain your quality mission? If not, this could be the next frontier in your organization’s quest for quality.

Two important questions
How do you define competency? And how do you ensure you hire people with the level of competency you need to sustain your organization’s quality level as well as continually improve?

Competency consists of five factors (or key ingredients) of an individual’s:

Knowledge: Formal education, degrees, education certifications, self-study accomplishments

Experience: Years spent applying knowledge and skills in different types of organizations and in certain kinds of industries. Jobs and positions held are part of the experience realm.

Skills: Skill certifications, training received, demonstrated proficiency in use of pertinent tools and equipment

Aptitude: Natural talent, capability, capacity, innate qualities, deftness, knack, adaptability to change, natural ability to do things requiring hand-eye coordination, motor skills

Attitude: Manner of showing one’s feelings or thoughts; one’s disposition, opinion, mood, belief, demeanor, condition of mind, state of feeling, reaction, bias, inclination, emotion, temperament, disposition, mental state, frame of mind, ease in accepting and adopting new or changed plans, policies and practices

The KESAA Factors

Seeking and selecting people who possess the knowledge, experience, skills, aptitude and attitude (KESAA) factors necessary to meet the requirements of the open position begins with an analysis of the work to be done. This detailed analysis entails describing those tasks that comprise the larger and/or more critical part of the job or position. For each identified category of work, the analyst should identify the KESAA factors that are required as well as the relevant level of each one. For example:

“Sure-Shot, a manufacturer of missile launchers for the U.S. Army, is seeking a quality professional to lead the introduction of a Six Sigma-based quality initiative. The person hired will report directly to the vice president of operations. This position, new to the company, requires some research in learning how other companies have defined the requirements of similar positions.” The resulting KESAA analysis addresses the organization’s needs as follows:

Knowledge: Formal education—mechanical or electronic engineering degree, MBA (desired)

Experience: Three to five years of experience as a quality manager in a defense industry company. Seven to 10 years in applying statistical-based quality design and control tools, at least one year of experience in leading one or more process improvement teams, and one to three years performing in a middle- or upper-management position

Skills: Master Black Belt (desired), ASQ-certified quality engineer and/or certified Six Sigma Black Belt, proven project leadership skills, project management professional certification desired

Aptitude: Demonstrated ability to adapt rapidly to changing work conditions, company strategy, new techniques and tools, and customer requirements

Attitude: Clearly enjoys a challenge, takes extreme pride in leading a team to achieving objectives; has no objection to working in the defense industry

In filling an existing but open lower-level position, the analysis consists of identifying the primary tasks for the job and the requisite KESAA factors necessary to meet the minimum hiring requirements.

Ideally, managers should target a higher-than-minimum level of competency for new hires to consider growth and development potential. This is usually difficult to do because of regulations pertaining to validating the hiring specifications to only those requirements of an entry-level performer for the specific job. A union-management contract can also place constraints on the hiring process.

Building process improvement project teams
In addition to basic selection criteria for new hires, identifying the KESAA factors to select candidates for roles on a project team is especially useful. Project-team members usually comprise a cross-functional and cross-discipline collection of diverse individuals. Knowing which tasks team members should do and which KESAA factors are critical to those tasks can substantially help a company get the right mix of professionals.

Figure 2 shows the KESAA factors most desirable for fulfilling the task of training project managers in using a new software. This task is a subset of a project to select and implement a project-management software. The more in-depth analysis is done to identify the KESAA factors for each task on the work breakdown structure, the greater is the likelihood of selecting the best professionals to accomplish those tasks.

Project Staffing - KESAA

Task/Work Package Name

Train project managers in using new Microsoft Project software

Task/WP Number

Job/Position Category/Title

Application software specialist

K nowledge
  • Knows proven techniques for designing and delivering software training to people with diverse knowledge, experience and skills.

  • Extensive knowledge of project planning and management techniques, tools and practices.

  • Received Microsoft certificate for completing the advanced MS Project 5-day training program, within last four years.

  • Earned college degree (software major)


  • Has instructed project teams in use of MS Project at a previous employer, two or more times.

  • Used MS Project on two or more previous large-scale projects.

  • Has demonstrated proficiency in providing software technical support for MS Project users working on large-scale projects.

  • Has demonstrated proficiency in using thorough, rapid and user-friendly techniques for training new software users.


  • Possesses excellent communication skills (reading comprehension, instructing, technical writing, and listening).

  • Proficient in using all Microsoft Office software.

  • Trained in using proven instructional technology in training design, delivery, and evaluation.


  • Has capability to adapt the MS Project training to the special needs of each participant.
  • Has worked well in a team environment that is subject to frequent changes.

  • Fast learner.


  • Enjoys imparting his/her knowledge and skills to new software users.

  • Measures his/her success on the improved performance of those trained by him/her.

  • Believes that MS Project is the best selection of Project Management software, at this time and place.

  • Exhibits “What can we do to make this happen?” demeanor.



Typical elements of an enterprise approach to the management of quality
In guiding small organizations on their journey to improve quality, it’s crucial to address the following points:

Vision, values, mission and long-range strategy that embraces total quality within the organization and in serving customers

  • Full and visible support of the organization’s owners and top management
  • Systems that enable the organization to monitor, measure and manage the production of quality products and/or services
  • Provision for continual quality improvement, including the techniques, training and tools needed to do so
  • Qualified suppliers, including sub-contractors
  • Workforce that’s highly motivated and trained to uphold the organization’s quality policies, procedures and practices
  • Preservation and enhancement of the organization’s owners’ investment
  • Organization’s use of natural resources to continually preserve and/or renew the physical environment

The missing link
While stepping back and reviewing an organization’s difficulties in implementing successful change, you might find that another hiring factor is missing. Overwhelmingly, the practices used to hire and place people who can best fulfill an organization’s quest for quality are faulty. For many organizations, improving their process for selecting and hiring the right people for the right job and at the right time, was almost totally neglected. Even the organizations with updated job descriptions, and with selection and hiring processes, there’s still a problem in identifying the real needs for the job to be filled.

