How to Tap into Employees’ and Candidates’ Strengths, Increase Your Resources

By Anne Stuart

Highly talented people often apply for (or already work in) jobs that fall short of making the best possible use of their skills, abilities and expertise. The most effective managers are those who are willing to shake things up to tap into employees’ greatest strengths.

An open-minded approach may involve creating new positions, revising the descriptions for existing ones or moving people from one role to another.

For example, in hiring for what became the ABC-TV hit series “Lost,” the show’s producers made several choices that offer valuable lessons for just about every human resources rep or manager.   Among those decisions:

  • Jorge Garcia initially auditioned for the part of smooth-talking con man Sawyer, but producers decided to create a new character to make use of Garcia’s comedic strengths. 
  • When actor Josh Holloway read for the part of Sawyer, producers were so knocked out by his audition that they had the show’s writers revise the character—originally intended to be a rough-around-the-edges older man from Buffalo, N.Y.—to better fit Holloway, a 30-something former model with a strong Southern accent.
  • And while actor Matthew Fox also initially auditioned to play bad-boy Sawyer, producers instead cast him as the clean-cut, tormented surgeon Jack Shephard—a leading role for which Fox has won several awards.

Employees tend to be happiest in jobs that play to their specific skill sets.  Happy employees are more likely to stay put, and—as every hiring manager knows all too well—it’s far more cost-effective to retain your existing workers than to hunt for new ones.  And for both employees and job candidates, there’s little more satisfying than the chance to work in jobs tailored to their unique talents.

With that in mind, companies may well want to adopt the approach taken by the blockbuster TV show’s producers, revising specific roles as needed to fit each employee’s core strengths.

Right Person, Right Job, Right Time

How can companies make sure that each employee is playing exactly the right role?

Employment experts say the single best method is conducting a “skills audit”—that is, figuring out what skills the organization has in-house and which it still needs to grow and excel. Essentially, the audit involves analyzing all employees’ skill sets and determining whether each person’s abilities are being used as effectively as possible in his or her current job.  The process can be as simple as reviewing resumes and evaluations, then interviewing employees to make sure the information is complete, correct and up-to-date—or as complicated as hiring a consultant or even investing in software designed to accomplish the same goal.

No matter how it’s conducted, a successful skills audit is likely to uncover both some rich resources that managers never realized they had in-house—and some gaps that they need to fill.  Armed with that information, they can:

Create new positions geared to existing employees’ talents.  For instance, the audit might reveal that a particular U.S.-based financial analyst happens to speak Spanish or Mandarin. While she may not use the second language in her current role, it might come in handy if the company’s moving into South America or China—and it might be worth inventing a new job for her with that expansion in mind.

Revise existing job descriptions to account for new skills. The audit might show that a junior staff accountant has, on his own time, acquired some advanced technical skills.  If those abilities are valuable to the company, it might be worth rewriting his job description to include them.

Reassign existing employees to jobs that better reflect where they are today.  For instance, an auditor who was the perfect choice for a specific position five years ago may have long since outgrown the job.  A smart manager who values that auditor’s contributions will help him or her find a new role that’s more interesting and more challenging—and probably more beneficial to the company as well.

And, of course, managers can recruit and hire additional professionals whose skill sets best fit those gaps and needs identified in their in-house research.  By making sure employees’ strengths don’t get “Lost” in the shuffle, managers make strides toward retention as well as increased resources.

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