In the big picture, relatively low unemployment is a good thing -- but it can make it hard for you to find the right people to hire for your current openings. So what is a hiring manager to do?
I am not a human resources professional -- nor do I play one on TV! -- but from a strategic operations management perspective, I have some suggestions for you to consider.
First, consider whether you are developing the flexibility of your existing workforce. In economics terms, this is called the "fungibility of resources." This is the extent to which your employees are interchangeable. Now before I l lose you by suggesting people are commodities or machines, let me instead point out that VERY OFTEN, especially for service providers, there is a common knowledge case to a significant portion of the work to be done. It might be worth establishing a target general set of skills and knowledge bases, needed for most projects or tasks, as a minimum requirement for your existing service providers. For example, if your work is project-based, then your professionals should be able to deliver an effective proposal and well as perform the work. Not everyone is going to be the best at all of the generalized skills, but when you are short-handed for a particular effort, you will have resources from which to draw. This will pay off in the long term.
Related to that, I am a proponent of "growing your own." All too often, job openings have inflated and/or necessary experience requirements -- when what that only serves to shorten the learning curve, which is inevitable. An alternative is hiring relatively inexperienced people and pairing them with your more experienced folks. Before you know it, they will be able to alleviate the mentors' workloads, and after that, perform on their own. It is important that a mentor understands the end game and has realistic expectations of independent performance; sometimes a senior person will not trust the younger person to work independently until s/he can perform at the same level as the senior. This will never happen if the new(er) hire is not encouraged to tackle work on his/her own. This is not a short-term solution, but will deliver at least some relief, early on.
Another opportunity to consider is where you DO NOT have bottlenecks. Since you are trying to fill an open position, it is reasonable to assume that you are trying to alleviate a bottleneck. If this is constraining the rate at which your organization is able to generate revenues, then -- at least in the short-term -- consider reallocating resources from another area. I know, everyone is busy. Perhaps there's a younger employee with potential that would benefit from working in a different aspect of the business, and you can position this as a developmental opportunity? Or maybe you have a long timer that wouldn't mind a change, for a while. This is a short-term solution, and relatively quick to implement. Too often, the department manager is the one to pick up the slack, when s/he could be the quality "backstop" for the interim resource.
A strategic approach is to look hard and close at your existing processes. Are they consistent and have feedback loops for continuous improvement? Does every step add value? Is there any waste that has crept into the operation over the years? It may help to step back from the day-to-day, or hire someone to provide an outside perspective. Change like this is challenging, but if done right, can have a tremendous return on investment.
When running an organization – or even a project – “systems thinking” is essential.
Simply put, a system is a dynamic, purposeful collection of components. There are various types of systems (e.g., ecological, biological, mechanical). In the case of organizations, you have people, information, and capital, all working toward a common purpose (hopefully!). Organizational systems tend to be quite complex, with multiple subsystems (such as departments and information technologies), numerous feedback loops, and permeable boundaries (interacting outside of the organization).
The need for managers to apply systems thinking is increasing. The overall intricacy of operational systems can be confounding. With the increasing pressures to make decisions more quickly, a holistic, process-oriented perspective is essential to avoid unintended consequences, like sub-optimization – i.e., improving one area, while creating problems or increasing costs in other areas.
From a LEAN perspective, taking a systems view enables continuous improvement:
You don't have to go that far to gain the perspective of systems thinking and experience continuous improvement. It is a good idea, though, to occasionally examine how you are doing. One way is to walk through the key processes of your operation, such as customer service, accounts receivable, inventory management, and purchasing, asking "Why do we do this?" and "What is that used for?". Another is to track the issues and exceptions that you have to deal with over a period of months, and then look for underlying causes (remember, don't sub-optimize!). If you're a project-based organization, add a feedback loop to debrief at the end of the project -- examine what went well, what didn't, what were the surprises, and discuss what you can do better next time.
If you work the system, the system will work better for you.
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