In the field of training much is written about the need for performing a detailed analysis of the task requirements for which the trainees are to be qualified. However, there’s no effort being made to reasonably ensure that candidates for hire are assessed for the best fit to the organization’s needs. This assessment is usually left up to the functional manager to do during an interview. Granted some experienced managers are capable of making intuitive judgments or good guesses, most managers are less experienced in the hiring process and may make unsubstantiated and inadequate choices.

As a quality professional, what can you do about addressing the gap?
If you are the hiring manager, or need to decide the best candidate for a reassignment or promotion, do a KESAA analysis. Describe the criteria (the KESAA factors) that are critical to selecting the best person for the position or task. Test this approach on the next occasion you have to select “quality” people. Adjust your approach from the lessons you learn. Build several successes in using this approach. Then, armed with positive proof of the added value of applying the KESAA factors, plan a strategy for introducing the concept throughout your organization.

Computing the return-on-KESAA-investment (ROKI) is a solid way to approach management about the bottom-line effect of using the KESAA approach. To do so, choose one critical benefit to the organization, determine the baseline value (present value, present level of performance, etc.), implement the use of KESAA and measure the increased value received. To compute the ROKI:

For example, one of my clients typically staffs a cycle-time reduction team initiative with individuals from the work unit within which the reduction is targeted (a shift supervisor, a lead operator) and with support personnel (process engineer, quality engineer and an external facilitator-trainer). On average, such a team meets for two hours weekly, during normal production hours. Teams typically average 14 weeks from inception to implementation of a cycle-time reduction improvement. At any point in time there may be four or five such teams in varying stages of development. The tendency is to form each team with new work-unit people (the unpublished goal being to eventually expose nearly all workers to the training and team experience).

Early results of the first few teams indicated that upward of a fifty percent cycle-time reduction could be anticipated from a team’s initial efforts. The improvement results were great, so there was no impetus to continually improve the team process itself. However, once another cycle-time reduction team had been formed to improve a work unit previously improved, the pickings were slimmer but the team costs remained the same. There was less return-on-investment from each successive return to the same work unit, unless the focus was broadened to also include improving the team process.

This is where a KESAA analysis can reveal the key attributes of a successful team and focus can be placed on forming a team with the competencies and greatest likelihood of producing the most cost-effective improvement. By placing trained and proven performers in the second or third round cycle-time reduction teams, the cost side of the equation can be reduced by:

  • Need for training and externally-provided facilitation eliminated
  • Faster improvement processing (team startup, root-cause analysis, identifying solution, implementing solution)
  • Less non-productive time loss
  • Less unfocused experimentation and hit-and-miss application of improvement techniques and tools

The cost (analyst’s time) to produce a KESAA analysis of the requisites for the team members is the principal cost—and that analysis may be applicable across all or many of the improvement teams. Therefore, using one organizational benefit (e.g., cycle-time reduction, second round) done with the same rotational team plan as for round one constitutes the baseline. Planning round two cycle-time reductions for unit X using a team consisting of individuals who have the specific competency to succeed is the basis for the four team-cost reductions above.

It should be relatively easy to show a ROKI inasmuch as the only significant, yet low value, cost involves doing the KESAA analysis for the targeted position or task. Once the analysis is done, it should remain valid for some time. As a database of KESAA analyses builds there should be a decreasing need for all-new analyses.

Some of the advantages you may be able to document in support of the use of the KESAA factors are:

  • Candidate selected is better equipped for the work to be done
  • Knows how to get started and produces results early
  • Candidate best fits the organization and the work assignment
  • Satisfied in doing the work he or she is assigned to do
  • Demonstrates potential for further growth and development
  • Higher productivity
  • Candidate rapidly gets up to speed
  • Experiences shorter learning curve
  • Develops less waste (e.g., time, errors)
  • Takes management less time to make selection
  • Decreases likelihood of making wrong selection
  • Requires less investment in assimilation and training
  • Improved employee satisfaction
  • Translates ultimately into improved customer satisfaction
  • Motivated employees easier to manage
  • Facilitates transition to employee empowerment practices

Opportunity knocks
For years, manufacturers have touted “building quality into their products.” A few manufacturers have advertised the training they provided to their employees. Almost none have given notice of what they do to hire the appropriate people to enable the organization to build quality into their products and services. There’s a whole other facet of quality improvement that screams for attention—and it’s virtually untapped.


About The Author

Russell T. Westcott’s default image

Russell T. Westcott

Russ Westcott, based in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, is a writer, instructor, and consultant in the field of quality management. He is an ASQ fellow, a certified quality auditor, and a quality manager. He has published more than 150 articles, contributed chapters to nine books, and authored three recent books—Stepping Up To ISO 9001:2000 (Paton Press), Simplified Project Management for Quality Professionals, and The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, 3rd ed. (ASQ Quality Press). He writes for Quality Progress, Quality Digest, The Quality Management Forum, and The Informed Outlook; and he is the editor of the Sound View, the ASQ Thames Valley Section (308) newsletter. Russ can be reached at russwest@snet.net.