The Solution to Your People Probems at Work

diversity hiring people analytics strengths talent strategy Oct 15, 2018

Which is better? A hammer or a pick-up truck?

It depends if you want to haul wood or drive nails. You can haul wood with a hammer. You can drive nails with a pick-up. But, why would you? These tools are clearly most effective when used according to their intended purpose.

Similarly, people problems often boil down to the right person in the wrong seat.

Even the most talented people, when put in the wrong job, become stressed, unproductive, and burned out. In fact, it takes 12x more energy to perform a job that goes against a person's natural flow. While it's tempting to attribute people problems at work to having the wrong talent, the issue could actually lie in who's doing what.


In the instance of a poor performing employee, ask yourself these questions:


#1 Does the person fit the role?

Anyone who’s experienced a misfit with her job knows how painful and exhausting it is. Trying to perform well in the wrong role is a recipe for low Return on Effort (ROE). A person can only row against the current for so long, and eventually he gives up. The natural consequence of poor job fit is burnout, which ultimately leads to the employee being fired or quitting. During this process, morale and engagement suffers.

Sadly, much of the global workforce is experiencing job misfit, as evidenced by all-time low engagement statistics. Only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged, according to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace report. It bears repeating – a mere 15% of people are engaged at work. This sobering statistic exposes job fit to be not merely a problem, but an all-out crisis.


#2 Does the person fit the manager?

The popular saying, “People leave managers, not companies” is well founded. A Gallup study found that fifty percent of employees left their jobs because of their managers. The study also revealed that 70% of employees feel their managers are responsible for how engaged they feel at work.

A misfit of an employee to a manager is a toxic situation. A poorly matched manager and direct report sours morale, creates constant tension, and breaks down communication. It also leads to wasted effort, as the direct report often finds herself doing one set of activities to get the job done and a whole other set of activities to please the manager.

Manager bias can also lead to poor fit for surprising reasons. It is tempting for a manager to hire and reward her clone, that is, someone who operates “just like me.” That’s not good for the company as it limits diversity and leads to stagnancy.


#3 Does the person fit the team?

Poor team fit is cancerous to company culture. If a work group is not getting along or not producing, it has ripple effects throughout the organization. There are many causes of poor team fit, but we will address two of the most common: 1) Groupthink and 2) Polarity. Though opposite, both are equally damaging to the team and organization overall.

Groupthink occurs when a team is assembled of similar members. Similarity comes in various forms: attitudes, skillsets/backgrounds, demographics, and problem solving methods. In this way, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Groupthink leads to stagnancy, at best, and disastrous decisions with disastrous consequences at its worst. Think: Bay of Pigs.

Polarity happens when teams are assembled with opposing members. Again, opposition come in various forms: attitudes, skillsets/backgrounds, demographics, and problem solving methods. Polarization creates an “us versus them” mentality. All productivity comes to a standstill as a result. Moreover morale and cooperation tanks.


#4 Does the person fit the company

Culture matters. Each company has a distinct personality and values system. To be top in its industry, an organization must be intentional about creating and maintaining the desired culture. If culture comes together in a haphazard, ad hoc, random way, the output of the company is haphazard, ad hoc and random. A poor cultural environment is ripe for conflict and unnecessary workplace drama. Rather than focusing on accomplishing the company vision, leadership is bogged down with internal disputes.


You may already have what you need to thrive.


Most businesses have a gold mine of talents among their employees. The problem is that those talents are underutilized. If any one of these 4 Factors is a misfit, people problems are likely to ensue. Are you crippling yourself, your employees, and your company by misplacing effort? A reallocation of tasks can turn an average company into a wildly successful one. (This brings to mind Russell Conwell's Acres of Diamonds.)


To avoid putting the right people in the wrong seat, follow this simple process:

  • Objectively measure the expectations of every role in your company.
  • Assess the talents of your workforce. Carefully examine the data points and look for inconsistencies.
  • Be open-minded about rearranging responsibilities to better suit your workforce.

Now ask yourself honestly: How many nails am I trying to drive with a pick-up truck?


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