Hiring is often reactionary
Specialization can be a ball and chain for talented people.
Who recognizes this kind of conversation?
“We need some help dealing with X.”
“Hey, I have dealt with X before. I might have some ideas on how we could work on that.”
“But you work in Y. We need someone who works in X for this.”
Complex roles demand experts: highly focused people performing highly focused tasks. But such focus may not be the extent of any given expert’s value to an organization.
The trouble can actually start with #leadership: finding a person who solves a particular problem ingrains the mistaken belief that that person can only solve that particular problem; other problems require other people’s attention. That is not necessarily—perhaps not even typically—accurate.
Hiring is often reactionary: we have a problem, a need, an opening, right now. The most important feature of any applicants is that they address this most pressing issue. That is understandable—payroll can seldom afford extra people on the belief that future growth is just around the corner and the added expense, therefore, justified.
But this approach to hiring can often produce the side-effect that management, recruiters, and anyone involved in the hiring process ignores any skills outside of the strict expectations for the position being filled. Indeed, our culture has evolved to discourage applicants from emphasizing their skills and experiences outside of what is directly related (or requested) to the opening at hand.
The net result? People with more broad, varied skill sets and experiences only utilize one segment of their abilities. When a new need arises within an organization, such workers are less likely to be tapped—even when they volunteer—because management still sees them as single-purpose tools filling a specific role.
In essence, people become round pegs; new problems become square holes. People may be flexible, but as long as management treats them as rigid, they may never get the chance to show their flexibility.
That isn’t to say new problems don’t sometimes—often—justify new hires. Dealing with skills gaps and productivity can be two very different management endeavors. Boosting overall productivity is sometimes best addressed by adding more people to the workforce. But a business that sets up too narrow a role for itself in the marketplace can inhibit its own growth; tethering employees too tightly to concise job descriptions can similarly neglect their potential to contribute more. It puts skills-matching ahead of culture-promotion.
Similarly, up-training and professional enrichment opportunities should be offered to anyone who is interested—not just those who “need” the additional skills. Denying a growth or learning opportunity to someone on the basis that his or her role does not require it sends a powerful, negative message:
Management doesn’t care what you are interested in doing, only in what you have been doing—and keeping you there.
A resume for employees is much like an elevator pitch for business concepts: it is a short, sweet, and simple description of why they deserve consideration, what they can do, and in theory, opens the door for further discussion.
The skills that got a person a role within an organization may not be the only or most valuable contribution that person can make over time. It isn’t just a matter of advancement or leadership potential; it is a matter of recognizing when a job description doesn’t highlight everything a person can do well.
Managers need to think more creatively, and be more willing to accept that existing job descriptions and expectations may actually limit—rather than maximize—the contribution of any given employee.