Assessments Improve Efficiency at Time Warner Cable

Problem: Due to decentralized operations, Time Warner Cable’s recruiting processes — including online assessment tests — for high-volume, customer-facing positions were varied, contributing to a less-than-ideal candidate experience and first-year employee turnover, and exposed the organization to risk of poor quality of hire.
Solution: Time Warner Cable expanded and automated online assessment testing, candidate communications, and developed analytics to demonstrate how standardized assessment increased the likelihood of hiring high performers.

When Janet Manzullo came on board at Time Warner Cable (TWC) in 2009 as vice president of talent acquisition and movement, she took stock of the recruiting landscape and saw opportunities to improve the function’s effectiveness and efficiency.

“I learned that across the company we were administering selection assessments in different steps of the hiring process for the same roles, and I was concerned that we did not have needed process consistency,” Manzullo said.

Inconsistent use of assessments as well as using assessments without validation support reduced the chances of identifying high-quality candidates, said Mark Ludwick, TWC’s director of selection and assessment. Addressing both issues would enhance the fairness and defensibility of any hiring process.

For example, some candidates would apply for openings with the same job title but at different locations. Depending on the location, these candidates might be asked different qualifying questions, such as whether they would be willing to submit to a drug test. Alternately, they might be given different assessments or experience an entirely different process altogether.

These inconsistencies were contributing to higher turnover rates due to inadequate assessment of actual competencies and skills, and misperceptions about job duties once hired.

Manzullo also was concerned about the inconsistency of candidate experiences during the recruiting process. “Every candidate who applied for a job did not necessarily get a response back from us,” she said.

Part of the challenge was because of the high volume of candidates — in a given year, TWC receives up to 500,000 applications for 14,000 to 16,000 jobs. At the time, the company had fewer than 100 recruiting employees, and Manzullo said it was difficult to review all candidates and determine who should move to the next step in the process.

Standardizing Talent Management
To resolve these issues, in late 2009 TWC leveraged its existing recruiting platform vendor to work with its assessment partner, PreVisor, before its merger with SHL in 2011. Working with Manzullo and her team, the vendors defined which assessment tools would be incorporated into the recruiting system, developing “auto-triggers” to administer online assessment tests for people who apply for high-volume, customer-facing jobs, such as technicians, installers and customer care reps in call centers.

“We also wanted to bring the test results into the recruiting platform so recruiters could know more about how the candidates might perform on the job,” she said. “We automated communication to those candidates as they moved through the various stages of the recruitment process. Automation enabled standardization.”

Tony Anello, SHL’s executive vice president for the Americas, said such standardization can help reduce turnover.
“The implication is that there are usually high turnover rates when so many different processes exist,” he said. “While this is generally the nature for lower-level, customer-facing roles, when the processes are so varied employees can end up thinking the job is much different than it seemed to be.”

One of the more important aspects is making sure candidates have a realistic view or preview into the job. It is helpful when clients provide a consistent process that screens out candidates who may think the job is something else, or who are not best suited for it, he said.

“Companies should be looking to hire people who have the highest chance of success and who will stay,” Anello said. “We don’t claim to be able to eliminate high turnover altogether, just reduce turnover.”

TWC no longer had to go to its recruiting system, then to the SHL system and back into its applicant tracking system, which also facilitated efficiency.

Since completing the automation in May 2011, TWC now administers as many as 15,000 automated assessments a month, compared to manually administering 15,000 tests a year. That increase in volume enhanced its ability to analyze data about new hires — who did well on the tests and who did not, who performed well on the job and who did not.

“We were able to measure candidates against the requirements of the job, and increase our odds at delivering the most qualified to the hiring managers for consideration,” Manzullo said. “Recruiters were able to quickly determine which candidates would not move forward, and send them a communication to that effect. ‘Thank you for your interest in Time Warner Cable. At this time we are not going to move you forward in the process.’”

That candidates were now hearing back about their status was critical for TWC, as any candidate also could be a current or potential customer.

“The recruiting industry has always struggled with handling volumes of candidates,” Manzullo said. “At every job fair or hiring event, we would hear from candidates, ‘I applied but I never heard back.’ We don’t want to be that kind of company.”

The Value of Assessments
TWC was able to demonstrate the value of validated assessments across outcomes important to the business. Before the recruiting process was automated, TWC found a 16 percent lower first-year turnover rate for customer service representatives in areas using the assessment, versus those not using it. After TWC began to use the assessments company-wide, the estimated cost savings was $2.6 million.

Further, comparing hires with assessment scores in the top 25 percent versus those in the bottom 25 percent, TWC found that higher scorers were able to perform more successful trouble-shooting services over the phone. As such, TWC had to schedule fewer home visits, saving $13,000 per employee per year.

Higher-scoring customer-facing reps also sold 21 percent more units per month than lower-scoring representatives, and higher scorers were 12 percent more likely to be rated as effective by their manager. Recruiters also spent up to 68 percent less time manually screening candidates.

The initiative was the first phase of a multiyear effort that Manzullo instituted to improve TWC’s talent acquisition processes, called Talent Acquisition Process Excellence (TAPE). Phase two will prioritize analytics. “When I came here, analytics work was underway in small pockets,” she said. “But now we can start to use the assessment data to better understand the predictors of success on the job.”

The next wave of automation came in late 2011. At that time, Manzullo brought Ludwick on board to have an in-house validation expert who could work with SHL.

“Analyses on technicians and installers were wrapping up, and then the major study over last year was the customer care ROI study,” Ludwick said. “Analyses for other job families are underway as we continue to merge our assessment data sets with performance, metric and turnover data sets. So we can run analytics to determine how well assessments predict performance, and what can be done to adjust assessments to continually improve prediction.”

Anello credits Manzullo for developing the multiyear TAPE effort to automate, streamline and improve the firm’s recruiting processes, which helped with buy-in and compliance.

“What is often overlooked is that without an executive champion such as Janet, initiatives are often unsuccessful,” he said. “This is meant to be an iterative process, meaning that it’s supposed to be based on an organization’s learnings. Instead of having a three-year plan, check in on how things are performing and make changes along the way. This helps companies deploy best practices and ultimately helps them grow.”

No matter how much companies analyze and debate their priorities, Anello said nothing can more positively or negatively impact business results than their talent strategies.

“Companies that hire the best people and move talent internally who are best suited to support their strategy will outperform others every day of the week,” he said. “Nothing is more important than the right people at the right time in the right place with the right skill sets.”

For firms contemplating similar initiatives, Manzullo advises them to be patient and to have a laser focus where needed because the amount of available data can be overwhelming. “If you want to get going on all of it, you won’t solve anything well, maybe just partly,” she said. “But to really have an impact to the bottom line, you’ve got to have focus.”

The management philosophy behind the heart of TWC’s strategy to improve its recruiting processes goes back to accountability to the constituents Manzullo and her team serve.

“We don’t do our candidates or our hiring managers any favors if we put new hires in a job they can’t do well,” she said. “We’re making sure we have the most-qualified talent pool, and we are leveraging our assessment tools and data to do just that.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a California-based journalist. She can be reached at