Tapping into talent

by 21 Aug 2007

Boosting productivity and maximising discretionary effort from employees go hand-in-hand, but how many companies really understand what motivates people to go the extra mile? Craig Donaldson speaks with a number of experts on how to get the best job fit in order to get the most out of employees

There have been numerous surveys highlighting the many benefits of getting the right person in the right job, with higher employee engagement, increases in productivity, lower turnover and absenteeism as well as better workforce morale.

There are a number of natural benefits for organisations in getting job fit right, according to Tim Roche, practice leader for Right Management’s transition business. “It’s a fairly simple equation,” he says.

“Alignment equals enjoyment, enjoyment equals performance, performance equals reputation. In essence it’s going to increase levels of productivity. There’s going to be less workplace stress, better workplace behaviours and you’ll end up with energised, motivated employees all in the right roles. I think there are some pretty clear, simple messages there.”

Bill Farrell, national leader of people advisory services for Ernst & Young, says companies can benefit from quicker and higher levels of performance when new recruits who are a good fit join companies.

There are also hard, bottom line benefits to be gained by ensuring good job fit. “Where it would manifest itself is in terms of cost management or revenue building. So better sales performance, better customer engagement, better cost management and higher profit would be the result,” he says.

Kevin Chandler, managing director of Chandler Macleod, says improved discretionary effort is one of the most obvious benefits of good job fit. Discretionary effort comes about when people are right for the jobs. “They’re skilled and competent in their jobs, love their work and buy into the future of the company. When those things come together they can create really powerful organisations,” he says.

Ian Hutchinson, founder of Life by Design, says one of the most obvious benefits of having the right people in the right jobs is improved employee engagement. Because employees are in jobs they actually want to do, engagement increases significantly. “So employers don’t want to be wasting their time if it isn’t a good fit in the first place. But if you hire employees who are aware of what they want into the right roles, they drive engagement for you.”

The first step of self awareness

One of the foundations of employee engagement is how well an employee is aligned with their work. Everyone has natural talents, skills and passions, and the ability to align these with a suitable role does wonders for engagement and productivity.

However, many people lack the self-awareness necessary to understand what roles may suit them in the first place. As such, many people ‘fall’ into unsuitable jobs, and many companies fail to understand the link between the two as well.

“It has to do with the chaotic nature by which people find jobs, the relatively poor processes organisations have for identifying talent and the poor processes that individuals themselves have for determining whether they’re in the right areas,” says Chandler.

“What it makes you realise is that this whole area of workforce productivity is really poorly managed, compared with how the community looks at other issues. When it comes to driving science, engineering or other systems, these are very structured, disciplined, organised activities. But when it comes to workforce productivity and employer productivity, it’s just such a mishmash,” he says.

Roche says people are often socialised into careers when they’re very young, and are impacted by parental pressure, peer pressure or may even choose a career based upon an entrance mark required to study a particular course at university. Others are less fortunate and they might realise in their mid- to late-30s that they’re in the wrong career, but may often feel stuck due to financial or other commitments, he says.

Hutchinson has also found that most people know what they don’t want, but few know what they really do want. As such, most people tend to live a life by default, as opposed to a ‘life by design’, he says. “If you don’t know what you want as an employee, how can you actually go out and get what you want?”

In Hutchinson’s experience, about 20 per cent of people have a fair idea of what they want to do, while 60 per cent seem to have some idea and the remaining 20 per cent have absolutely no idea.

“The key is how do we help people work out what they want? Then they can self-drive their own engagement to a good degree. This is the inside-out approach to engagement, rather than the outside-in, where you just shower them benefits and gifts, cross your fingers and hope that will be a good match for them,” he says.

Farrell believes the next frontier of competitive advantage through people lies in successfully targeting the labour market to get the right skills for the right jobs in a shorter period of time.

“And by skills, I don’t mean just technical knowledge and ability to deliver on a particular job. Skills in the sense of natural people skills, behaviours and alignment of values are very important,”he says.

