Only as good as weakest link (Guest commentary)

Assess every job and ask if you’ve got the right person doing it
By Jim Beqaj
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/03/2011

Organizations need to connect what success looks like from the point of view of the CEO and board to what success looks like at every level, in every job. They need to thoroughly assess what each job must do for the company to succeed and if the person in the job can deliver.

If this isn’t done at every level — and for every position — then the level of success defaults to the weakest fit in the structure.

When asked if they’re prepared to get rid of the people who don’t fit and don’t buy into the requirements for success, CEOs often say they’re afraid if they do they won’t be able to find enough of the right people. That’s unfounded — there is no lack of talent. The problem stems from not properly defining fit and not knowing what to look for.

A couple of years ago, I met with a senior executive who had recently become head of a business unit in a large company. He was concerned about major changes he needed to make. During the market downturn, it had become clear the unit wasn’t contributing to the company’s bottom line.

He filled me in on how he was planning to get his employees behind him to support and execute a major change in strategy. He talked about the depth of the talent and whether or not he had the people needed to execute the new strategy.

We went through the company’s organizational structure and people in each position. By the time we were finished, he let out a sigh — he had a bigger mess than he thought.

His problem is all too common in organizations — he had been ignoring fit. He had not defined success, position by position. He had not determined whether the person in each role fit the unit’s requirements for success.

Some companies get it right — General Electric under Jack Welch’s leadership, for example. Also Isadore Sharp’s Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, where employee retention — an average of 15 years for employees and 22 years for management — tells the tale.

But the majority of employers have much work to do. Most organizations are filled with capable people with plenty of talent who are in the wrong jobs. Sustained success is not possible for a company with too many wrong fits.

Putting people in the right positions is an ongoing process in business. Companies aren’t ever going to reach perfection but it’s important for them to try. CEOs need to understand getting the right fit — the right people in the right positions in the right parts of the company — is good for everyone.

Who is needed?

The first question for management relates to the job, not the person. Before you ask questions about any particular person in any particular job — or a new person being recruited — decide what success looks like in the position, given the goals of the CEO, board and senior leadership.

This involves more than just a standard job description — it’s a description of success. It’s not, primarily, about what a person will do (“lead,” “head up,” “be responsible for”) but what the outcomes must be (“$1 million in sales,” “10-per-cent growth,” “10-per-cent increase in throughput”).

Ask: “What skills and personality type are needed to generate the outcomes in this particular job?” This is part of a broader examination of growth strategy and human capital and how they mesh in a corporation.

Profiling

After management has defined what success looks like in different positions, it should examine the profiles of the people in those positions, evaluating them on the basis of the skills, characteristics and experience required.

These profiles must be done independently of the people who currently fill them — knowledge of and feelings for an incumbent will create an inherent bias. Jobs too often are defined according to an incumbent’s skills and personality rather than objective analysis.

Who is ideal?

Step back and ask the following critical questions: “What does the ideal person look like in this job? What do they need to be good at? What skills do they have? What specific traits do they have? What type of people do they need to work well with?”

You won’t always find the ideal fit but knowing what’s needed for success will help determine what the organization can do to supplement and support the person who is the best available fit.

More often than not, you’ll see people have been moved up to fill positions with little or no evaluation of fit. They may have been good in the previous job, however, as we all know, success in one position doesn’t automatically mean success in the next.

And yet, this type of move is made over and over. Why? Because it’s easier.

Managers have to be prepared to put fit before almost anything else. If they don’t, they’ll find themselves leveraged into a boatload of dysfunction, negativity and underperformance.

Jim Beqaj is the former president of CIBC Wood Gundy, a former vice-chairman with the Bank of Montreal and founder of Beqaj International, a recruiting, coaching and business consulting firm. He is author of How to Hire the Perfect Employer. For more information, visit www.beqajinternational.com.

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