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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

18 Matching People to Jobs

Matching people to jobs is the third topic under Developing a World Class Organization. There are four basic principles to follow in matching people to jobs:
       Decisions about people are the most important decisions a manager makes
       Workers have a right to competent leaders
       If a worker does not perform then the manager has made a mistake; don’t blame the worker
       Don’t give new people major assignments
The reason that decisions about people are the most important is that the right decisions lead to happy and productive workers; not just the one that the decision was about but also the ones that that person interacts with. Putting a person in the wrong position soon becomes obvious to other workers. Everyone is unhappy and the boss is blamed. If you put the wrong person in a subordinate management position then that manager’s entire group will suffer and blame both you and the subordinate manager.
Sometimes the right person just isn’t available for a management position and you will be forced to install an acting manager that isn’t wholly prepared for the job by experience and training. It then becomes your responsibility to make it clear to the group that the acting manager has agreed to help you by filling in until you can recruit a permanent manager. Ask the group to help both you and the acting manager during this period. People will tolerate less than ideal situations if the reasons are made clear to them and if they are asked to help.
You must be prepared to help the acting manager with difficult problems and you must make it clear to the acting manager what his or her position will be when the permanent person is in place. If possible there should be some reward for the acting manager stepping up. Often an acting manager blossoms with the opportunity and demonstrates that they do have what it takes to manage the group. Basically, the rule here is being as fair as possible to the group and the acting manager but not accepting a less than fully qualified person for the permanent position.
An important consideration in matching a person to a job is thinking about what success in that job means to the person. Let me give a specific example that I have seen done well and poorly. There are times in competitive enterprises when it becomes necessary to assign a person or persons to gathering information about competitors. The obvious candidates are personnel in the sales or marketing department. Giving the job to senior personnel almost ensures that a poor job will be done. Giving the job to junior personnel has a much higher probability of success. How can that be you ask?  The reason is that the primary job of the senior people is maintaining and, if possible, growing sales. This is what they do and what they get rewarded for. If sales fall then it is the senior people that are likely to be blamed and they will get little recognition for doing a good job of researching the competition. They understand this and therefore don’t put much effort into researching the completion.
On the other hand junior personal aren’t expected to make major sales and are more likely to be recognized if they do a good job of researching the completion. I witnessed a situation where a na├»ve vice president assigned the researching competition task to his senior people and they completely ignored the task. This is clearly a case illustrating the third principle listed above. I also witnessed a situation in which a company president gave the same task to two young and inexperienced marketing personnel. They took the assignment seriously and gathered an amazing amount of critical information on a key competitor for a major contract; contributing significantly to our company’s winning the contract.
Defining assignments for new personnel is especially challenging. You feel obligated to give them an assignment that fits their background, your needs and is going to be viewed positively by the new employee. This can lead to giving new people with experience major assignments to start with. This is a mistake. The new person isn’t familiar with your organization. They don’t know who to go to in order to get things done or even find information. They become frustrated and take far too long to complete the assignment. New people with experience need a transition job that enables them to learn the new organization and new culture.
Organization charts alone never define completely how work gets done in an enterprise. There is always a system within the system.  In well managed enterprises the difference between the written down system and the actual system is small. In poorly managed or large and highly bureaucratic enterprises there can be a big difference so that it can take some time to learn how to get things done. This is the reason many large enterprises place experienced new hires in staff positions for a year or two. This practice is wise for people intended for leadership positions. Transition assignments typically aren’t as critical for individual contributors even if they are highly experienced.
With the above as guidelines let’s walk through the task of filling a vacant job. First, think through the assignment to identify the skills, personality and experience needed. Positions change with time and require different skills at different times. There are many things to consider including the characteristics of co-workers, what skills are required, what constitutes success and failure for the job and how critical success is to the organization.  Also consider the degree of innovativeness the job requires. Fixing problems with products/services that are in development has different requirements from fixing problems with mature products/services. Out of the box innovativeness is desirable for problems with products/services in development and highly constrained innovativeness is required for problems with mature products/services. Most people are innovative but they are innovative in different ways. Some personality types are divergent innovators and fit the needs for an out of the box innovator. Others are convergent innovators and function well solving problems without disrupting a mature system.
Second, consider a number of candidates potentially having the skills, personality and experience you have identified as necessary for the job; at least three candidates if possible. Focus on the strengths of candidates. Match strengths to requirements and forget weaknesses; we all have them (except where a weakness rules a candidate out). This is critically important. It is essential to focus on all of your staff member’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. Tom Rath says on page 12 of his book Strengths Finder 2.0, that the Gallup organization’s research shows that:
“If your manager primarily:               The chances of your being actively disengaged are:
Ignores you                                         40%
Focuses on your weaknesses               22%
Focuses on your strengths                      1%”
He also says that workers that are not using their strengths in their job are six times less likely to be engaged in their job.
If you are not sure of your own or your worker’s strengths and weakness I strongly recommend that you use an assessment tool like Myers-Briggs or Strengths Finder. Googling Myers-Briggs provides a number of sources for personality assessment and provides an alternative to Myers-Briggs.
Discuss the candidates with people who have worked with them to validate your perception of the candidates fit to the requirements and to identify considerations you have missed. Discuss the job with the candidates to ensure they are interested and their reactions fit your expectations. It’s usually a good idea to ask the candidates how they will approach the new job if selected.
Third, make your decision and make sure the selected person understands the new assignment. (E.g. check that the selected person isn’t redoing the job held prior to the new assignment.)
Finally, be prepared for your choice to fail. Remember, if this happens it’s your fault not the candidate’s fault. If two people fail in a row, change the job.
(See p128 of The Essential  Drucker by Peter Drucker, for further discussion of matching people to jobs.)


1.     Recall the last job assignment you made. Think through the steps you took. Did you take the time to think through the needs of the assignment? Did you consider at least three candidates? Did you discuss these candidates with others to check your perceptions? Did you fully explain the new assignment to the selected candidate? Did you monitor the work to ensure the selectee stayed on track?  If you are following these steps you are being effective at matching people to jobs. If not then consider if you need to modify your action plan or just your approach to matching people to jobs.
2.     Think about the candidates you have in mind for succeeding you. Did anything you learned in this lecture apply to preparing the candidates for your job? Do you need to adjust your mentoring plan for the candidates?

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