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Which employees are most valuable to an organisation?

April 15, 2009 16:56 IST

How should employers go about choosing a potential workforce for their organisation?

What are the qualities one should look for in prospective candidates?

We bring you an excerpt from Finding Keepers -- The Monster Guide to Hiring and Holding the World's Best Employees by Steve Pogorzelski and Jesse Harriott, PhD, with Doug Hardy. The following is a section from Chapter 4: Where are you today?

Who is most valuable?

Managers are commonly advised to segment their staffs into three performance levels, and then "love the As, improve the Bs, and get rid of the Cs."

Even among the A-level players, however, there are roles that create the most value, and when you need to allocate recruiting time and money, this is the place to start. Sure, you want everyone you hire to perform well, but your hiring practices must deliver the most critical people first. You can have the best bookkeeper in town, but if you run a landscaping business, the people who show up on a customer's lawn will have more impact on your bottom line than that excellent bookkeeper.

What differentiates you from your competition? Is it great product development or customer service or operational efficiency? Which roles create that difference? This might cut across departmental lines and often cuts across the hierarchy. A company driven by sales talent had better lay the foundation of its hiring methods with the needs and mindset of great salespeople in mind; a company that beats the competition with an attitude of customer service that cuts across departmental lines needs to understand the people at any level who improve customer service.

Michael Armano, EVP, Human Resources at Palladium Group, a professional services firm calls the critical players in your organisation your 'dominant talent segment'.

"A lot of companies apply a broad-brush brand message to recruiting, thinking they'll attract and retain almost anyone," says Armano. "It's not a good idea, because different talent segments are attracted and retained by doing very different things."

Most organisations sense who is most valuable, but this does not diminish the need for other roles. It reflects your need to focus many hiring activities around your most critical 'customer segments' among candidates. Remember the welders, however, and be prepared to identify high-value employee outside of the organisation chart.

For example, here are some roles in a mid-sized consumer products firm separated into four segments, or 'buckets'; not that 'management' is present in most areas:

  • Brings in revenue. Sales representative, direct marketing roles, e-commerce technical design and operation
  • Operations/saving money or time. Finance and accounting roles, legal roles, human resources administrator, facilities manager, executive assistant, information technology specialist and sales support
  • Supports the customer. Customer service roles, webssite help manager, and order fulfillment
  • Creates product or service. Product development, market research, manufacturing, and creative services

Determining the most critical positions at your organisation depends on which 'buckets' you've committed to create competitive advantage. If lower prices derived from efficient operations (as in a discount retailer like Best Buy) are your key business advantage, then the people in the operations/saving money or time bucket are critically important. Your company's recruitment staff should tailor its messages and activities to those people foremost. If your profits depend on selling more expensive products and services than the competitors' but with greater perceived value (as in a high-end electronics business like Bose), then roles in sales, marketing, or product development might demand the most attention.

The several key roles you identify might be quite different in temperament as well as skills. Software engineers are different from sales representatives, who are different from collection managers, who are different from service technicians. As you assemble the components of a great hiring system, the preferences of your most valuable players will help you design their experience when they come in contact with your company.

In Chapter 5 to 11, you'll learn to create themes and techniques to attract and acquire most in-demand talent. You'll gain the tools to build your work around your most valuable players, and make adjustments as necessary to fill less critical roles.

The mindset of the poised worker should also inform the experience for candidates that you want to create. Her skepticism, for example, means that every interaction has to be authentic. Poised candidates take a 'show-me' attitude toward phrases like 'great benefits' or 'leading-edge business products'. Speak to their self-reliance, especially in key roles, by acknowledging that they have choices about who they work with, for how long, and why.

During this process, it's also vital to ask what qualities make someone succeed at your organisation. Certainly a personal commitment to institutional goals and values is important, but a wide range of temperatures, work styles, and backgrounds can share those. Go deeper: study your most successful people and determine what they have in common. Do the managers share a common set of methods? Do they have similar work styles, or do they arrive at the same goals through different paths? Do they display similar qualities of leadership, creativity, or intellectual ability? If your most valuable people all work in one area, do they have similar skill sets?

This line of questioning can also highlight potential pitfalls such as a lack of diversity within your organisation.

The following are questions for readers to ask themselves (and their employees and CEOs) as part of assessing the strength of their current hiring. You can quantify the answers with a detailed survey, or just use the questions for debate, discussion, and soul-searching.

  • Do employees have the same vision of the organisation as leadership?
  • What percentage would recommend us as an employer to their best friend?
  • How do they rate the authenticity of our 'employer brand'?
  • What are the three most important reasons people work here, according to them?
  • How do answers different among our employee segments (high performers vs average -- different career levels, different departments, job titles etc)?
  • What qualities of temperament, work habits, or values do our highest-performing employees have in common?
  • Do exit interviews reveal a dominant reason for voluntary exists (other than money)?
  • How strong is our quality of hire?
  • What percentage of hires is rated A-level performers after one year?

Eric Winegardner, director of product adoption at Monster, notes that painful but necessary part of self-discovery is the exit interview conducted when someone leaves for another company. "When you sit in on most exit interview you discover managers and human resources generalists frame the situation wrongly," Eric says. "They ask, 'What's better about where you're going than where you are? Are the benefits the salary better...what about the manager, what about the office?'"

"Most of the time, though, people are leaving a situation with a leap of faith that they'll be happier. It's the HR truism: people join companies but quit bosses. So I ask, 'Why did you take that leap of faith? Were you looking at job listings actively, beating down people's doors? Or did you just get a recruiter's call and suddenly started questioning your job?'"

"Did she decide at one point that she just wanted to get out? Was there a time when she was at risk, and why didn't we know about it? Not everyone's as happy as you think they are, especially if you take them for granted."

"The critical question to ask in an exit interview is not 'Why are you leaving?' but 'Why were you looking?'"

Excerpted from The Monster Guide to Hiring and Holding the World's Best Employees (Rs 375) by Steve Pogorzelski, Jesse Harriott, PhD, and Doug Hardy with the permission of publishers Tata McGraw-Hill.