In architecture the debate is: does form follow function or function follow form?

In organizations the debate is: do you hire people that can do the job or do you create jobs based on what people can do?

The answer is not as easy as it seems. First, while people do tend to cluster around employment centers, there is no guarantee that people who are available within a 50min radius (this is not miles but travel time and yes, we do study these things) of a given organization are a skills match for the type of unmet work needs in an organization at any given moment. [Sidenote on workplace culture & morale: how happy are employees first thing in the morning after fighting traffic or traveling for 50min?]  In addition, density matters. When population density doubles, people are 2-4% more productive (New York Fed report) which is great news for large cities but organizations in low density areas can’t exactly (at least not independently) increase the population size of their location so they have larger and more productive work pools to choose from. There are some interesting insights on the advantages of clustering such as increased information flow and new ideas, skills acquired by observation but these are limited to high skilled workers (see New York Fed report for details). Clustering doesn’t solve all problems in all industries or all company sizes (eg  this HSBC report shows small manufacturers don’t receive significant supplier gains but large ones do).

In order to correct for differences in geography and density, we now have internet job boards which account for 45 to 63 percent (depending on the study) of total hires. However, from the company perspective, the goal is not to maximize the number of advertisements but rather to strategically leverage communication (through employees, recruiters, internet, print, media) in order to influence the people who are the right match for the job to apply (ie it does no good to have 3,000 applicants for one position if none of them are the right fit)

Delivering results is the employee’s job; the organization’s job is to clearly define the results and provide the enabling environment. Unspoken rules and expectations cause more conflicts than what is explicitly stated so effort should be made to make these as clear as possible. (For more details see psychological contract  and Hidden Rules of Class at Work: concept, book).

Needless to say, how you say it matters! Let’s take a hypothetical company called Beverages R Us.

Typical Posting: We are seeking a qualified candidate to join our operational team. The successful candidate must have 3yrs industry experience and be Lean certified. Additional duties as required.

Unanswered questions: The company is called Beverages R Us but the SIC codes show beverage manufacturing and beverage bottling so which industry do they want? I have 5yrs experience in beverage manufacturing and 3yrs experience with Lean Six Sigma, is this what they are looking for?

Better Posting: We are seeking to improve our operational excellence processes pertaining to food and beverage bottling. The successful candidate must have 3yrs experience with takt time, Box-Cox transformation and Corrective Action Reports, as well as be comfortable reporting to 5 managers. Additional duties as required.

Evidently if cover letters don’t address the last sentence there is not a good fit. You also minimize the: “why wasn’t I short listed?” inquiries.  The most important part is the way the revised posting is phrased answers 3 questions for job seekers:

  1. Why is the job/position important to the organization?
  2. How does the organization expect me to apply my skillset to the job/position?
  3. What is the most difficult part of the job/position that I must be comfortable doing?

For existing positions, organizations should use their exit interview data to ensure they are defining these three issues correctly. On new positions, in addition to a salary survey, organizations should talk to at least 3 people who hold or have held the type of position being posted (recruiters and industry associations can help you with this).

Finally we can address the dreaded issue: personality fit. Often times the euphemism “culture” is used in lieu of personality fit but this can be misleading. Culture can be the symbolic artifacts and decor an organization uses. Does this mean if I don’t like them but I’m the best qualified candidate I don’t get the job? Culture can also be the modus operandi which typically takes at least 6mo within an organization to grasp (e.g. culture here is all emails must be answered within 5hrs of receipt and replies shouldn’t be more than 2 paragraphs long; our preferred tone is informal but not jovial). Personality fit identifies whether or not a person’s natural predisposition is a good match for the job (eg people who don’t like talking don’t make good customer service phone reps but they might be great at email and online support).

One tool to determine personality fit is the use of psychometric assessments (Do you perform better when you work in groups or alone? Do you need detailed instructions or are you better with unstructured situations? Are you motivated by money or group recognition?). The biggest advantage is that psychometric assessments eliminate subjectivity (e.g. there’s nothing wrong but candidate B just rubs me the wrong way). Here are 5 reasons hiring managers use them.

It is important to note there are many who despise psychometric assessments and there are significant differences in how personality is understood and represented in different regions of the world. As an example, Western constructs focus on Introversion and Extroversion whereas the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory uses Harmony and Face.  Notwithstanding, they do provide written and measurable methods for comparison.

Now to link this all back to a key element of business sustainability: work that maximizes savings, monetary gains and satisfaction for both employee and employer.

For this I like to use the Path Elements Profile (PEP)™ tool. There four base personality types; two are results focused (Fire and Earth); two are relationship focused (Wind and Water). Looking at the above job posting, all the work descriptors are results focused. Other than reporting to 5 managers, there is no mention of activity that would attract relationship focused personalities e.g. enhancing relationships with suppliers or improving the ways in which the bottling process is communicated to line production workers. This does not mean relationship focused personalities cannot perform the tasks as outlined or deliver quality results; it does mean they are likely to feel exhausted (as opposed to energized and excited) after a full day of productive work. Think of what happens to water when it cannot flow or whether you can put wind in a container? Eventually, disruptive events begin to happen and none of this is due to malice or lack of motivation. The same applies to humans when obliged to work on tasks that are counter to their natural dispositions. Yes we have brains and yes we can choose our actions but we cannot choose our emotions and their unintended side effects.

So what do you do if the best candidate for the position is relationship focused not results focused? The job posting should guide the work contract, not the other way around. When creating the work contract, you retain the content of the job posting but add elements to suit the personality of the new hire.

Job Description for Water/Wind:
Improve our operational excellence processes pertaining to food and beverage bottling by reducing defects and increasing customer satisfaction. Create dynamic and colorful graphic reports that govern takt time, Box-Cox transformation and Corrective Action. Design effective and energetic 5 minute daily briefings to be delivered to each of your 5 supervising managers (operations, shipping, customer service, billing, training).

If you are lucky and get a results focused person as the new hire, the changes would be

Job Description for Fire/Earth:
Improve our operational excellence processes pertaining to food and beverage bottling by reducing defects and customer complaints. Create standardized reports that prescribe outcomes and performance requirements for takt time, Box-Cox transformation and Corrective Action. Design effective and actionable 5 minute daily briefings to be delivered to each of your 5 supervising managers (operations, shipping, customer service, billing, training).

As you can see, when it comes to descriptions, “how” is important; when it comes to outcomes the “what” is more important than the “how.” We hire people because they can create and initiate (we can’t program robots for this). Maximize your human capital investments by enabling people to do what they do best!