It is a matter of common sense that work and productivity go better if the right people are in the right jobs. Too bad common sense stops short of saying how one might go about telling who is the right person for the job.
Common sense will retreat to those qualifications that “everyone knows” are important — education, experience, attitude, “soft skills” such as communication ability, “people skills” if those seem to fit the job. And yet, with this laundry list handy, organizations do a relatively poor job of having the right person in the right job at the right time with the right stuff. This is clearly known yet not openly talked about (see below).
When I was consulting with large organizations I would challenge the General Manager and the Human Resources Manager to give me $1 million if I found 5 people in the wrong (but important) jobs (that they had placed there) within five days. I noted that over the long-term they would save much more than that by realigning their staff into appropriate jobs. Then they would not lose over time the productivity and coordination that gets sacrificed when the wrong person is in the job.
Interestingly, the GM and the HR Manager knew each time not to make the bet. Apparently, at some level they knew they didn’t have the right people in the right place. It was also apparent that they weren’t about to do anything about it barring a catastrophe. Why was that?
The dirty little secret is that neither GMs nor HR people know how to find and place the right person in the job. And rather than admit that and start to place themselves in development to become competent in that area, they muddle on as if that is all that is available to human beings regarding other human beings — make a best guess and see how it works out. Fix it when it breaks. Hope for the best if it isn’t completely debilitating.
Why wouldn’t a sharp GM and HR person negotiate to have me find the five people in the wrong important job for a lower figure that was equally worth it to them and to me? Afterwards, they could ask how I did it, and then ask for me to train them to be able to do the same. That seems like the good short and long-term bet.
The issue here is managers understanding of people and of jobs. Both need an upgrade.
It has likely been twenty years since Gallup released a book based on thousands of interviews that differentiated good managers from bad with one fundamental difference. The good managers played to the strengths of their employees and didn’t waste time trying to fix the weaknesses. The bad managers did the reverse. That gives us a hint about people and jobs — place people where their natural strengths have room to go to work. In fact, place people where the job calls on them for their natural strengths and allows them to develop those strengths to the full.
How does one do this? Specialized psychological testing? Surveys? Hiring experts in assessment? I suggest not.
Anyone really wanting to know what a person’s strengths are can find out a great deal by listening for them, asking about them, asking others what they rely on that person for, and asking that person what they know they can always count on from themselves. Taking the time to identify the central strength that is reliable from an employee, and establishing a job and set of relations that calls for that strength, provides a high level of leverage within the business. Having someone who is inspired, feels well used, is a resource to others, and is winning at their job does wonders for the culture of the organization. Conversely, having someone struggling, feeling poorly understood, spending their time justifying their failures as not their fault, and blaming others for not understanding does wonders for the culture as well. Negative wonders.
There is a different view of people that might help convince management to invest the appropriate time and energy in knowing their people and where they fit best. It is not seeing people as a fungible resource to be doled out where needed. One person with a similar resume is not the same as another.
Instead, find out what people are “natural at”, where they really see how an area works, and they come to know more and more deeply where the power is in a certain area of function. Take care of that talent or power as valuable — that changes the game. From that perspective, the game of matching deep talent with ripe opportunity becomes a way to steer an organization. It certainly is more enjoyable than the care and feeding of disgruntled and frustrated people who are mismatches for their job but won’t say so because it is their livelihood.
The game change is from using people as “tools” to get a job done to freeing up people as unique contributors with the opportunity to bring their specific strengths to the job. The amount of needless struggle and waste of resources that this resolves will be a savings orders of magnitude beyond the costs involved in time and money to make this happen.
It will also end a pervasive form of abuse — the misuse of people’s work time in behalf of something they have no natural talent for.