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.
I am a big believer in learning from our mistakes. Indeed, I think the most profound learning experiences come from reflecting about mistakes. (I used to tell my staff, "It's OK to make a mistake; just don't make it twice!")
What constitutes a "silly" mistake? Things that waste your time or money, and don't add to your personal effectiveness as a learning experience. An example would be leaving your leftover to-go box at a restaurant -- no big deal, but you have to go back for it (time) or leave the food to be thrown away (money). Another is misplacing something (your keys, anyone?) or forgetting your phone.
So what is a person to do? There is a concept central to lean practices, stemming from the Toyota Production System. It is called poka-yoke, i.e., mistake-proofing in Japanese, the idea of creating fail-safes to prevent problems before they occur -- or to mitigate the issue when something DOES go wrong . A poka-yoke is typically a physical barrier or device or some kind of programmed process. It is applied extensively on an industrial scale, such as requiring a machine operator's hands to be on two different controls to start or run a device to prevent injury. Or on a computer system, you have probably experienced, data "masking," where you receive an error message if you have typed something incorrectly or in the wrong format.
As with many business ideas, a poka-yoke can be used on a personal level. You have experienced many fail-safes, to be sure: the overflow drain in your bathtub, the need to have your foot on the brake to start your car, the diesel nozzle not fitting into your gas tank opening (beyond the handle being green).
Being a bit absent-minded (which I prefer to think of as hyper-focused -- just on other things!), I have a few easy ones that I rely on regularly:
Mistakes are inevitable -- but make yours worthwhile, not silly.
How many times have you gone off to the proverbial woods, to have an off-site planning session? And how many times have you left feeling you have a workable strategic plan? And how many times have you "worked" it?
I've been in the corporate, academic, and not-for-profits worlds, and have seen SO MANY plans fade away. There's probably a formula for off-site planning decay: after the first week you've lost half of the momentum (after all, you have to catch up after being out of the office), a month passes, and you've lost half of that, and by the time you are several months out, you are out of momentum.
So how do you avoid plan decay? You do not leave the woods until you have three things: a next step plan, a draft balanced scorecard, and a scorecard keeper.
It is fairly easy, or "frictionless," to accumulate hundreds of friends on social media. One click, and you're connected. And there are benefits to having a social net, I know. It helps me to keep in touch with folks I grew up with, see how former students are progressing in their careers, share happy highlights in my life, and of course, push my blog!
The trouble is when you spend more time networking than being in your "circle" of friends. Reading John Maxwell's Leadership Promises for Everyday challenged me to wonder, "Are you investing in the relationships that really matter?"(No, I'm not talking about work-family balance, although that can certainly be an issue.) What I'm pointing to are the people who are in the inner circle, the people who we turn to for advice, rely on for accountability, and seek out to test ideas.
Chances are -- if you are intentional about having an inner circle, and that is a big "if" -- that these close associates are a lot like you. It's natural, primordial, even: we tend to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us, with a tribal-like instinct. Why don't we discuss religion or politics in "mixed" company? Because "those" people are in a different tribe.
I challenge you, though, if you are intentional about growing your business or building your career, that you need to surround yourself with people who challenge you and your beliefs. Are you a big picture person? Find someone who can help you think through the details? Are you a very logical person? Get to know a creative type. Reach across age, gender, and race boundaries -- color outside the line of your circle -- to find people with a different worldview. They can be loyal people with integrity, but have a different wisdom that you do.
Sometimes, mastermind groups can serve that purpose, or at least jumpstart you on developing a strong inner circle. As mastermind guru, Karen Greenstreet, describes them, they "offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting to sharpen your business and personal skills...Participants challenge each other to set powerful goals, ... and problems are solved through peer brainstorming and collective, creative thinking." (In Central Georgia, we offer Focus Qwest mastermind groups: check out www.qwestllc.com/focus-qwest.html.)
Draw a circle in the middle of your network. You don't need hundreds of friends.
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