Do companies get job fit?

It seems like a fairly simple concept, but many companies still struggle to get the importance of good job fit. Poor performance costs companies a lot of money each year, so it’s worth getting the job fit right in the first place.

One of the most common problems is with recruitment firms themselves, according to Roche. The recruitment industry is highly competitive, with constant squeezes on margins and fees, he says. “This has some implications. On the one hand, in order for recruitment firms to get repeat business, they are genuinely trying to put forward good quality candidates that they believe to be the right fit. On the other hand, because of competing pressures, they’re probably a whole lot less likely to be able to get the call correct,” he says.

The other issue is with HR professionals themselves, Roche adds. “I would consider there are very few HR people that really do have a deep understanding around the whole job fit piece. So if organisations were able to give some of their HR people a greater depth of understanding around ideal job fit, I think that would reduce some of the risks associated with the sort of implications driven by those competitive recruitment pressures,” he says.

Hutchinson says it depends a lot on the organisation and who the key decision makers are. From his experience, some CEOs and HR directors intuitively get the job fit equation, and as such, are willing to put money into the right recruitment and engagement processes. “Some CEOs just get it and they don’t need the evidence. Then you get others who are number crunchers, who want to be able to prove the value of it,” he says.

Hutchinson, whose firm provides companies with a number of tools to improve engagement and help employees boost their self-awareness, says organisations who get it have a culture of openness that comes down from the CEO, who wants employees to better understand themselves first.

Some companies are also cutting corners due to skills shortages. “Many corporates are so desperate to fill roles that they’re after a quick sale rather than a good match. I think that can potentially be very short-sighted and waste a lot of time and energy,”Hutchinson says.

While companies might get the importance of good job fit, Chandler says they are sometimes reluctant to invest the money up front in a good recruitment process. “You want a good match up front, but in order to do that you have to invest money in the recruitment process. That’s where you hit a big wall, because companies say that they can’t afford to do that, because they don’t know who is going to stay,” he says.

Chandler’s experience is that many companies struggle with the quite simple idea of aligning people perfectly with their perfect jobs, simply because they know how to do it. Chandler recently launched a tool called the Employability Skills Profiler (ESP) to help individuals and companies improve the process of getting job fit right. ESP, which is a joint Chandler Macleod and Australian Government initiative, objectively assesses a person’s generic or transferable skills and shows how well their skills fit with more than 1,000 specific kinds of jobs.

“For the first time we might be able to say what’s the difference between these jobs in terms of the underlying skill sets we need for them? We haven’t been able to do that before with a system-wide solution. So if you can’t compare those skills, then you wouldn’t know how to hire someone into that job on a basis that you could train and develop them,” he says.

The role of HR

HR naturally has a significant role to play in improving job fit. The first thing companies need to put in place is a competencies model against which they base their recruitment, according to Kevin Chandler, managing director of Chandler Macleod. This model should also look at underlying motivational styles in order to improve job fit.

"Then they've got to find a way to evaluate those characteristics at the time of the interview, rather than just looking at whether they've got relevant experience. If they have the underlying soft skills and right motivation, you can train people in those jobs very quickly," he says.

"When you talk to people in the industry about who their best performers are, you often find out they were doing something totally different in a previous role. Within a very short space of time they turned out to be good, capable performers because they had the right underlying personal qualities."

Direct managers also play an important role in this process, according to Tim Roche, practice leader for Right Management's transition business. "Managers really need to be focused on the capability required for the present role. However, an individual's manager once removed needs to be focusing on the organisations capability requirements for the future," he says.

Organisations need to put structures in place that allow for "manager-once-removed discussions" with individuals a couple of times a year, so the organisation has a higher view of what talent they have or they don't have.

"What this also removes is the filter of the middle manager, who often might have some real talent in their team, but the manager is keen to hide that talent because it serves their purpose for the day. And they can often create blockages for talented individuals because those managers hold them back."